Soul Survivor Watford has formally suspended Mike Pilavachi, founder of a large Christian youth festival in the U.K., who’s facing allegations he spiritually and sexually abused young men under him. The suspension comes amid revelations that ministry leaders in the U.K. knew about allegations concerning Pilavachi for nearly two decades but did nothing.
The church, which is part of the Church of England, announced in early April that Pilavachi would “step back from all ministry” while the denomination’s National Safeguarding Team investigated the allegations against him. Pilavachi also resigned from the church board and all related charity boards at the time. But Soul Survivor Watford expressly noted that Pilavachi was “not under criminal investigation and has not been suspended.”
However, on Saturday, Soul Survivor Watford released a new statement, saying it had suspended Pilavachi, its associate pastor, “with immediate effect” while the investigation continues. The statement added, “It has been clear that this more decisive action should have been made earlier and we have acted to correct this now.”
Pilavachi is the founder of Soul Survivor, a festival attracting crowds of about 30,000, which ran from 1993—2019. Pilavachi also started Soul Survivor Watford and is a 2020 recipient of a prestigious Lambeth Award from the Archbishop of Canterbury.
The vicar and charismatic speaker has been accused of running “a cult” in which young men received full-body massages on his bed and were pressured to engage in extended wrestling matches. Survivors claim Pilavachi abused them spiritually and psychologically and “left a trail of broken, young male adults scattered all around the world.”
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Pilavachi’s suspension comes about a week after Paul Martin, founder of Soul Survivor USA, told El Telégrafo that ministry leaders in the U.K. knew about allegations concerning Pilavachi two decades ago but did nothing.
Martin, who’s now based in Los Angeles and works as a human rights advocate, says that around 2002, he learned second-hand about “allegations of some sort about Mike’s relationship with young interns.” Martin said Soul Survivor “leadership was informed.”
Again in 2004, Martin said he heard that Soul Survivor leadership had been informed of alleged inappropriate behavior, including massages. Martin said he presumed the Soul Survivor board had handled the situation but realized that was not the case when he learned of the new allegations and investigation.
Martin told the Telegraph that “to this day,” he regrets not raising the issue “because I’m one of the leaders of this movement.”
El Informe Roys (TRR) reached out to Martin for more details about how he knew of the allegations regarding Pilavachi in 2002 and who reported them. Martin said he could reveal only that he was “made aware that Mike’s co-director and trustees knew.”
TRR also reached out to Soul Survivor for comment but did not immediately hear back.
Ayer, Chris Bullivant, a writer who edited Soul Survivor iMag from 2000 to 2005, tweeted that he also reported allegations about Pilavachi to Soul Survivor decades ago.
Bullivant tweeted that Tim Hughes, an Anglican pastor and internationally-known worship leader, “told me in 2004 that Mike Pilavachi was massaging an intern.” Bullivant said he “reported this to then Executive Director Liz Biddulph who just said ‘Pft.’”
TRR reached out to Soul Survivor, requesting comment from the charity or Biddulph, but did not immediately hear back.
Tim Hughes told me in 2004 that Mike Pilavachi was massaging an intern. I reported this to then Executive Director Liz Biddulph who just said “Pft.” https://t.co/i7qxbuomIt
— Chris Bullivant (@chrisbullivant) May 22, 2023
In its recent statement, Soul Survivor Watford said it is cooperating “fully with the investigation.” It added, “We are assured that anyone affected will continue to be given the opportunity to contribute to the investigation and given the support they need.”
However, Martin told the Telegraph that he contacted the Church of England’s National Safeguarding Team (NST) but didn’t hear back for nine days. It was only after the Telegraph contacted the NST for comment ahead of publication that Martin reportedly received a response.
Martin also noted that Soul Survivor Watford continued to post Pilavachi’s picture and bio on its website for weeks after the allegations against him were made public.
The church has since removed the picture and bio, but Martin told the Telegraph that the delay was “at best sloppiness, and at worst, systemic.”
Martin added that he has concerns about the current investigation, especially since it’s being conducted by the Church of England, instead of an independent organization.
“Churches and denominations historically do a horrible job at this,” he said. “. . . And so I’m concerned—gravely concerned—because this has been going on for 20 years and I hope they get it right. I have not been confident so far.”
*Update: This article has been updated to include Chris Bullivant’s relevant work history and our attempt to reach Soul Survivor for comment.
Julie Roys es una reportera de investigación veterana y fundadora de The Roys Report. Anteriormente, también presentó un programa de entrevistas nacional en Moody Radio Network, llamado Up for Debate, y ha trabajado como reportera de televisión para una filial de CBS. Sus artículos han aparecido en numerosas publicaciones periódicas.