The Daily Telegraph
Minister ‘spiritually abused’ the vulnerable
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.”