The following review is intended to bring together a number of previous posts regarding the operations of Victory Outreach leading up to the RTE broadcast of their documentary in late 2013, and to the subsequent and current position regarding Victory Outreach to date.
Our interest in Victory Outreach goes back over twenty years during which we have from time to time been approached by both people who claimed to be abused by VO and the relatives and friends of people who were so used. At the outset and so as not to leave any confusion we have received no claims of sexual abuse, but we use the term abuse in the context of vulnerable adults in so far as they were taken advantage of while seeking assistance to get free from drug addiction. Counterclaims have been offered by the current leaders of Victory Outreach of the many people who in fact reached freedom within their system and we have also received testimony from people who were in fact helped. As will become evident this is in fact the essence of the problem and Victory Outreach is the classic “curates egg.”
By way of gaining an understanding of the players in this matter it is appropriate to give some detailed background as follows as considerable confusion exists not only in Ireland but also the UK and elsewhere as to who is who. Nothing in this report relates to the financial collapse or financial irregularities of Victory Christian Fellowship formerly, a group who are very much committed to Prosperity theology. They were resident in Firhouse, Tallaght and now are meeting in various hotels. That story is covered in these posts.
Victory Outreach International
Victory Outreach International was founded by Sonny Arguinzoni in 1967. The initial vision of VO was to establish churches which would welcome recovered or recovering addicts into membership. The reluctance at that time was mainly due to a lack of understanding surrounding drug addiction and it is rare that this would be a problem today. VOI now has some 700 churches in 30 countries worldwide and claim to draw membership from all quarters of life although still maintaining its focus on those with addiction issues.
Victory Outreach Ireland up to December 2013
At the time of the filming of the RTE documentary Victory Outreach in Ireland was represented by a Andy Valdez who was the “lead pastor.” They operated as a Guarantee Limited Company having no shareholding, under the title Urban Outreach Limited. The last accounts filed were made up to June 2012 and the company was subsequently struck off for failure to make proper returns to the Companies Office.
Find the last accounts below:
At the last date at which accounts were filed the following were listed as directors;
• Gary Keogh
• Andrew Valdez
• Martin Lynch
• Elena Jennings ( also listed as company secretary)
• Aidan Murphy
• Stuart Murphy
• Gerard Martin
Martin Lynch and Gerard Martin decided to leave Valdez and have gone over to the Victory Outreach International side.
We understand that a number of those listed were in fact relatives of each other. The last accounts were signed on behalf of the company by Gary Keogh and Andrew Valdez. In a meeting in late 2014 with Martin Lynch it was clear that while he had in fact been a director and involved with the setting up of the company he had little if any idea of his responsibilities as a director or company law. We will cover that aspect later in the report.
The company was a registered charity CHY11402.
The company were advised legally by Cormac O’Ceallaigh & Co solicitors, and the audit was carried out by Devany Durkin Chartered Accountants who indicated their willingness to continue to act as auditors.
Victory Outreach in Ireland post December 2013
Following the broadcasting of the RTE documentary into VO, Mr Valdez was according to reports called to give an account to Victory Outreach International and was asked to submit to the correct procedures. Following a number of such meetings we are informed that Victory Outreach International withdrew his ministers license. Concurrently Mr Valdez set up Freedom Ministries to run along similar lines. In this transition period we are told that Sonny Arguinzoni came to Ireland and addressed members of the church.
At that point Paul Lloyd of Victory Outreach Manchester was appointed to oversee both the cleanup and the relaunch of Victory Outreach in Ireland.
Victory Outreach in the United Kingdom
By way of background it is worth noting that Victory Outreach in Manchester and London are linked with the official Victory Outreach International but are in no way connected with Victory Outreach in Wales. We understand from reports received that Victory Outreach Wales is modeled on the original but is not part of it. We also have received reports that concerns surround the leadership of the Welsh organisation.
What went wrong?
Moving then to the substance of the issue, it is necessary to set out the concerns that have existed regarding the operation prior to December 2013 and the RTE broadcast. Firstly Dialogue Ireland have over a period in excess of twenty years received from time to time contact from people claiming victimization. This came directly from service users, from relatives of service users and people involved with the court services. We acknowledge that those using drugs are never the most reliable of witnesses and have also been aware of those holding a gripe. However the quantity of similar stories collectively pointed to a system that was merely using the addicts as money making exercise. We are also aware that the vast majority of leaders of churches held concerns about the organisations operation as did the other main Christian rehabilitation program. Those concerns included:
• Concerns at using addicted people to collect cash in buckets at road junctions and sporting events and from door to door. This included reports that recovering addicts were given a weekly target and paired with another person, could pocket anything in excess of their combined targets.
