An internal Church of England investigation has revealed a founder of a Christian charity abused his position and had “inappropriate relationships” with young male interns.
Mike Pilavachi, co-founder and former leader of Soul Survivor, exhibited a “systematic pattern of coercive and controlling behaviour”, the Church of England’s National Safeguarding Team said.
Pilavachi worked as a youth leader for 40 years and was ordained in 2012, with allegations of his inappropriate behaviour going back decades.
Pilavachi started Soul Survivor, a church organisation that ran a Christian summer festival, in 1993 and went on to register it with the Charity Commission in 2011.
At its peak the festival was attended by about 30,000 people, most of whom were teenagers.
In April, allegations emerged that Pilavachi had been carrying out “inappropriate massages” and wrestling with young men, which led to him stepping down from his role as director of the charity.
The NST then launched an investigation into Pilavachi, which has today said the the claims had been substantiated.
“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’,” a statement said.
“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.”
Soul Survivor has this week commissioned an independent review into the matter, which will be led by Fiona Scolding KC.
Pilavachi has resigned his licence to the Bishop of St Albans, meaning he is no longer able to minister for the Church of England.
Alan Smith, the Bishop of St Albans, 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.”
Further investigations about concerns raised relating to a former senior Church of England leader linked with Soul Survivor Festivals are ongoing.
In a statement, Soul Survivor said: “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.”