For Decades, a Religious Leader Abused Boys for Masturbating; They Had to “Bleed for Jesus”

It’s always upsetting to hear a religious leader being accused of sexual abuse decades after the incidents began (rather than immediately), but at least these stories are finally seeing the light of day.

In the 1970s, at Winchester College, a boarding school in England, a man named John Smyth allegedly punished boys for the “crime” of masturbation by telling them they had to “bleed for Jesus”… before physically assaulting them.

John Smyth (center)
John Smyth (center)

Five of the 13 victims who came forward in 1982 told investigators for the [Iwerne 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.

That was 1982. You won’t be surprised to hear that nothing happened at the time. The beatings weren’t reported to the police. Instead, Smyth was sent to Zimbabwe… where he was charged with killing a teenager. He denied the charges, and they were later dropped. But court records showed he continued to abuse other children in that country.

From there, he went to South Africa, were more charges of inappropriate behavior were leveled against him as recently as this month.

… certain parts of John’s discipleship practice were, however, in our opinion, pastorally unwise. Specifically:

His practice of meeting young men at a well know Cape Town sports club that began with a game of squash, was followed by a shower in a common shower, then lunch over which we were told John would make generally unsolicited enquiries about the young men’s experience of pornography, masturbation and other sexual matters.

Throughout all this, Smyth has left behind a trail of dozens of young men who are only now beginning to speak out against him, traumatized by the abuse they received at his hands.

And keep in mind that this abuse — and the fact that it went on for as long as it did — says as much about the religious infrastructure that allowed it to continue as it does about the man himself.

It’s about a mind-set that allows this to happen. This sort of muscular Christianity enforced by theology, education and the cane that dominated the public education system and produced your caricature Englishman — strong, emotionally incapable in some ways, reserved and superior,” [priest and journalist Giles Fraser] added.

“I think the idea that this is just about Smyth is in itself a cover-up,” Mr. Fraser said, “and it’s because the church is desperate for people not to say how all of this grows out of theology.”

It’s not just the Catholic Church that tries to keep these stories hidden. But if there’s one takeaway from all this, it’s that religious organizations are no more moral than any other group. But they have plenty of incentive to hide their own errors. It’s incredibly courageous for the victims to speak out at all, even if they felt they couldn’t at the time.

(Screenshot via YouTube)

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