The Daily Telegraph

Min­is­ter ‘spir­i­tu­ally abused’ the vul­ner­a­ble

- By Gabriella Sw­er­ling re­li­gious af­fairs Ed­i­tor and Steve Bird Crime · England · Southwark · London · United Kingdom · Europe · New Zealand · United States Patent and Trademark Office · Jonathan Meades

ONE of the Church of Eng­land’s lead­ing evan­gel­i­cal fig­ures was banned from preach­ing af­ter “spir­i­tu­ally abus­ing” vul­ner­a­ble adults, The Daily Tele­graph has learnt.

The Rev Jonathan Fletcher, 76, was stripped of his Church pow­ers by the Bishop of South­wark in 2017 fol­low­ing com­plaints made to the Lon­don church where he used to min­is­ter.

How­ever, Mr Fletcher, the former trustee of Re­form – the con­ser­va­tive move­ment that has led the op­po­si­tion to the min­istry of women and ho­mo­sex­u­als in the Church – con­tin­ued to preach around the world.

South­wark Dio­cese con­firmed last night that the al­le­ga­tions cen­tred around a “risk of him be­hav­ing to­wards vul­ner­a­ble adults who may be seek­ing his spir­i­tual guid­ance in a man­ner which may be harm­ful”. Sources said the al­le­ga­tions were of “spir­i­tual abuse” and not phys­i­cal or sex­ual.

Em­manuel Church in Wim­ble­don, south-west Lon­don, where Mr Fletcher re­tired as a min­is­ter in 2012, last night is­sued an “un­re­served apol­ogy to all those af­fected by th­ese un­ac­cept­able

be­hav­iours”. A spokesman added that the dio­cese was con­sid­er­ing tak­ing for­mal ac­tion with the Church’s Na­tional Safe­guard­ing Team, which over­sees its re­sponses to al­le­ga­tions of abuse.

Yes­ter­day, the Church said it had made re­peated at­tempts to stop Mr Fletcher of­fi­ci­at­ing. De­spite a per­mis­sion to of­fi­ci­ate (PTO) or­der im­posed on him, he con­tin­ued to preach in the UK, Europe and New Zealand.

A PTO acts as a li­cence en­abling re­tired dea­cons, priests or lay readers to con­tinue prac­tic­ing. An­gli­can clergy re­quire a PTO to per­form roles such as preach­ing, bap­tis­ing and fu­ner­als. Once the al­le­ga­tions emerged, Mr Fletcher was “asked and agreed to with­draw from all as­pects of his min­istry”.

Mr Fletcher re­tired as a min­is­ter be­fore al­le­ga­tions were lodged against him five years later, trig­ger­ing a po­lice in­ves­ti­ga­tion.

He said: “I to­tally re­ject and deny any al­le­ga­tions [made against me], although I don’t know what the al­le­ga­tions are about.

“I’m sure that in 30 years of be­ing a rev­erend that I may have of­fended some­one who has then turned against me. I knew anony­mous al­le­ga­tions were made two or three years ago. And I was told po­lice had been con­tacted. How­ever, I have not been told of any sub­se­quent al­le­ga­tions since.”

He said de­spite re­main­ing a pri­est, he fol­lowed or­ders and with­drew from pub­lic min­istry a few years ago, adding: “So I don’t talk or preach.”

The rev­e­la­tions fol­low the death of John Smyth QC, who was ac­cused of sado­masochis­tic as­saults on young boys in the Seven­ties and Eight­ies at Iw­erne Chris­tian hol­i­day camps. Mr Fletcher said he knew Smyth, who died aged 77 last year, as an “ac­quain­tance”.

The ex­act de­tails of the al­le­ga­tions have not been dis­closed to The Tele­graph but a spokesman said “there was no ev­i­dence from the as­sess­ment that Jonathan Fletcher posed a sig­nif­i­cant sex­ual or phys­i­cal risk to chil­dren”.

The claims sur­round­ing Mr Fletcher – the son of Eric Fletcher, a min­is­ter in Harold Wil­son’s gov­ern­ment – trig­gered a po­lice in­ves­ti­ga­tion, but the dio­cese said the po­lice con­cluded there were no grounds for fur­ther ac­tion.

Since com­plaints were made in 2017, the Church has re­ceived fur­ther al­le­ga­tions against Mr Fletcher in Septem­ber 2018. Again the force con­cluded that an in­ves­ti­ga­tion was not re­quired.

Mr Fletcher added that he was not even in­ter­viewed by po­lice, proof, he in­sisted, he had done noth­ing wrong.

The Em­manuel Church spokesman added: “We are ap­palled and sad­dened by what has been dis­closed. We apol­o­gise to all those who have been af­fected. We are of­fer­ing them in­de­pen­dent pas­toral and coun­selling sup­port; and we have been ac­tively tak­ing steps to iden­tify oth­ers in need of such sup­port. We are com­mit­ted to tak­ing fur­ther steps to do so, and to sup­port any­one who comes for­ward.”

The dio­cese said: “The Church takes all safe­guard­ing is­sues very se­ri­ously and the Bishop on be­half of the dio­cese is­sues an un­re­served apol­ogy to all those af­fected by th­ese un­ac­cept­able be­hav­iours. Sup­port is be­ing of­fered to any­one who comes for­ward.”

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from UK