The Soul Survivor founder, Mike Pilavachi, could be banned from working with children after he was referred to the Home Office’s safeguarding service by the Church of England.
Rev Canon Pilavachi, the 65-year-old charismatic evangelist, has been referred to the Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) following the outcome of an internal church investigation earlier this month.
It 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”.
Pilavachi founded Soul Survivor Watford church in Hertfordshire, as well as its namesake summer youth festivals that ran from 1993 to 2019.
At their peak, the festivals were attended by 30,000 young people from all over the world.
The Telegraph has been uncovering allegations of abuse against Pilavachi since April, as his victims spoke out for the first time to reveal that they were encouraged to receive full-body oil massages in their underwear in Pilavachi’s bedroom, as well as take part in vigorous wrestling matches that could last as long as 20 minutes at a time – sometimes in church.
They claim that as Pilavachi’s influence grew global, he “left a trail of broken, young male adults scattered all around the world”.
‘Coercive and controlling behaviour’
The Church of England’s National Safeguarding Team (NST) and the Diocese of St Albans internal investigation concluded that victims suffered “spiritual, emotional and psychological abuse under Mike’s leadership through a systematic pattern of coercive and controlling behaviour”.
Officials also revealed that safeguarding concerns relating to his leadership and ministry spanned 40 years.
Now, the Church of England has confirmed that it has also made a referral to Rev Canon Pilavachi to be considered for the DBS Barred Lists. These lists aim to help organisations recruit safely and protect people they may be working with.
In response, one victim, speaking on condition of anonymity, said: “It was a great relief to hear Mike Pilavachi could be banned from working with children and vulnerable people.
“This is an indication that the NST are acting on serious allegations of abuse. Much of this story is yet to be told and will cause more shock and pain in the church.”
As recently as 2020, Pilavachi was gathering accolades from the likes of the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Most Rev Justin Welby, who awarded him at Lambeth Palace for his “outstanding contribution to evangelism and discipleship amongst young people”. That same year he was also appointed an MBE in the New Year Honours for his services to young people.
‘Betrayed the institution’
The victim added: “We hope as the NST process continues Mike will be defrocked, stripped of his MBE and the award Justin Welby gave him. All three privileges were awarded in good faith. Pilavachi has not just betrayed the institution but also the global church.”
There are two main types of DBS barred lists, one includes a list of people who have been banned from working with children, and another is a list of people banned from working with vulnerable adults.
A Church of England spokesman said: “DBS referrals are made when there is a need to, [when, for example] a person presents a risk to vulnerable groups, including children and vulnerable adults and we have confirmed that a DBS referral has been made relating to Mike Pilavachi.”
They added that the referral was made in accordance with the House of Bishops guidance. This states that the Safeguarding Vulnerable Groups Act 2006 places a duty on organisations to make a referral to the DBS when an organisation has dismissed or removed a person working or volunteering with children, young people or vulnerable adults.
In accordance with DBS guidelines, specific organisations have “a legal duty” to make a referral to the service when “they have dismissed, removed or would have removed (had they not left) an employee or volunteer working in regulated activity, following harm to a child/vulnerable adult, or where there is a risk of harm”.
As part of a five-stage assessment process, the DBS will now consider whether to place Pilavachi on one, both or neither of the lists.
Pilavachi resigned as associate pastor of Soul Survivor Watford in July.
He broke his silence on the allegations surrounding him for the first time when, shortly after, he posted statements on his social media channels in which he said: “I have taken this step because the Church needs to heal and I have realised that my continued presence will hinder that process. I seek forgiveness from any whom I have hurt during the course of my ministry.”
The DBS, which is an executive non-departmental public body, sponsored by the Home Office, declined to comment on individual cases.