Having disclosed his “sin” of masturbation, Mark Stibbe, age 17, was ordered to strip naked and lean over a wooden chair in the garden shed of a lavish Hampshire mansion on the southern coast of England.
Then came the first blow from a cane, its impact so ferocious that it sent the boy into a state of paralysis that lasted through at least 30 more strokes that left him collapsed on the floor, blood oozing down his legs.
“I remember being so appalled by how vicious the first lash was that I couldn’t scream,” Mr. Stibbe, now 56 and an acclaimed Christian author, recalled on a recent afternoon in his Yorkshire home. “You’re in this tiny shed full of canes with this man. I felt utterly powerless.”
Until that day in the late 1970s, the man he says beat him, John Smyth, was known to Mr. Stibbe and his friends as a charismatic lawyer and influential evangelical Christian leader who regularly attended the Christian forum of their nearby boarding school, Winchester College, the oldest in Britain. Now, Mr. Smyth, 75 and keeping a low profile in South Africa, stands at the center of a widening scandal of sadistic abuse of dozens of boys over three decades that has ensnared the leader of the Anglican Church, the Most Rev. Justin Welby, archbishop of Canterbury, though only peripherally.
The accusations against Mr. Smyth, which were first reported in February as part of a Channel 4 news investigation, are the latest in a string of large-scale child abuse and sex scandals that have embroiled British institutions in recent months, exposing a long history of denial and cover-ups.
The Hampshire police have begun an investigation into Mr. Smyth’s conduct, and more victims are speaking out in the hope that he will come forth in South Africa and face justice. The most recent account was from the bishop of Guildford, Andrew Watson, who said in a statement that he, too, had received a beating in the infamous garden shed that was “violent, excruciating and shocking.”
Mr. Stibbe said, “The sin that seemed to preoccupy him more than anything was masturbation, and he managed to persuade me that I needed to purge my body of that sin.”
Mr. Smyth would explain to the boys why they needed to be punished so severely. “He quoted from the Bible and told me I had to bleed for Jesus,” said another victim, who attempted suicide on his 21st birthday, after Mr. Smyth promised him “a special kind of beating” for the occasion.
“When he was done, he would lean in towards me and put his face on my neck telling me how proud he was of me,” said the man, who asked that his name not be used because of the deeply personal nature of his remarks.
The scale and severity of the abuses Mr. Smyth is accused of first surfaced in 1982, after the suicide attempt, which prompted an internal investigation by the Iwerne Trust, a Christian charity headed by Mr. Smyth that ran summer camps. He is said to have used his position at camps to win the trust of the boys he was to abuse.
Five of the 13 victims who came forward in 1982 told investigators for the trust that they had received 12 beatings and about 650 strokes. The other eight said they had each been hit about 14,000 times over a period of years.
Some of the victims received up to 100 strokes at a time for masturbating, having indecent thoughts or looking at pornography — beatings that caused some to faint or bleed for up to three weeks, the trust found.
The trust’s report concluded that all the cases were technically criminal offenses, and yet none were reported to the police. Instead, Mr. Smyth was removed from the trust in 1984 and sent to Zimbabwe, where he set up similar Christian summer camps for privately educated boys, the South African news media have reported.
In 1997, Zimbabwe’s prosecuting attorney arrested Mr. Smyth on a charge of culpable homicide in the death of Guide Nyachuru, a 16-year-old boy who was found dead at the bottom of the swimming pool of one of Mr. Smyth’s camps in Zimbabwe. Mr. Smyth denied any involvement in the drowning, calling it a tragic accident, and a year later all charges against him were dropped.
In court documents in the case, he was accused of brutally beating five other boys at the camps there.
“He would strip us naked and hit us with wooden bats to purge us of sin,” said one of the victims in Zimbabwe, who asked to remain anonymous for fear of reprisal by Mr. Smyth.
In 2002, Mr. Smyth moved to South Africa, where new accusations of abuse have surfaced in news outlets in recent weeks. Last month, he was removed from the Church-on-Main in Cape Town, where there were claims of inappropriate behavior but not proof of criminal acts, the church said in a statement.
— The New York Times, Dozens Say Christian Leader Made British Boys ‘Bleed for Jesus’, written by Eylan Yeginsu, March 4, 2017
In the UK we are coming to terms, very slowly, with the fact that abuse of children has been a part of our heritage since, well, time immemorial. I suppose that until fairly recently, say the last hundred years, it was something we could easily ignore. Children, especially those in the ‘lower classes’ did as their betters told them, so having sex with them was tolerated, though never discussed.
Sex was only part of the abuse, however, as this post demonstrates. The level of violence described is so excessive as only to be attributable to some sort of sick perversion, similar to sexual gratification. The UK experience, to my mind, exemplifies the problem. It’s not that religion and abuse go together as a matter of course, it’s that predators of this kind are attracted to environments that enable them to feed their nature. Our biggest paedophile stories surround celebrity; Jimmy Saville (who seems to have done little else), Rolf Harris (which makes me genuinely sad), and several others. Absolutely there have been plenty of church based examples, by no means confined to the Catholic Church, but it seems to me that there’s been a bit of a mix in the church; some attracted to the ministry by the lure of unprotected kids, others finding the requirement of abstinence just too much for them.
I think the tide has turned in the UK. Those historic cases you mention, Geoff are horrific but I find parents are very wary of all church activities for kids. There have not been any local cases but all churches are tainted by the pedophile priest – and now Smyth scandals – in the eyes of many parents. A misguided american pastor planted an IFB church here in my welsh village. He put on the local FB page that he was starting an Awana group. I was surprised that 3 people commented ‘religious indoctrination is child abuse’. I don’t think even 5 yrs ago that would have happened. Anecdotally, I don’t think we do so much victim-blaming here and no christian leader, convicted or suspected of misconduct with kids could return to his post by saying it was OK, he’d asked for forgiveness. His mandatory Criminal Records Bureau check would be revoked and it’s therefore not legal for him to work with children in any voluntary or paid post.
There are endless ways to ‘beat the meat’, a rather crude term when referring to a young man touching himself but more accurate when it is used to refer to sicko Christian punishers who need to harm others, especially youngsters who are available to be injured. ‘Beating the meat’ then becaome a far more appropriate, accurate portrayal of reality. This is another simple but honest use of imagery to display modern faith in action in the world. We must beat the devil out of people who are discovering their own bodies, who feel pleasure and can use their imaginations. Beat them down, beat the evil out of them by all means, just as dear Jesus had to be be beaten, correct? Am I getting it right, preacher? We need correction?
This story actually broken in the UK at the start of Feb 2017. And at the start of March 2017, the stories about Iain Campbell emerged – https://brucegerencser.net/2017/03/where-the-calvinistic-rubber-meets-the-road-is-dr-ian-campbell-in-hell/ – another scandal. These were both conservative Christians with a very “holy” public image. But inside they were rotten. Who knows what else is going to emerge in the future?