A RETIRED priest in Wimbledon was stripped of his Permission to Officiate (PTO) in 2017 after allegations of spiritual abuse were made against him, the diocese of Southwark has confirmed.
The priest, the Revd Jonathan Fletcher, was the Minister of Emmanuel Ridgway Proprietary Chapel, Wimbledon, from 1982 until his retirement in 2012, when he was granted PTO.
Concerns about Mr Fletcher’s behaviour were raised with the diocese, and the authorities and the police were informed, a spokeswoman for Southwark diocese confirmed on Tuesday, after a report was published in The Daily Telegraph, on Saturday.
There was “no criminal case to answer”, the spokeswoman said, but the Bishop of Southwark, the Rt Revd Christopher Chessun, commissioned an independent safeguarding assessment based on information available at the time.
“It concluded that, whilst there was no evidence from the assessment that Jonathan Fletcher posed a significant sexual or physical risk to children, there was a risk of him behaving towards vulnerable adults who may be seeking his spiritual guidance in a manner which may be harmful,” the spokeswoman continued. “In consequence, he has not been allowed to officiate in the Church of England since and formal contact has been made with him to explain this.”
Further allegations have since been made against Mr Fletcher, and the diocese has apologised. “We have been alerted to further disclosures about Jonathan Fletcher’s behaviour and the diocese is looking at taking further formal action working closely with the National Safeguarding Team and Emmanuel Church, Wimbledon.”
The safeguarding officer at Emmanuel, Sarah Hall, said in a statement published on the church website: “In early 2017, the current vicar [a former curate of the church, the Revd Robin Weekes, who took up the post in March 2013] and the safeguarding officer became aware from two separate sources that unnamed individuals had made allegations about the Revd Jonathan Fletcher. . .
“An immediate safeguarding report was made to the diocese. We understand from the diocese that the information was passed to Hampshire Police on 3 February 2017, who concluded that no police action would be taken.
“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 spokeswoman for Southwark concluded: “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. As with all serious safeguarding situations, a lessons-learnt review will be carried out according to the House of Bishops’ guidance.”
Mr Fletcher was quoted in the Telegraph report as saying: “I totally reject and deny any allegations [made against me], although I don’t know what the allegations are about.”
The chief executive of Thirtyone:eight (formally CCPAS), Justin Humphreys, who co-wrote the book Escaping the Maze of Spiritual Abuse (SPCK), said: “With spiritual abuse, there is a misuse of power and trust that exhibits control or coerces another individual. Although our understandings of this area are still developing, it’s significant that cases of this kind are receiving such attention.
“We know through our recent research, that the effects of this type of abuse can be multi-faceted and complex. It can cause great harm to those impacted. Our thoughts are with those affected. We, as the Church, must see this as an opportunity to redouble our efforts to ensure we are properly equipped to effectively respond to this type of abuse in future, and to best support those effected.”
Mr Fletcher is a former trustee of the conservative Evangelical group Reform, which the Bishop of Maidstone, the Rt Revd Rod Thomas, chaired before he was consecrated bishop.
A notice sent by Bishop Thomas in April to leaders of ReNew, a conservative Evangelical group, which was published on the Anglican Ink website, expresses concern that Mr Fletcher had continued to be invited and accept invitations to minister in C of E schools and other contexts. “This is not appropriate,” it says.
The notice was also signed by Mr Weekes, the Rector of St Helen’s Bishopsgate, the Revd William Taylor, and the Rector of St Ebbe’s, Oxford, the Revd Vaughan Roberts. A letter from the same signatories sent in May urged “anyone who may have been adversely affected” by Mr Fletcher to come forward.
Mr Fletcher has been a significant figure among Evangelicals in the Church of England. He has preached at conferences such as Word Alive. As an Assistant Curate of the Round Church, Cambridge, in the 1970s, he ministered to undergraduates including the now Vicar of Holy Trinity, Brompton, the Revd Nicky Gumbel.