Criminal inquiry a possibility for vicar accused of spiritual abuse

Jonathan Fletcher

A Church of England vicar banned from preaching over accusations of spiritual abuse may yet face a criminal inquiry. 

The Rev Jonathan Fletcher has been accused of using ice baths, nude massages and beatings on men as a form of spiritual discipline.  He is also alleged to have asked them about masturbation, The Daily Telegraph reports.

Five alleged victims, who remain anonymous, told the newspaper that they had endured bullying and intimidation at the hands of the former vicar of Emmanuel Church Wimbledon.

The newspaper was told by one man that he had been beaten "with a gym shoe on a bare backside".  Elsewhere in the report, Mr Fletcher was described as having "manipulative and controlling tendencies". 

The sources are calling for the police to launch a fresh investigation into the allegations after it previously decided to take no further action when the accusations first surfaced in 2017. 

The men are also reported to be taking legal advice into whether Mr Fletcher's actions constitute a crime. 

The Church of England has already removed Mr Fletcher's permission to officiate in light of the allegations and Emmanuel Church Wimbledon is in the process of undertaking an independent review

The review is to be led by Dr Lisa Oakley, Chair of the National Working Group for child abuse linked to faith and belief, and chaired by Justin Humphrey, Chief Executive (Safeguarding) at the independent safeguarding charity Thirtyone:eight.

They have invited anyone affected by the allegations to participate in the review, which will span his time as vicar of Emmanuel Church Wimbledon from 1982 until his retirement in 2012. 

"The review will enable the voices of those impacted by the behaviour of Jonathan Fletcher to be expressed, heard and considered alongside other contextual information and concerns from other relevant sources," Thirtyone:eight said.

Mr Fletcher has denied that the "punishments" were sexual or abusive, and also denied making anyone take an ice bath.

He said that his interactions with the men were "totally consensual and non-sexual", and that the punishments were "mutual", although he added that he was "deeply, deeply sorry for anybody that I have hurt or harmed in any way".

"If I knew the individuals that I had harmed I would seek their forgiveness and ask to apologise," he said.