Christian cruelty: two profuse apologies in a single week

Patheos [Englewood CO]

May 21, 2021

By Barry Duke

EVERY time a story breaks about the abuse inflicted on youngsters in religious environments, the response from church officials is always the same: a grovelling apology usually followed by blather that such incidents are things of the past that cannot possibly happen again.

On Wednesday we reported on “hip” pastor Jonathan Stockstill saying how sorry he was about gross acts of cruelty inflicted on youngsters in camps run by his church in Louisiana, and a day later we had the much less “hip” but far more prominent Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, above, in full-on hand-wringing mode over Christian camps run by serial abuser and sadist John Smyth QC.

I am sorry this was done in the name of Jesus Christ by a perverted version of spirituality and evangelicalism … I continue to hear new details of the abuse and my sorrow, shock and horror grows.

“A perverted version of spirituality and evangelicalism?” Seriously? What other kind is there?

Smyth, who targeted kids in the UK and Africa, had the good sense to die in 2018 before he could be brought to justice.

Welby, who worked as a dormitory officer at the so-called “bash camps” run in the 1970s by Smyth, said:

The victims I met have made clear that they are angry that John Smyth was not stopped in 2013, when disclosure to the Diocese of Ely was first made and I was duly informed. By this time Mr Smyth had been out of the UK for nearly thirty years.

We, the Church, were unclear as to his activities abroad or indeed to the utterly horrendous scope and extent of his actions here and overseas. I recognise the anger of the survivors and victims but having checked that the Diocese of Cape Town was informed and that the police were properly informed and involved our jurisdiction did not extend further.

I believe that by 2013 Mr Smyth was no longer attending an Anglican Church.

This prompted Fr Dexter Bracey, commenting on Thinking Anglicans, to observe:

We’ve heard Welby claim previously that Smyth was not an Anglican. Why does he feel the need to make that claim? I hope we’re not being softened up for a future report concluding that this was all very unfortunate but ultimately not the C of E’s problem.

Evangelical Christian Smyth, above, carried out “horrific beatings” of teenage boys who attended the camps funded by the Iwerne Trust, of which he was Chairman. It was later taken over by the Titus Trust.

According to The Guardian, Iwerne Trust invited boys and young men from public schools and top universities to attend holiday camps, with the aim of ensuring that future members of the establishment be committed Christians.

Winchester College, whose pupils were among the alleged victims, was informed of abuse allegations but neither the college nor the trust reported Smyth to the police. Instead, the headmaster asked Smyth never again to enter the college or contact its pupils.

Among Smyth’s alleged victims was Andrew Watson, now the bishop of Guildford, who said he was subjected to a “violent, excruciating and shocking” beating.

Smyth scarpered to Zimbabwe, where he was accused of physically abusing boys in his care at holiday camps he ran. He was arrested and faced charges of killing a 16-year-old teeb, but the case was dismissed. Smyth later moved to Cape Town in South Africa.

Welby, who has said he was “completely unaware” of any abuse when he worked at the camps, last month met a group of survivors.

In the statement issued by Lambeth Palace, the archbishop said:

These victims are rightly concerned that no one appears to have faced any sanction yet, when it is clear a number of Christians, clergy and lay, were made aware of the abuse in the 1980s and many learned in subsequent years … I am told by survivors that some facilitated Smyth’s move to Africa.

He added that the Church of England’s national safeguarding team would:

Investigate every clergy person or others … who knew and failed to disclose the abuse.

The C of E has ordered an independent review of its handling of allegations of abuse by Smyth, which is expected to report this year. Welby said it would be published in full.

Last year, the Titus Trust reached a settlement with three victims of Smyth and acknowledged that “lives have been blighted”.

Responding to Welby’s statement, a group of survivors said:

We are pleased that the archbishop of Canterbury is taking responsibility and acting as a good example for the other culpable parties involved in our story. It is clear a large number of individuals, clergy and lay, have known about these abuses for over 30 years.

Richard Scorer, head of abuse law at Slater and Gordon, who acted for Smyth’s victims in their claims against the Titus Trust, said:

Justin Welby’s apology is welcome but he still needs to give a full account of his involvement in this particular C of E subculture, what he knew of high-profile abusers such as John Smyth and when he knew it, and what action he took in response.

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