Archbishop Welby’s apology to John Smyth’s victims

John Smyth QC, died 2018.

Another day, another apology from the Archmuppet of Canterbury. Is this now his principal role? As Apologizer In Chief? I wouldn’t mind so much if most of the apologies themselves were ever meaningful and couched in plain English. But most of them seem to have the sticky fingerprints of legal advice all over them, laced with the usual doses of fluffy words and phrases that are now trotted out to tick the boxes of social justice, sensitivity and inclusivity.

The latest recipients of his regret/excuse/justification outpourings are the largely forgotten victims of John Smyth of the Iwerne Trust. These are men who were, as boys, savagely beaten by Smyth in the 1970s and 80s, supposedly in the guise of spiritual exercises. The Iwerne Trust – later the Titus Trust, now closed – organised camps for boys, with the aim of promoting the Christian faith among the most elite levels of society in Britain. To attend one of the camps in the past, boys had to be pupils at one of around 15 of the most elite boarding schools in England.   It is through the Trust and the camps that victims came into contact with their abuser.

John Smyth, who died in 2018, was the chair of the Iwerne Trust for almost a decade (1974-81) and present at many camps. Accounts of abuse by Smyth, who was a QC, or Queen’s Counsel – a senior counsel – in the British legal system, first came to public notice in 2013 when a victim reported his experiences to the Diocese of Ely. Much of the publicity then focused on the presence of a young Justin Welby at many Iwerne camps, as a dormitory officer. There was no suggestion that Welby had anything to do with the abuse and he has denied having any knowledge of it at the time.

Winchester College – one of the elite schools whose pupils attended Iwerne camps – knew in 1982 that abuse had taken place in relation to the Iwerne Trust through Smyth. The Trust made its own report (here we go again) into the abuse and found that horrific beatings of teenage boys, sometimes until they bled, had taken place. These apparently took place in a shed at Smyth’s home – and possibly elsewhere – rather than at the camps as was originally reported. Neither Iwerne nor Winchester College took these reports to the police. Even back then, this beggars belief.

The headmaster at the time apparently ‘met John Smyth and required him to undertake never again to enter the college or contact its pupils.’ While this sounds utterly incredible to us today, let’s just bear in mind those two little letters after Smyth’s name: QC. Read into that what you will in regard to any or all of the following:

Old Boy’s Network

Old School Tie Club

Gentlemen’s Club rules

Patriarchal society

Power, privilege and the British class system (alive and kicking in 1982).

But back to the involvement of the Church of England. Here we are in May 2021. This is eight or nine years after the CofE was first made aware of this scandal – Welby’s statement today says that the abuse was ‘first disclosed’ (to whom?) in 2012. Various ‘apologies’ and statements have been made during that period, but the victims are still not in receipt of anything meaningful in the way of explanations, detailed reports on how the situation was facilitated at the time, or compensation.

Today, Lambeth Palace released a statement. I have inserted my own questions in the relevant places:

I am pleased to have met recently with a group of victims of the horrendous abuse perpetrated by John Smyth QC. I apologised to them that the meeting had taken so long to arrange and acknowledged that this has caused much frustration and anger [Why the delay in the meeting?]. In February 2017, I issued a general apology on behalf of the Church of England, as the story was breaking, and before we understood the full horror and scope of the abuse [But the Iwerne Trust’s own report from 1982 described boys having up to 400 lashes as ‘punishment’ for sins – did the CofE not have access to this report by 2017? They had known about the abuse accounts since 2012-13]. Having met some victims now, I want to offer a full, personal apology [Personal – is that from the ABC as an individual or from the Church?]. I am sorry that this was done in the name of Jesus Christ by a perverted version of spirituality and evangelicalism [It was not done in the name of Jesus Christ – it was done by a perverted abuser who dressed it up as ‘theology’. That is NOT a ‘version of spirituality’ – it is abuse].  

