Response from Replenished Life on behalf of Survivors to the Spiritual Abuse Section and Recommendation 10 of the Jay Report

We would like to begin by thanking you for the work undertaken with the Church of England around the Future of Safeguarding. There is much that we agree on within your recommendations and some areas where further work will be needed to work through the nuances of implementation.

We are writing to you today in response to the contact that we have had from survivors of Spiritual Abuse this week and the concerns that they have raised with Recommendation 10.

Survivors that have been in contact this week have asked us, as a support organisation, to make you aware of their views, the impact that this recommendation has had, and the impact it will have if this is implemented.

There are also some issues that have been raised by survivors about the section on Spiritual Abuse that was included in the report. We do have to comment this is a very short section for such a huge and impactful recommendation.

For clarity we have added the section below in A and then outlined the responses from survivors to each section in B.

A. The Spiritual Abuse Section of the Jay Report

“Spiritual abuse

Although the Church has defined spiritual abuse, this definition is subject to much debate.

“I think spiritual abuse is simply a way of saying those other categories of abuse [for example psychological abuse], happening within an ecclesiastical setting.” Member of the clergy

“They make it seem like you are failing God and they have the power to make you believe that and they use their standing to coerce individuals. I definitely agree that a spiritual safeguarding definition should be included in the overall safeguarding definition.” Victim and survivor

“It should be called emotional psychological abuse, not spiritual safeguarding.” Victim and survivor and member of the clergy

Some clergy held the view that spiritual abuse was unique to the Church and therefore was a specialist area that could only be dealt with in a theological context, and by Church members or clergy.

“The behaviour from some of the bishops on the spiritual abuse issue was the worst experience of my professional career. It felt personal, because I’m female and not a member of the clergy. Not being clergy means you are treated differently, and I felt I didn’t have a voice because of my theological opposition to the concept of spiritual abuse.” Safeguarding professional””

B. Response from Survivors of Spiritual Abuse

“Although the Church has defined spiritual abuse…”

This has been raised by survivors as an inaccurate statement. It has not been defined by the Church.

Spiritual Abuse has been defined through thorough and robust research through UK Universities and continues to be a growing field of research. Thousands of survivors of Spiritual Abuse have shared personal and sensitive experiences at great emotional cost to develop the definition and continue to contribute to the growing understanding of Spiritual Abuse.

We would recommend that you access this research as a matter of urgency to develop your understanding of Spiritual Abuse Experiences and the impact of these.

“…this definition is subject to much debate”

It is recognised that there is debate around the definition but there has been and continues to be an open dialogue around this definition. This definition has developed over time in response to that dialogue.

As you are aware, safeguarding and the definition of categories of abuse has developed over time. There has been debate over many definitions in relation to Safeguarding and it was highlighted by a Survivor that “it was only 30 years ago that the Church was still debating (or rather denying) that child sexual abuse occurred within Churches.” We would also add the changes to society’s attitudes to Domestic Abuse and the addition of coercive control within the definition as another example in wider society.

If these definitions and categories of abuse along with contextual safeguarding knowledge had not been developed, much of our safeguarding knowledge, understanding and practice would not exist.

The definition of Spiritual Abuse is clear that this is a form of Emotional and Psychological Abuse. There is not a call for a separate definition but there has been a clear call for understanding and recognition of the specific context of abuse in a faith context and the impact that this has.

Survivor response to Quotes around Spiritual Abuse

Survivors have raised that these quotes are very narrow and have asked how many Survivors of Spiritual Abuse you spoke to as part of the process of writing the report. Many survivors we have spoken to this week have been clear that these quotes do not reflect the depth and profoundness of their experience.

A survivor raised that there was a lack of understanding of the debate where having quoted a safeguarding professional’s theological opposition to the definition there was not the alternative theological view given that “Spiritual Abuse being perpetrated is about as far from the Gospel as you can get.”

Survivors have also raised that their side of this debate is not reflected in the paragraph and that this therefore feels very unbalanced in the favour of those who disagree with the terminology used within the definition.

From our knowledge of all sides of the debate around the definition we would agree this does feel very unbalanced. There are many survivors for who the definition of Spiritual Abuse has been the first time that they have been given the language to describe their abusive experiences. This has not been reflected at all.

We would be interested to know how many Survivors of Spiritual Abuse, how many members of clergy who are Survivors of Spiritual Abuse and how many members of clergy who are not survivors you spoke to.

Impact of the Removal of the Definition of Spiritual Abuse.

Survivors have asked that you are made aware of the distress that this recommendation has caused. The simplest way of us doing this is to end this initial response with the words of Survivors who have contacted us in distress this week.

“The language I use to talk about my experience will be stripped away. I will effectively be silenced and censored. As silencing and censoring has been a significant part of my experience and the response to my experience, this will be exceptionally painful.”

“I am really fearful that without the understanding and knowledge and recognition of Spiritual Abuse, others who share my experience or may do so in future will not be able to speak up.”

“I am devastated. So many of us have shared our stories in good faith that this would make a difference to others. Losing the definition makes all the emotional cost of sharing my experience mean nothing.”

“If the definition is removed, the Church of England will be considerably less safe for me. I am unsure whether I will be able to attend any more.”

“The suggestion of removing the definition has undermined my experience. I am back to feeling unheard, isolated and misunderstood.”

“Emotional and Psychological Abuse just doesn’t reflect all of my experience nor how this has affected me. My faith is so close to my self identity and the brokenness from this just isn’t recognised.”

“How am I supposed to feel safe in an organisation that won’t be able to recognise what happened to me?”


The removal of the definition of Spiritual Abuse has strong potential to:

We would strongly recommend that an impact assessment around this recommendation is urgently undertaken and that this should include gathering information from academics, survivors, practitioners and supporters of survivors. This could be undertaken as an addendum to the report or as part of the work of the Response Group.

We are very open to meet online, by phone or to communicate by email to discuss this matter in more detail. Our email address is

Further information about Replenished Life can be found at

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