The Church of England convicted a vicar of spiritually abusing a 15-year-old boy in the first ruling of its kind in its history.
A Church of England tribunal found Rev. Timothy Davis, vicar of Christ Church, guilty of spiritually abusing a teenage boy, identified in court documents as W1, over the course of 18 months beginning in 2011, according to The Guardian. Characteristics of spiritual abuse include coercion, manipulation, exerting control over an individual via the misuse of scripture and other religious texts, and providing divine justification for the abuser’s behavior, according to the academics from Bournemouth University.
Court documents said Davis “engaged in mentoring so intense that W1 was put under unacceptable pressure having regard to his age and maturity and was deprived of his freedom of choice as to whether to continue,” according to The Guardian.
“Under the guise of his authority [Davis] sought to control by the use of admonition, scripture, prayer and revealed prophecy the life of W1 and/or his relationship with his girlfriend,” the documents added.
Davis lived in the family’s home during the 18 months that he ostensibly mentored W1, went on vacation with the family, and forced the boy to participate 2-hour long sessions consisting of scripture study and prayer in the boy’s bedroom. Davis would allegedly grow angry with the boy if he did not respond to text or calls and told the boy that his girlfriend was a “bad seed” and that her family was evil, according to Oxford Mail.
The church’s investigation found nothing to indicate sexual abuse, nor did the boy or his mother allege abuse of that kind. The mother became concerned about Davis’ interactions with her son but did not question him since she worked at the church and Davis, being a vicar, was her boss.
“There was no way I could have told him [Mr Davis] the mentoring should stop. We were frightened of the consequences to [Mr Davis] and what God would do. [Mr Davis] was saying things that were scaring me. It was not the God I knew,” the boy’s mom told the court, according to Oxford Mail.
Davis claimed ignorance of the manner in which he affected W1, saying that the allegations “shocked and confused” him. The diocese of Oxford suspended Davis in July of 2016. Davis claimed that he had been diagnosed with post traumatic stress disorder in 2012, which he said was caused by a car crash he endured at 7 years old and the death of his older brother, who was stillborn.
Oxford mail reports that the tribunal claimed that no medical or psychiatric evidence supported his claim, while The Guardian reports that a psychiatrist told the tribunal that Davis was diagnosed with PTSD in September of 2016. In either case, the church’s judgement remained that Davis violated the church’s safeguarding procedures and committed misconduct.
“The findings of the tribunal show that, sadly, Tim Davis betrayed the trust of everyone involved in a youth-mentoring programme at Christ Church, Abingdon – none more so than the young man and his family, who offered their home and hospitality to him,” the church tribunal wrote in a statement, according to The Guardian.
The Church of England forbids clergy to use their influence to bully or denigrate, or to rob an individual of their autonomy.
The church’s tribunal will decide which disciplinary measures to take against Davis in an upcoming hearing.
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