Church charity apologises for late founder’s ‘concerning behaviour’ around young men

29 May 2024 News

Pioneer Trust logo

A charity responsible for a network of churches, Pioneer Trust, has apologised for the behaviour of its late founder following an investigation. 

Pioneer Trust commissioned an independent review into allegations made against Gerald Coates last August after a complaint about him on social media. 

The review, conducted by Christian Safeguarding Services (CSS), heard evidence from more than 30 people including some teenage boys.

It reported finding a pattern of Coates, who died in 2022 at the age of 78, establishing contact with young men and greeting them with a “holy kiss” on the cheek, which made some respondents to the review feel “violated”. 

Respondents said he would ask “uninvited and detailed questions about issues around pornography and masturbation”.

CSS’s report gave 14 recommendations to the Pioneer Trust, which included a “rigorous” self-audit of safeguarding arrangements across the charity. 

Pioneer Trust said it accepted the findings of the report and apologised to those affected. 

The Charity Commission said the charity had informed it of the “incidents of historic abuse” and that it expected it to act on recommendations made in the report. 

‘We are so sorry’

In a statement, Pioneer Trust thanked the people that contributed to the report “for their bravery in telling their stories”. 

“We are so sorry,” reads the statement signed by chair Steve Clifford and leader of Pioneer’s national leadership team Ness Wilson.

“We hope that having your story heard, believed, and validated – together with this apology and a commitment to implementing the report’s recommendations – goes some way towards a measure of healing.”

The report says most of Coates’ interactions were with young men he met at public gatherings but he contacted some through social media. 

“There were two, possibly three in their mid-teens and one aged 12-13 years old, who it appears was contacted directly via social media,” the charity’s statement says.

“This behaviour would, both now and at the time that it occurred, be regarded as a safeguarding concern that should have been raised with the local authority designated officer.”

Coates approached the 12–13-year-old on Facebook in 2015, the report says, which should have been reported to statutory agencies as this would “universally be seen as some form of attempted predatory grooming”.

‘Historic abuse at the charity’

A Charity Commission spokesperson said: “Last year, the trustees of Pioneer Trust informed us of incidents of historic abuse at the charity involving its founder. 

“As part of our engagement, the trustees informed us of steps they were taking to address the harm caused and to prevent this from happening again – this included an independent review. 

“We expect the charity’s trustees to act upon recommendations set by this review to ensure the charity is a safe and trusted environment.” 

‘Feeling violated’

Respondents to the report said that Coates’ questioning about masturbation and pornography left them “feeling violated and that they were denied choice or control in the situation”. 

Many indicated that the founder’s reputation as having a prophetic gift contributed to the feeling that they were obligated to disclose this information. 

The report reads: “It has been reported to CSS that the level of requested detail in some instances encompassed the precise nature of the pornography that had been viewed, along with the minutia of the related sexual activity. 

“Even in the context of a quest to support young men in their struggle to overcome personal temptations, there is no justification for such disproportionate uninvited and gratuitous probing. 

“This approach falls significantly outside accepted standards and best practice in such counselling situations and is clearly inappropriate even if there was no ulterior motive. 

“The worst-case scenario would be that GC was deriving a measure of emotional or even sexual benefit from the disclosures.

“Some complainants and other participants expressed the concern that this may have been the case. It is a possibility that the review can neither confirm nor contradict.”


Pioneer Trust is a network of evangelical churches in the UK which was founded by Coates in 1986 and registered with the Charity Commission in 2007. 

In 2013, Coates published a book called Sexual Healing about issues Christians face with sexuality. 

CSS’s review states that Coates “had spoken during the earlier part of his ministry about his own early experiences of same-sex attraction” and that some participants reported that he had described himself as an “ex-homosexual” in public meetings. 

Pioneer Trust wrote that it was important to recognise Coates’ voice “could not be heard” in the report, making it “impossible to judge his motives and intentions.”

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