Bishop Andrew Watson is among the men who say they were beaten by John Smyth during their boyhood. Wikimedia Commons

By John Martin

The Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, has said the church “failed terribly” in dealing with the case of John Smyth, QC, who is accused of beating boys.

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Smyth is a former chairman of trustees for Iwerne Trust, a nondenominational charity that runs camping programs for boys from elite schools in the United Kingdom.

The archbishop’s apology follows a six-month investigation by Channel 4, which contacted Smyth’s accusers. Iwerne Trust was informed of the abuse but failed to inform the police, the investigative report said. Smyth was advised by a board member to leave the country.

The Rt. Rev. Andrew Watson, Bishop of Guildford, is among the men who say they were beaten by Smyth during their boyhood.

“We recognize that many institutions fail catastrophically, but the Church is meant to hold itself to a far, far higher standard and we have failed terribly,” said a statement issued by Lambeth Palace. “For that the archbishop apologizes unequivocally and unreservedly to all survivors.”

As a teenager Welby was a dormitory officer at a camp where Smyth was one of the main leaders in the late 1970s.

In the late 1970s and early 1980s, Smyth established ties with students from Winchester College. In Chanel 4’s report, they likened Smyth to a cult leader who developed a form of psychological control. The men, now in their 50s, say Smyth would recite passages of the Bible to them before beating them with a cane.

Winchester College said it did not conceal what happened.

“Housemasters were informed, and many parents consulted. The then-headmaster met John Smyth and required him to undertake never again to enter the college or contact its pupils,” the college said in a statement. “No report was made to the police at the time, not least because, understandably, parents of the victims felt that their sons should be spared further trauma, and these wishes were respected.”

The Rev Eric J.H. Nash (1898-1982) formed Iwerne Trust under the umbrella of the Scripture Union movement. It later became part of Titus Trust.

The list of Bash Campers, the nickname given to men who attended Iwerne camps, reads like a who’s who of British evangelicalism, including Bishops Timothy Dudley-Smith, David Sheppard, and Maurice Wood, as well as priests Michael Green, Nicky Gumbel, Dick Lucas, Hugh Palmer, Paul Perkin, John Stott, and William Taylor.

Bishop Watson warned against blaming any theology for the abuse.

“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,” the bishop said. “It was abuse perpetrated by a misguided, manipulative and dangerous man, tragically playing on the longing of his young victims to live godly lives.”

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