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UK: Son of 'sadomasochistic' QC removed from church after 'gaslighting' victims of abuse

UK: Son of 'sadomasochistic' QC removed from church after 'gaslighting' victims of abuse
PJ Smyth 'sincerely sorry' for misleading statements, claiming that his own experience of abuse caused him 'to bury and distort memories'

By Gabriella Swerling, Social and Religious Affairs Editor
10 December 2021

John Smyth groomed his victims at public schools and on Christian summer camps run by the Iwerne Trust, as well as carrying out beatings in his garden shed in Winchester in the 1970s and 1980s before continuing his abuse in Zimbabwe.

His abuse was made public in 2017, a year before he died of a heart attack aged 77 at his home in Cape Town, South Africa.

In June, The Telegraph revealed that his son, PJ Smyth, a church leader in the US, was suspended from ministry amid allegations he misrepresented what he knew about his father's abuse.

The revelations prompted an investigation into the Advance Movement -- the evangelical network founded by PJ, comprising more than 115 churches around the world. However, it can now be reported that he has been "stood down" indefinitely from the organisation.

This newspaper has seen a copy of the "Independent Assessment of the Advance Movement" conducted by Wade Mullen, an expert on abuse victims within the church, which concluded that Mr Smyth's public response to his father's abuse amounted to "distancing, sugar-coating, minimising or avoiding".

The report refers to "apparent discrepancies in statements made by PJ Smyth concerning his knowledge of and involvement with the accusations against John Smyth".

PJ Smyth also revealed that he was abused by his father, which had resulted in trauma and memory loss which caused him to "bury and distort memories".

He said he had come to "a painful awareness that my father abused me significantly when I was young, and maintained an abusive control over me for much of my adult life".

"With what I am learning from mental health professionals, I believe that a combination of natural memory loss over decades, and the trauma I am carrying, has caused me to bury and distort memories within this traumatic life-theme of me and my dad. I am now on a journey to discover, confront and learn to live with my memories."

In February, 2017, PJ Smyth released a number of prepared statements regarding the allegations against his father after the story broke.

However, when interviewed for the independent report, he agreed that the statements -- that he had become aware of his father's misconduct in the UK "several decades later", and that he had "no knowledge of the specifics" -- were, in the words of Mr Mullen, "minimising or avoiding".

PJ Symth provided a written statement to the independent review, which he claims he would have written in 2017 "had he possessed the facts and awareness he now has".

'Lack of inquisitiveness'

He said that, in his early 20s, he was "aware of some of the allegations, although I didn't believe it" and that he believed his father, who had convinced him that the claims were "grossly exaggerated" and "had been dealt with".

He also said that he was "aware of the corporal punishment that my father used on the Zambesi Ministries camps". However, because he was "heavily influenced" by his father, he "never considered it to be abusive, and to my regret didn't take seriously those who considered it was abusive". He added: "I did try to confront my father once, but acquiesced."

PJ also issued an apology to UK victims for not having believed the reports, to Zimbabwe victims for his "lack of appreciation of their painful reality" and also for his overall "lack of inquisitiveness".

Action was taken against PJ in June 2021 amid allegations he misrepresented himself and knowledge of his father's abuse before taking up his role as a pastor at Monument Church in Gaithersburg, Maryland.

The move followed his removal from leading the Advance Movement, as well as his leadership role within Newfrontiers -- a wider coalition of almost 800 churches.

The report concluded that PJ is a "trauma survivor" and "should not have to pay for the sins of his father" and expressed "compassion for PJ's own victimisation and for the extraordinarily difficult position he has been placed in".

'Gaslighted and intimidated'

However, it also referred to concerning patterns of behaviour regarding PJ's "trustworthiness and consistency in communication and anger and defensiveness when confronted" which has led "various individuals to feel betrayed and lied to, manipulated, gaslighted and intimidated".

In its summary conclusion, the report commended PJ Smyth "for walking the difficult path of receiving professional therapy for his own trauma" because "the only redemptive path forward is to sit in the pain and brokenness and to embrace the entire history".

A spokesperson for Advance said that it has asked PJ to step down from the Movement and the global leadership team, saying: "Considering the findings of this report, including the revelations of his own trauma, we believe that it is both right and appropriate that he step down from all forms of ministry for an undetermined period and would also counsel against him assuming a leadership role in any local church in this season.

"The report highlights areas where PJ's character and conduct have not met the biblical expectations of an overseer. It is likely that the trauma he experienced from his father has played a major role in some or all of these areas of concern."

In response, PJ Smyth published a statement saying: "In good heart, I accept Advance's decision to step me down from ministry. I accept that I am not above reproach at this time."

He said that he accepts the errors in his historic statements regarding his father "have caused harm", and that he is working on various apologies and corrective statements.

"I mourn the shockwaves that many of you are feeling, and I am sincerely sorry for my responsibility in that."


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