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Bishop of St Albans cites C of E laws in not advocating for independent investigation into Soul Survivor

by Kelly Valencia

The Bishop of St Albans, Rt Rev Alan Smith, has revealed that he could face disciplinary action if he were to demand an independent investigation into the safeguarding allegations made against Mike Pilavachi.

Rt Rev Alan Smith made the remarks as he responded to a question tabled by Peter Adams during this weekend's diocesan Synod, a gathering of church leaders and lay congregants in the area to discuss important issues affecting their congregations.

Adams asked if Bishop Alan could call for an independent inquiry into the safeguarding allegations, as pressure grows on the Church of England to commission one.  For the alleged victims there are "simply too many connections" between Soul Survivor and Church of England senior leadership, to have "confidence in the independence and transparency of any church-run investigation".

Mike Pilavachi, the former leader of Soul Survivor Watford and founder of the popular youth festivals bearing the same name, stepped down from all ministries earlier this year while an investigation takes place.  Two other pastors have also been suspended since the announcement by the church and the Diocese of St Albans in April.

When asked if he would work with the Church of England's National Safeguarding Team to establish an independent inquiry, Bishop Alan said he is "constrained" by the Safeguarding and Clergy Discipline Measure 2016.

He stated: "I want to fully acknowledge that some within the diocese and beyond may be feeling conflicted, upset, concerned or angry by what you have read about the investigation into Mike Pilavachi.

"I also acknowledge that these feelings may be exacerbated since we are limited in our ability to respond to ongoing reporting in traditional and social media due to the constraints of the investigation.  Where possible, updates are provided in conjunction with the National Safeguarding Team.

"At the same time, I must assure you of our commitment to support anyone affected by this situation, particularly those who are coming forward with information.  We are equally committed to the principle that the investigation must be fair to all parties."

Bishop Alan continued: "As Diocesan Bishop I am constrained by the Safeguarding and Clergy Discipline Measure 2016.  Under this measure all authorised clergy, bishops, archdeacons, licensed readers and lay workers, churchwardens and PCCs must have 'due regard' to safeguarding guidance issued by the House of Bishops.

"Failure by clergy to comply with the duty imposed by the 2016 Measure may result in disciplinary action."

The 2016 measure specifies that only the Church's Core Group responsible for handling a safeguarding case can recommend the need for an independent inquiry.

He concluded: "If I was to call for an independent enquiry at this stage, and without such a recommendation, I would be outside of House of Bishops' Guidance and would risk prejudicing the outcome of the current investigation.

"In particular, I am conscious that issuing calls now about the shape of the next stage of any response might cause confusion as to the processes currently underway and the support available now."

No formal timeline regarding the investigation has been communicated.


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