How did he get away with it for so long?
It’s the Jimmy Saville question: how did they get away with it for so long? This morning’s newspapers are dominated by Prince William’s outrage. The Daily Mail is typical: WILLIAM; BBC LIES RUINED MY MOTHER’S LIFE. The fact that Martin Bashir’s now-discredited interview with Diane, Princes of Wales, took place 25 years ago is neither here nor there. His deceit and lies are now exposed along with the total failure of the BBC, even its eventual Director-General, to uncover the inconvenient truth . They are now, all these years later, being held to account. You may have also seen in yesterday’s news the “full personal apology” by Archbishop Justin to the survivors of abuse by former barrister John Smyth QC from the 1970’s and 1980’s. It seems that the Archbishop worked in a junior capacity at the Bash camps where Smyth abused at least 22 young men over seven years. In fact, these camps, established in the 1932 by Rev E J H Nash, were hugely formative in the growth of evangelical Anglicanism. Many key Christian leaders grew in their faith through his ministry, not least John Stott, Nicky Gumbel, and a whole bevy of bishops including the bishop who ordained me. Not that I would have qualified to attend – I only went to Waterloo Grammar School. Bash unashamedly directed his ministry to boys from the top 30 public schools. His prayer was “Lord, we claim the leading public schools for your Kingdom.” There is no suggestion of anything improper taking place under Bash’s leadership: he retired in 1965. The abuse took place between 1974 and 1981 when Smyth was chair for the trust overseeing the camps. When the abuse came to light in 1982, Smyth moved to Zimbabwe and South Africa, where he continued his abuse. Disowned by his family, he died in 2018 before being brought to justice. That he got away with it for so long was that it seemed so implausible. How could anyone who preached Christ crucified so convincingly do such things to vulnerable young men? No one could actually believe it was happening. Moreover, a culture of deference kept critics at arm’s length. Clearly the abuse by Smyth and the deceit of Bashir has caused real and profound damage which the years have not healed. And just as painful, the failure of the institutions, here the BBC and the Scripture Union, to hold the perpetrators to account for the fear of reputation damage. Witness the measured anger of Prince William not just against Bashir but against the BBC. Witness the remarks of one of Smyth’s victims: "It is clear a large number of individuals, clergy and lay, have known about these abuses for over thirty years and we call on them to cooperate fully with the Makin Review and the National Safeguarding Team. For victims like us, full closure is impossible without full disclosure." We all long for justice but at the same time there can be every incentive to look the other way. What makes the Bashir case even more impardonable is the failure of his editor and management at Panorama, leading investigative journalists no less, to uncover the truth. In contrast, the Bible is unsparing in its exposure of wrong-doing: the need for justice is paramount, however inconvenient. Take King David. In any other context David would have had a glowing epitaph – it was he who made Jerusalem the capital of the United Kingdom of Israel and Judah, it was he who paved the way for the golden age of the people of God. A national hero by any reckoning, the standard by whom all subsequent kings, both of Israel and Judah, were judged. And yet he abused his position of power for sexual favours, not only by taking Bathsheba but in having her husband killed in order to cover his tracks. In any other territory of his time he would have got away with it but not when the LORD, the God of Israel is involved. So he sends Nathan, his prophet, to cleverly confront David with his sin: “Why did you despise the word of the Lord by doing what is evil in his eyes?” (2 Samuel 12:9) And through Nathan, God delivers his verdict. David is forced to confront his sin, speaking to Nathan, “I have sinned against the Lord.” (2 Samuel 12:13). Hence Psalm 51. For the bottom line is that with God there is no cover-up and no getting away with it. As Jesus teaches: “There is nothing concealed that will not be disclosed, or hidden that will not be made known.” (Luke 12:2) For ourselves we need to be alert to the temptation of sweeping unwelcome dirt under the carpet, of failing to see what may be right in front of our eyes. Sadly Smyth is an object lesson is how a leading Christian can deceive and destroy. We refuse to be taken in by appearance, we need to be alert to our suspicions. However, God is not simply a God of justice but a God who heals – and we pray that those who have been damaged may know not only justice but healing. As Pete Wilson observes: “Time doesn't heal all wounds; God heals wounds.” And that has to be our hope.