THE Rector of St Helen’s, Bishopsgate, in the City of London, the Revd William Taylor, has apologised for criticising a statement by the Independent Advisory Group (IAG), which supported the lessons-learnt review into the activities of the Revd Jonathan Fletcher (News, 26 March).
On Palm Sunday, Mr Taylor spoke from the pulpit during a morning service at St Helen’s about the publication of the review by Thirtyone:eight, published last month, which said that a “culture of fear” at Emmanuel Church, Wimbledon, and in the wider conservative Evangelical constituency, prevented safeguarding concerns about Mr Fletcher from being reported.
Mr Taylor said that he had been “profoundly shocked” when told about Mr Fletcher’s abuses “in early February 2019”, and that the lessons-learnt review contained recommendations “that we need to implement at St Helen’s”.
He went on, however, to criticise strongly the statement made by the external members of the IAG (News, Comment, 26 March). Mr Taylor described their accompanying statement as “clearly politically driven”. The statement had “significantly cheapened the report itself”, he said, and “raises questions for the organisation that produced the report”.
Members of the IAG, Mr Taylor said, had “formed a central part” of “a co-ordinated campaign on social media”, which had made “very serious allegations” concerning the integrity of a member of staff at St Helen’s “with regard to his responsibilities as a trustee of a separate organisation to St Helen’s”. Mr Fletcher’s victims “must feel that they’re being used like a political football”.
Mr Taylor also remarked that, before the publication of the Thirtyone:eight review, a “full and independent review” of the leadership culture at St Helen’s had been carried out by “an employment barrister of some note”. It had concluded that “there is no evidence of authoritarian, abusive, bullying, or coercive behaviour in St Helen’s”.
One week later, however, Mr Taylor’s tone had changed. Speaking from the pulpit of St Helen’s on Easter Day, he said that he had been challenged “graciously and firmly” by his churchwardens and staff members about his Palm Sunday statement. “I was wrong to speak as I did last Sunday, and I know it caused hurt, and I am sorry.”
He acknowledged that one of the external members of the IAG was a victim of Mr Fletcher. “I deeply regret that my statement last week has caused you pain. I fully accept that this has been the case and this unreserved apology is for you.
“I also apologise to those whose confidence in reporting [safeguarding concerns] has been knocked. Some of you may have thought, as a result of my statement, that any concerns you might report would be dismissed. This is not the case. Our safeguarding team here at St Helen’s takes all concerns seriously, and I’m sorry to have undermined confidence in this important part of the work here. So please do speak up. We will listen to you. We love and care for you.”
Mr Taylor also apologised for another section of his Palm Sunday statement in which he quoted from a text message that he had received from John Stevens, national director of the Fellowship of Independent Evangelical Churches, which said: “Christ is Lord. The gospel is true. His word is powerful and active. Jesus knows. Truth will be vindicated in the end.” Mr Taylor said on Easter Day that he had quoted from the text without first seeking Mr Stevens’s permission, and that, in so doing, “I gave people the impression that you [Mr Stevens] endorsed my statement”, when he did not.
A public letter to Mr Taylor, signed by the Revd Sam Allberry and the Revd Glen Scrivener, both conservative Evangelical clerics, was published on the blog of Lee Furney, a victim of Mr Fletcher, on Monday. The letter says that Mr Taylor’s Easter Day statement “sends a far healthier message about the way forward in this crisis — a way of contrition and repentance”.
It goes on to say, however, that there are “things absent from your apology”.
In his Palm Sunday statement, it says, Mr Taylor had “denigrated” the members of the IAG “in multiple ways”.
“Given that you offered an ‘unreserved’ apology in general, to leave out the IAG in any of the specifics must have been an intentional omission. This is especially so given the way you single out other parties. Those defamations remain in place, and a large part of the harm of Palm Sunday therefore remains unaddressed.
“You have offered to John Stevens a very fulsome public and private apology. We would have expected a similar course of action for the victim representative on IAG (which could be done readily via 31:8). Having checked with an IAG member, we understand that neither the victim representative nor any of the external members of the IAG have received an apology. We do not think the Easter Sunday apology is complete without this.”
The letter goes on to say: “The 31:8 report and the IAG statement both highlight the need to review the culture of our constituency. We believe this to be an urgent matter. Sadly, we believe your Palm Sunday statement embodied something of the unhealthiness we see in our leadership culture.”
The Allberry-Scrivener letter contrasts Mr Taylor’s response with an “exemplary” statement by the Associate Rector of All Souls’, Langham Place, London, the Revd Jonny Dyer, who spoke about the lessons-learnt review and the IAG statement during a service broadcast online.
“We are so very sorry that this type of abuse continues to take place in the church body, especially so close to home,” he said. “Our thoughts are with the survivors who have suffered and continue to suffer from the effects of such abusive and immoral behaviour.”
Mr Dyer urged people to read both the review and the IAG statement. “At All Souls’, we will be reflecting on what these two documents mean for us and urge others to do the same.”
He drew attention to a conference that will take place online on 25 and 26 June, “Church as a Refuge: Understanding power, control, abuse and church as a safe place”.