11 days on from the investigation that concluded Mike Pilavachi “used his spiritual authority to control people”, many of his colleagues in ministry have remained silent - or tried to minimise their connection with him. Jane Chevous says the Church must do better
The Church of England investigation into abuse of power and spiritual abuse by Mike Pilavachi has concluded, and found the complaints to be substantiated.
The investigation team concluded “he used his spiritual authority to control people and that his coercive and controlling behaviour led to inappropriate relationships, the physical wrestling of youths and massaging of young male interns.”
The National Safeguarding Team (NST) have initiated a complaint under the Clergy Disciplinary Measure against Pilavachi, who has resigned from Soul Survivor and no longer has a licence to minister in the Church of England. Further investigations continue into the conduct of other church leaders involved in Soul Survivor, including Rev Andy Croft, who remains suspended. Soul Survivor Watford have announced an independent review, led by Fiona Scolding KC, and committed to publishing her report and implementing recommendations in full.
Both the NST and Soul Survivor statements pay tribute to the courage of those who have come forward, and apologise for the hurt caused. They report that victim-survivors have been offered support and counselling, as they are entitled to under the Church of England’s “Responding Well” policy and guidance. As someone who has spent the last four years reporting my abuse by Anglican clergy (for the second time), I know how important that support can be. I’m also very grateful for the courage of those who disclosed; each time we speak truth, it makes it easier for others to speak and be believed. I’m thankful for them that their abuse had been publicly acknowledged, and that there will be an independent review. I hope that this will lead to justice, and eventually to some healing for survivors; but that is still a long road.
Reporting abuse is terrifying and re-traumatising. To be met with silence, compounds this hurt
Many questions remain to be answered. How was he able to abuse for so long with no challenge or restriction? How was it not picked up when he was ordained, or through recent safeguarding reviews? It has been reported that concerns were raised with Soul Survivor leadership years ago; what happened to these? Will anyone be held accountable for the failure to safeguard so many young people?
We are now 11 days on from the investigation concluding, yet many individuals and organisations connected to Soul Survivor are yet to speak. The Message Trust, for example, partnered with Soul Survivor on outreach and music releases, but have yet to say a word. Hope Together, a Christian charity which "grew out of the friendship and trust” between Andy Hawthorne (The Message), Roy Crowne and Mike Pilavachi has also not released any statements.
Back in April, when the investigation was first launched, some leaders said they would await the outcome before commenting further. But now that we know the outcome, there is still silence.
Rewind the clock a few years and high profile evangelical leaders were queuing up to endorse Pilavachi’s books or invite him to speak at their large churches and conferences. Now? Silence.
One of the groups most closely associated with Soul Survivor was New Wine. Upon hearing the findings, their initial approach was to distance themselves from Pilavachi, and minimise their close connection. Their misleading statement deliberately downplayed the association (they later apologised for causing upset but still didn't acknowledge the closeness of their relationship).
We cannot try to prevent further abuse if we don’t acknowledge our own complicity and failures.
Reporting abuse as a survivor is terrifying, exhausting and re-traumatising. To be met with silence or minimisation, compounds this hurt and harm. It tells us that we’re disbelieved, or not important, that people don’t care, or can’t be bothered, or can’t face the truth. It tells other survivors, don’t bother reporting, nothing will change.
Christian leaders must show solidarity with survivors, by being strong allies and prioritising transparency. Visible allyship is not just important to the victims who have disclosed; it sends a vital message to all those who are unable to disclose, to everyone who attended Soul Survivor who may have been an unwilling witness, or present but unaware; to the tens of thousands of Christians who were connected with the movement and are in churches and ministries all over the world. It sends a message that we will face up to this appalling and devastating truth together. We will not rest until we have accountability and justice. We will examine our own ministry and community to root out any unhealthy practices that can lead to abuse. And we will offer solidarity and support to survivors, ensuring they know that they matter, and that we will make whatever reparation we can.