….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 [When were you ‘duly’ informed?].  By this time Mr Smyth had been out of the UK for nearly thirty years [So?]. 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 [So? Find out!]. I recognise the anger of the survivors and victims but having checked that the Diocese of Cape Town was informed [By whom and when?] and that the police were properly informed and involved [Which police? UK only, or South Africa’s too? What was actually told to them?] our jurisdiction did not extend further [So? Surely the Church could have followed this up and campaigned on behalf of the alleged victims from that point on?]. I believe that by 2013 Mr Smyth was no longer attending an Anglican Church [!!! How the heck does that make any difference?!] .

…….I have made it clear that the National Safeguarding Team will investigate every clergy person or others within their scope of whom they have been informed who knew and failed to disclose the abuse [How is it appropriate for the NST to have any role in this at all? And what is ‘their scope’?].

The victims asked me specifically to consider John Smyth’s victims in Zimbabwe and South Africa, known and unknown. Guide Nyachuru died at a Smyth camp in 1992 and I will be writing to his family. I apologise on behalf of the Church of England to all those in Africa who were abused after John Smyth had been uncovered in the UK in 1982, although the Church did not know, owing to the cover up, of the abuse until 2013. [Yes, and it is now 2021….besides, if the Iwerne Trust knew in 1982, are we to believe that nobody in the CofE knew of it then too?].

I am aware of what a long wait it has been for John Smyth’s victims. The abuse was almost forty years ago, and it was first disclosed in 2012. I applaud the bravery of those who came forward and all those who have testified since. I know this has come at great personal cost and continues to cause suffering. I told the victims I met that I am absolutely determined that the Makin Review [begun in 2019] will be as comprehensive and strong as it can be [define the nature and extent of the remit of the Makin Review please]. I have given an undertaking that it will be published in full [it will only be as good as the depth and breadth of its remit and the honesty of the participants]. I pray that this can give some sense of closure for these victims [Oh good, more prayer over actionafter 8-9 years already].

The Church has a duty to look after those who have been harmed [Words fail me here]. We have not always done that well….

So here we are again. It is only a few weeks since I wrote about the meaningless ‘apology’ for abuse by their erstwhile vicar – in plain sight for 30 years – that surfaced from Emmanuel Church, Wimbledon. Jonathan Fletcher – the ECW abusive vicar – was also associated with the Iwerne Trust. The measly ECW statement was based on the usual, fatuous ‘lessons learned review’ which is, of course, the go-to response from any organisation that finds its back against the wall these days. The resulting ‘apology’ from the church to the victims of Jonathan Fletcher was utterly disingenuous: prayer, discussion and publicity were offered as ‘measure of justice and consolation’ to them. Along with expressions of the ‘compassion, love and truth of Jesus embodied in the response of CE churches who name Him as their Saviour’. Dear Lord.

Now we have the Archmuppet saying that the Church is deeply sorry – again. There are so many loopholes in the statement above that it is next to impossible to have faith that any future investigation will uncover what really went on and who is/was responsible. As we saw at Emmanuel Church, Wimbledon, the wholesale culture of failure to take responsibility by people ‘in the know’ in abuse cases is clearly embedded in church leadership at all levels. Is the Makin Review to be any better? I am not casting aspersions at Keith Makin and Sarah Lawrence, the investigators. My concern is the culture of cover-up, secrecy and reputation-protection that appears to be endemic in so many Anglican churches, dioceses and leaders. Anyone wishing to read the Terms of Reference of the Makin Review can do so here. The report is due later this year. Whether we will see a new culture of openness and honesty in the respondents remains to be seen. But even if the report is damning, do we really expect to see anyone who is still around being named and shamed? Answers on the usual postcard, please.

What we have here is yet another example of terrible abuse having been perpetrated under the auspices of the Church. The Makin Review will hopefully reveal the extent of the manifest culture of silence that is evident in the Church even now. Statements such as that from Lambeth Palace today, laden with carefully worded tea and sympathy, all pre-approved by the legal eagles, serve only the Church itself. Were I a victim of Smyth, Fletcher or any other perverted individual in the Church, I would be asking – again – who facilitated this disgrace to the name of Jesus Christ? And how do we know it will not happen again? Forgiveness and expectations of repentance are irrelevant here; any experienced social worker, psychologist or psychiatrist will tell you that the sex offender leopards among us do not change their spots. It remains to be seen if the silent facilitators will ever change theirs.

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