Fletcher report unlikely to harm conservative evangelical insiders

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The controversy involving the Rev William Taylor, Rector of St Helen’s Bishopsgate in the City of London, spotlights the question of how coherent the inside strategy of conservative evangelicals in the Church of England is proving to be.

Following the publication of a statement by the Independent Advisory Group to the Thirtyone:eight report  into the Jonathan Fletcher abuse scandal,  Mr Taylor attacked the IAG for ‘cheapening’ the 31:8 report. During the service on Palm Sunday (March 28th), Mr Taylor also defended his St Helen’s staff team colleague, Brian O’Donaghue, in his role as a trustee of St Peter’s Canary Wharf: 

‘Allegations have been made publicly concerning the integrity of Brian O’Donaghue with regard to his responsibilities as a trustee of a separate organisation to St Helen’s. Those who have levelled this accusation very publicly have not taken any time to investigate what they allege. They simply made assumptions and put out their defamatory remarks on social media for their own political gain. They call into question Brian’s integrity with regard to confidential information of which he was aware as a trustee and they suggested he acted inappropriately. I want to assure you that Brian has acted with impeccable integrity in this whole matter.’

Fletcher was also a trustee of St Peter’s Canary Wharf, which runs a church plant from St Helen’s meeting in St Peter’s Barge on the River Thames, until he resigned in February 2019. According to the IAG, Mr O’Donaghue, whom it does not name in its statement but refers to as ‘one of Fletcher’s fellow trustees of St Peter’s Barge, a member of staff at St Helen’s Bishopsgate’, ‘knew of an investigation concerning Fletcher’s abuse in late 2018’.

The IAG includes one of Fletcher’s victims. On Easter Sunday (April 4th), Mr Taylor apologised for his ‘intemperate remarks’ of the previous week, but did not mention Mr O’Donaghue. 

Since 2012, Mr O’Donaghue has been a trustee of the London Diocesan Fund, which is chaired by the Bishop of London, Dame Sarah Mullally. It performs the functions of the London Diocesan Board of Finance, which is listed at the Charity Commission as dormant.  The LDF, which posted an income of £46.8 million with the Charity Commission for 2019, pays clergy and central staff salaries, maintains vicarages and funds mission initiatives in London Diocese. Mr O’Donaghue serves as an LDF trustee alongside the Bishop of Stepney, Joanne Grenfell, and the Dean of St Paul’s, David Ison, both leading CofE revisionists.

In December 2020 William Taylor, who is chairman of the ReNew conservative evangelical network, issued a statement saying St Helen’s was in ‘broken partnership’ with the CofE’s House of Bishops. This was because the House was ‘divided on sex and marriage; its official orthodox doctrine is expressly undermined by how some bishops speak and act, and by the failure to speak and act of many others’.

The fact that Mr O’Donaghue meets regularly with Bishop Mullally on a body that administers the spiritual work of London Diocese would seem to run counter to the ‘broken partnership’ with the House of Bishops which St Helen’s announced last year.

Mr Taylor has been chairman of ReNew since its first conference in 2013 as a partnership between two CofE conservative evangelical organisations, Church Society and Reform, of which Fletcher was a trustee in the 2000s, and the Anglican Mission in England outside the CofE structures. Mr Donaghue is a trustee  of ReNew.

The IAG includes Dan Leafe, a barrister who specialises in matrimonial finance. Mr Leafe is the husband of Susie Leafe, who was director of Reform from 2013 to 2018. 

Mrs Leafe is currently director of Anglican Futures, which ‘offers day-to-day practical and pastoral support to faithful Anglicans in the UK. It is an initiative borne from many years working to reform and renew the Anglican Communion and we are committed to upholding the 2008 Jerusalem Declaration’.

Julian Mann is an evangelical journalist based in the UK and author of Christians in the Community of the Dome