John Howard Centre criticised for using ‘wholly inappropriate’ spiritual guide to provide Holy Communion

A poster used by Freddie O'Neil at the John Howard Centre.

A poster used by Freddie O'Neil at the John Howard Centre. - Credit: Archant

The NHS trust that runs the John Howard Centre in Homerton has been accused of using a “spiritual guide” to provide Holy Communion.

The East London Foundation Trust (ELFT) ended year-long talks with lawyers representing a patient last month by agreeing to provide weekly Christian services.

But Christian Concern, which provided legal support to the patient, convicted rapist Freddie O'Neil, 57, said the trust's initial response to legal threats had been to use its spiritual adviser Raphael Zernoff to provide Holy Communion - and that it was "wholly inappropriate".

The former priest now describes himself as a "writer, spiritual guide, channeler, psychic, life-guide and a lot of other identities" and the religious charity said it was clear he "could not be considered as representing orthodox Christianity".

He would reportedly administer Holy Communion by saying "here you go" when passing the wafer and would make no attempt to say an appropriate liturgy.

O'Neil first complained when he arrived at the centre in January 2018 and the case was brought a year later on grounds of religious discrimination.

He said: "I grew up in care and was abused by the system as a child and came into the adult world not knowing what God, family and love are.

"I am a damaged person, a convicted criminal, but the only true redemption I have found in my life is hope in Jesus Christ."

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Andrea Williams, chief exec of Christian Concern's Christian Legal Centre, said: "We are encouraged the centre has finally agreed to hold Sunday Christian services.

"All the Christian patients wanted was to have a service and Holy Communion on a Sunday. This was not being taken seriously and what the centre was providing was wholly inappropriate and disturbing to already vulnerable patients."

After discussions an agreement was reached to make a regular Sunday service available from last month.

A spokesperson for ELFT said: "Mr Zernoff has been employed by the spiritual and religious department at the John Howard Centre since 2007. ​​In his role as an ordained priest, he still has the capacity to issue the sacraments if required."