A Church of England bishop has revealed he is a survivor of alleged abuse by John Smyth, the man at the centre of multiple claims about incidents at Christian summer camps in the 1970s.
The Bishop of
Guildford said he was only targeted once – but endured a "violent,
excruciating and shocking" beating at the hands of Mr Smyth.
His revelation follows allegations in a television news report in the
UK that a number of young men attending the holiday camp were severely
beaten with a cane by John Smyth between 1978 and 1982.
In a statement on
the Diocese of Guildford website, Bishop Andrew Watson said: "I am one
of the survivors of John Smyth's appalling activities in the late 1970s
and early '80s. I am also one of the bishops in the Church of England.
This has placed me in a unique and challenging position when it comes to
the events of the past few days” he said.
The Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, offered the following response to
Bishop Watson’s statement: "I applaud today’s moving, honest and
courageous statement by Andrew Watson, the Bishop of Guildford, by
making public his experience of abuse at the hands of John Smyth. The
traumatic experience he and others went through is utterly appalling and
punishment of this kind is wrong. In meetings with survivors of abuse, I
have listened to them, prayed for them and wept with them, and am
deeply conscious of their suffering. My continued prayers are with
Andrew and all the victims of abuse."
The trust that ran the camps discovered the abuse in 1982 when one of
the young men attempted to commit suicide. The trust did not report the
abuse to the police. In 2013, the allegations resurfaced when a
survivor complained to the church.
Bishop Watson expressed a “heartfelt desire” that lessons might be learnt:
"I am grateful to the Archbishop of Canterbury for his apology to
survivors on behalf of the Church, and don't begin to believe that he
knew anything of Smyth's violent activities until his office was
informed in 2013. I would also like to express the concern of myself and
some of my fellow survivors that we are seen as people and not used as
pawns in some political or religious game” he said. "Abusers espouse all
theologies and none; and absolutely nothing that happened in the Smyth
shed was the natural fruit of any Christian theology that I've come
across before or since. It was abuse perpetrated by a misguided,
manipulative and dangerous man, tragically playing on the longing of his
young victims to live godly lives."