A church leader who led a major Christian youth festival and a large church in the UK has been found to have used his position to abuse people emotionally and psychologically.
The former Rev Canon Mike Pilavachi, who led Soul Survivor Church in Watford and the Soul Survivor national Christian youth festival, was investigated by the Church of England after a number of allegations were made against him.
The Church of England investigation was conducted by the National Safeguarding Team (NST) and the diocese of St Albans. It found that Pilavachi displayed coercive and controlling behaviour at the church and had inappropriate relationships with people under his authority.
The Bishop of St Albans, Alan Smith, said: “This has been a painful process for everyone involved, going back over years.
“I am sorry on behalf of the Church for the hurt caused and would like to acknowledge the courage of those who came forward to share their lived experience.
“I am aware there will be further contact with individuals about a more personalised response.”
“I want to assure them that their voices have been heard and that we will do everything we can to support them,” he said.
The Bishop of St Albans, Dr Alan Smith, and Soul Survivor Church both apologised to the victims of Pilavachi’s abuse.
The investigation report said those concerns related to conduct in his leadership and ministry, both before and after he was ordained in 2012, spanning 40 years from his time as a youth leader at St Andrew’s, Chorleywood, to the current day..
It said: “The overall substantiated concerns are described as an abuse of power relating to his ministry, and spiritual abuse; described in guidance as ‘a form of emotional and psychological abuse characterised by a systematic pattern of coercive and controlling behaviour in a religious context’.
“It was concluded that he used his spiritual authority to control people and that his coercive and controlling behaviour led to inappropriate relationships, the physical wrestling of youths and massaging of young male interns.”
The report made a number of recommendations, including that the Church of England should provide better training for church leaders on how to prevent and deal with abuse.
It concluded that previous “safeguarding concerns” raised about him were “substantiated”.
Hertfordshire Police said there was currently no ongoing investigation into Pilavachi, who resigned in July.
The report also recommended that the Church of England should establish a national independent body to investigate allegations of abuse within the church.
In a statement released by Soul Survivor, it said: “We are deeply sorry to all those people who have been victims of spiritual, emotional and psychological abuse, physical wrestling and massage under Mike’s leadership.
“There has been a systematic pattern of coercive and controlling behaviour. We are saddened that these behaviours happened in a context that should have provided safety and spiritual support.”
It continued: “We are aware of the hurt many individuals have and continue to experience as a result of Mike’s abuse and are truly sorry for the part Soul Survivor has played.
“We have been working with the NST to provide counselling and advocacy support to the individuals they have identified as finding it most beneficial. We remain committed to ensuring our church is safe and welcoming for all.”
Sole Survivor had commissioned Fiona Scolding KC to lead “a full and independent review”, it said.
Another member of the clergy at Soul Survivor, Senior Pastor Revd Andy Croft, remained suspended as part of the safeguarding investigation.
Concerns raised about a second pastor, Ali Martin, who was also suspended, had not been substantiated, Soul Survivor said.
“Ali’s suspension will therefore be lifted and she will be reintegrating back into her role over the coming weeks,” a church spokesperson added.
Full Church of England statement here.