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Dealing with spiritual abuse in the Church

by
01 November 2013

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From the Revd Keith Hitchman
Sir, - The Revd Mark Nash-Williams is right to question whether spiritual abuse is "adequately addressed" by Church of England structures (Letters, 25 October).

In my experience, it is not. In 2010, I made a formal complaint to my then diocesan bishop concerning spiritual manipulation suffered by a close relative of mine, which had caused untold sorrow for this person and the wider family. Aside from the predictable platitudes, I was largely ignored. My bishop did not even bother to reply to my letter.

I then attempted to report this abuse to another bishop, who, I was told, had a national remit for such matters. This bishop was sympathetic, but took no further action in investigating the matter.

The author Jeanette Winterson has commented that the spiritual abuse that she suffered as a young person growing up in a fundamentalist household was unintentional on the part of the abuser. This fact did not make it any less abusive, as was the case with that suffered by my relative.

Essentially, the problem lies with the lack of supervision of non-accredited counselling,healing, and deliverance ministries, particularly within the burgeoning Charismatic churches. Such supervision needs to be strongly enforced and reinforced at diocesan level. Merely acknowledging the issue is not enough. We have a duty to protect the vulnerable.

The potential for massive pas-toral and reputational fallout is high. As a Church, we need to act on spiritual abuse, and act now.

KEITH HITCHMAN
City Missioner, diocese of Liverpool
499 Mather Avenue
Liverpool L19 4TF

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