• Concerns that while it is laudable to take addicts quickly off the street regardless of how high they are it is unwise to place them with others who are recovering, causing both an immediate danger from violence and the potential to damage people.
• Concern over lack of medical or professional help.
• Numerous reports of addicts being arrested for collecting on the street without a permit being left to face court alone and in some cases being left carry the consequences alone. This factor alone caused a court official to contact both DI and RTE.
• Concerns at the lack of integration by VO with the wider Christian community. The feeling that they were the real Christians therefore not needing to work with others. A certain super spirituality.
The broadcast by RTE of an investigative piece showed that the running of the residential homes was far from satisfactory. Here we had visual proof of the many complaints; overcrowding, bullying by staff, threatening behaviour and degrading of inmates. Despite these concerns it appears that no Irish church leader sought to bring it to the attention of Victory International who themselves claim to have been unaware that any problem existed until Valdez informed them of what he termed an “attack” by the media was to be aired. We have sought to probe this with Paul Lloyd who informed us that as Valdez was the “regional supervisor” he was able to keep unwelcome attention at bay by sending good reports up the line. It is to this issue of accountability we now turn. However, it is also clear that it is nearly impossible to make contact with anyone to take responsibility for what is happening in Ireland. We failed completely to get anyone to respond from the HQ in the States.
Sovereign and Autonomous but under orders?
Sonny Arguinzoni the founder of Victory Outreach in the early days of his ministry held credentials with Assemblies of God USA .
It is not surprising then that he modeled his new organisation, Victory Outreach to be similar to Assemblies of God USA, which refers to itself as a “fellowship of independent Churches”. In essence this means that any local congregation which espouses the values and ethos of the organisation can become affiliated to the organisation. As an affiliated congregation they retain their “independence” but pledge to submit to the requirements and guidelines of the fellowship. This structure is referred to as a “co-operative fellowship” as opposed to a denomination, and therefore both Victory Outreach International and The General Council of Assemblies of God exist as “service organisations”.
Typically these so called “service organisations” will be involved a range of activities such as
• Administering training requirements for ministers.
• Administering the accreditation of ministers, evangelists and teachers.
• Designing programmes for use by local churches
• Directing the “voice” of the fellowship on matters of concern.
• Being a resource for church discipline in extreme cases.
To facilitate this, these sorts of fellowship will breakdown into regional centres, with each region handling a level of administration and thereby reducing the workload of the centre. These regions for example, America or Asia or Europe will be further broken down as desired. One fellowship splits Europe into North and South for example.
This structure is expressed in Victory literature as follows: Victory Outreach is an independent fellowship of churches with each local church having complete sovereignty and autonomy, also being both self-governing and self-supporting. Each church of Victory Outreach is a part of a region within a district and is required to adhere to the Statement of Faith and Core Values as set forth by Victory Outreach International.
Some confusion arises due to the use of the terms Sovereignty and Autonomy in so far as they relate to the fellowship structure. The definitions are as follows;
Sovereignty: the act of possessing complete power over the affairs of.
Autonomy: the right of self- government.
Victory Outreach International therefore cannot dictate as to how a local church is organised, or structured but can set out requirements which must be adhered to in order to be considered a part of the International Fellowship.
Whilst on the face of it Victory Outreach have followed the model of the Assemblies of God in particular, it differs significantly in that the organisation is led to this day by Pastor Sonny Arguinzoni who founded it, and the council of elders are by appointment by him rather than by vote from a constituency of affiliated churches. This means that the operation at the highest level has little if any accountability beyond that which Pastor Arguinzoni may choose to submit to. This leave the organisation open to a form of “nepotism” were the opportunity to affect change may be difficult. In reality what we have here is Pentecostal Papacy without a system of transition on the death of the founder.
