The Church of England’s National Safeguarding Team is to investigate clergy who knew about the abuse perpetrated by John Smyth QC but failed to disclose it, the Archbishop of Canterbury has said.
Archbishop Justin Welby issued a “full, personal apology” for the “horrendous” abuse committed by the late evangelical leader in a statement on Thursday after meeting with victims.
“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,” he said.
“Having met some victims now, I want to offer a full, personal apology.
“I am sorry that this was done in the name of Jesus Christ by a perverted version of spirituality and evangelicalism. It is clear that the impact of this has been widespread.
“I want to offer this apology, in addition, to those Smyth victims that I have not met. I continue to hear new details of the abuse and my sorrow, shock and horror grows.”
Smyth, who died in 2018, abused boys and young men he met through the evangelical Iwerne camps in the 1970s. Although the abuse came to light in 1982, Smyth later relocated to Zimbabwe and South Africa, where it continued.
Welby worked as a dormitory officer at the British summer camps but has always maintained he was unaware of the abuse taking place.
Thursday’s statement acknowledges that Smyth’s abuse was reported to the Diocese of Ely in 2013, and says that Welby was informed at this time.
“The victims I met have made clear that they are angry that John Smyth was not stopped in 2013,” he said.
He continued, “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.”
The Archbishop said victims were “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 have not yet received a list of names,” he said.
“I am told by survivors that some facilitated Smyth’s move to Africa. 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.”
Welby said the apology extended to victims of Smyth in Zimbabwe and South Africa, and that he would be writing to the family of Guide Nyachuru, a 16-year-old who was found dead in a swimming pool at one of Smyth’s camps. Smyth was charged in connection with the death but never convicted because the case collapsed.
“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,” the statement continues.
“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.”
The Church’s handling of the abuse is the subject of an ongoing independent review being conducted by Keith Makin. The final report is expected to be completed by mid-summer at the earliest.
The Archbishop promised that the report would be published in full.
“I pray that this can give some sense of closure for these victims,” he said.
“The Church has a duty to look after those who have been harmed. We have not always done that well.
“I know that words are inadequate and will have a different meaning and impact on individuals, but I hope that my words today can convey on behalf of the Church of England and myself our deepest sorrow.”
A statement issued by Andrew Graystone on behalf of survivors welcomed the Archbishop’s comments and called for full disclosure.
“As victims of John Smyth’s horrific abuses, 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,” they said.
“We welcome his comments and also his commitment to publishing the Church of England’s independent review of Smyth in its entirety.
“We call upon the other organisations – the Scripture Union, Titus Trust, and Winchester College – to follow this lead and to reveal everything they know about the abuses and their cover-up.
“It is clear a large number of individuals, clergy and lay, have known about these abuses for over thirty years and we call on them to cooperate fully with the Makin Review and the National Safeguarding Team. For victims like us, full closure is impossible without full disclosure.”