Justin Welby, head of the British state church, has apologised unreservedly for abuse by a former colleague that was unreported for thirty years.
The apology was in response to allegations by Channel 4 News that John Smyth had beaten 22 private-school boys who had attended summer camps intended to persuade them of the merits of Christianity. The camps were run by the Irwerne Trust, a charity of which Smyth was a senior official.
According to the Trust eight boys were lashed a total of 14,000 times. Two others were hit 8,000 times over three years.
According to a BBC report Mr Welby “worked at the charity’s summer camps where the . . . school boys were said to have met Mr Smyth, but said he was unaware of the allegations until 2013”. They were friends but not close.
The Trust became aware of the abuse in the 1980s. In 1982 a vicar wrote a report on the abuse for the Trust. But it was not until 2013 that the crimes were reported to the police. According to the BBC Smyth “was told to leave the country”.
Mr Welby knew that Smyth had left the country but stayed in occasional contact by postcard. He was living abroad at the time of the abuse and when the report was written.
The Church of England is usually well-protected by its followers, many of whom hold positions of great power. Both the current prime minister and her immediate predecessor are members of the state church.
Six legislators, including the prime minister, are ex-officio members of the Church Commission. The Commission manages the church’s property assets.
In 2014 then prime minister David Cameron rejected a call to end the privileged status of his church. He said that ““Our arrangements work well. As I’ve said before, we’re a Christian country, we have an established church”.
In 2014 Ann Butler-Sloss. a former Court of Appeal judge and now a legislator-for-life, had to withdraw as head of an inquiry into child sex abuse. This followed an allegation reported by the BBC that in a previous review “she wanted to exclude some of his allegations in a bid to protect the Church of England.” According to BBC News, this was because she “cared very much about the Church”.