The Rev. Jonathan Fletcher has defended his interactions with young men as being mere horse-play, with no sado-masochistic or homo-erotic overtones. The revelations of misconduct by the former minister of Emmanuel Church Wimbledon follow upon the abuse scandal surrounding the Iwerne camps and former leader John Smyth.
The allegations of misconduct and cover up have hit the conservative Evangelical community hard, gravely harming the reputation of a powerful strand of the English Evangelical movement. However, a spokesman for GAFCON tells Anglican Ink they were unaware of the controversy until earlier this year.
In a statement first published by the Church Times on 28 June 2019, Mr. Fletcher responded to recent revelations that he had abused young men whom he was mentoring. The abuse led to his suspension from the ministry of the Church of England in 2017; however, it was not until April 2019 the news of Fletcher’s disgrace became widespread. On 26 June 2019 details of Fletcher’s conduct were shared by a safeguarding officer and attorney from Emmanuel to the Evangelical Ministry Assembly meeting in London, which included psychological/spiritual abuse and manipulation, spankings and nude massages given by Fletcher to young men.
Mr. Fletcher said:
“As part of a long-standing prayer group, I have in the past been involved in a system of mutual encouragement whereby we set ourselves targets in healthy and holy living and then imposed what I thought of as light-hearted forfeits if we failed,
“These included going without chocolate, cold baths and school-type gym shoe punishments. Although at the time we definitely did not think we were doing anything wrong, I’ve seen since that it could have caused much harm both to individuals and to the reputation of conservative evangelicalism for which I am profoundly sorry. Needless to say, this activity has now stopped.”
“In addition, a number of people are reporting that I have had naked massages with them. I enjoy massage and benefit from it. To that end I regularly have it professionally administered. However, if I can avoid the cost by finding a male friend to administer, and in return receive, massage, I do.
“These sessions categorically do not have erotic or sexual overtones and I have never coerced or intended to coerce anyone into an arrangement. If any have felt pressurised by me to do this, I apologise. Again, I realise that in the position I have held in the past as an incumbent, it was unwise of me to involve anyone to whom I was also ministering and I apologise for doing so.”
“I confirm that I no longer engage in public ministry.”
Though Mr. Fletcher was removed from public ministry in 2017, he continued to hold himself out as a priest in his retirement and led an active ministry life. Following the consecration of the Rt. Rev. Andy Lines in Illinois by GAFCON archbishops last summer, a commissioning service was held in September 2018 at Emmanuel Church to inaugurate his English ministry. GAFCON Archbishops Peter Jensen and Ben Kwashi participated in the service.
The GAFCON spokesman explained: “The service was officiated by Robin Weekes [Emmanuel’s minister]. Jonathan Fletcher did a Q and A with Bishop Lines as part of the evening. The GAFCON global folks there did not know Jonathan’s PTO had been removed.”
He added that no one informed them of Fletcher’s status or the allegations of misconduct. Asked when Bishop Lines understood his long standing relationship with Fletcher may have been unhealthy, the spokesman said:
“Bishop Lines didn’t begin to recognize the nature of the abusive relationship until later in 2018 and didn’t fully come to grasp with it until the first quarter of 2019.”
For the GAFCON leadership outside England, “the depth and breadth of Jonathan’s behavior was not known until the first quarter of 2019. Some was known by the end of 2018, but not enough to establish or recognize a pattern. By March and April more victims had come forward, Bishop Lines was finding healing on sabbatical and preparing to come forward publicly when the sabbatical ended,” he said.