Victory Outreach then while having a model similar to the other fellowships concentrates on a system of propagation by accrediting under set conditions those who wish to minister to the spiritual and physical needs of those afflicted by drug abuse. This heritage has meant that many of those taking credentials are those “saved out of” a lifestyle of drugs. The advantage of having been in the culture into which they minister is of high value but comes also with the potential for major failure when things go wrong. However, after 48 years of existence Victory Outreach International can be said to be multi-cultural, multi-generational drawing people from all socio economic backgrounds and many who are ministers and leaders are graduates of various centres of learning and universities around the globe. It is incumbent on all organisations, who deal with the rehabilitation of vulnerable people to have in place a robust system of accountability and also a greater awareness that for some the skills and character strengths needed to manage the complex issue of an organisation may not be present, among those leaders drawn from addiction.
To understand the structure of Victory Outreach it may be best to liken it to a “franchise operation”. This allows each local church operate with independently but within a set framework.
For example within Victory Outreach International each affiliated church sign a “trade mark agreement” covering the use of the name and logo, which sets out what can and cannot be done with it. We see this in the legal structure in Ireland were they were known to all as Victory Outreach, but the actual company was Urban Outreach Limited. This is common however across many fellowships.
The operational manual similarly sets out in quite some detail matters such as;
• How to conduct a meeting
• How to conduct a funeral
• Length of a service
• Dress code for pastors
• Conditions for membership
Those wishing to minister can take credentials as either a Pastor, Evangelist or Missionary and the manual sets out the criteria for how to set salaries at appropriate levels.
The bulk of our research has been carried out with reference to the 2004 Operational Manual which we understand has been updated.
We have not been shown the entire current operational manual as it is now housed on the intranet and only accessible by credentialized ministers. The 2004 manual in its content endeavours to set out a complete guide covering all aspects of church life and if followed the output would be exemplary and would satisfy the most stringent audit procedures. Similarly if the moral and ethical guidelines for Pastors were followed a leadership of the utmost integrity would ensue. We assume if we had access to the current manual our conclusion would remain the same.
However our review of the 2004 manual led us to conclude that that there appeared to be a complete lack of any measurement of each local entity by Victory Outreach International outside of the requirement to pass on a sum of 10% of the church tithe. This practise of paying “Tithe of the Tithe”, that is the 10 % upstream is common to most Pentecostal denominations with some adding on an additional percentage for Missions. It should be also noted that the paying of tithes is part of the teaching of all Pentecostal Denominations and not unique to Victory Outreach. The 2004 manual stated that, if the tithe was at an “unacceptable level of consistency” the credentials of the Pastor would be removed, following a 90 day review period. Similarly if the Pastor fails to pay his annual credential fee or participate in other initiatives he loses his credential. Outside of this no other discernible oversight seems to exist, and no clear method by which any member with concerns could make them known. We have had sight of the current section of the manual and this 90 day threat is in fact removed, the toned down revision merely saying it is the responsibility of the pastor to remit a sum in the amount of 10 % of the local tithe to Victory Outreach. The oversight therefore is entirely at a regional level.
The financial requirements on a Victory Outreach Church then is as follows.
1. The payment to the centre of 10 % of local tithe
2. The payment of a pastors annual license fee
3. The payment of a fee for each recovery house
4. The purchase and attendance at conference by members and the participation in VO initiatives.
To ensure compliance with the procedures as outlined and espoused in the manual it would be essential to have a well constructed regional oversight. No such regional oversight appears to have been in place during Valdez time in Ireland. To date we have seen no evidence as to what if any structure exists now. The other main denominations have oversights which report back to an elected council affording stronger level of checks and balances.
In essence the whole structure is dependent on the personal integrity of the man on the ground. This is perhaps why so much mixed reports emerge with some Victory Outreach Churches being well considered and others the exact opposite. Many Independent churches operate without a track back to a central oversight preferring to be of a more “congregational “ style where the checks and balances are in the hands of boards of elders and deacons. As such they do not hold themselves out to be part of some greater and perhaps seemingly better oversight, and this perhaps is the lesson to be learnt in relation to VO. The VO in your area could be vastly different than the next region.
Victory Outreach in Ireland was an inevitable consequence of the structure as outlined above. The company formed by Pastor Valdez was in essence run entirely by him with directors being either family or people over whom he had total control. Many of the directors were also related to each other either by birth or marriage.
Valdez also had been given the regional oversight of Ireland and UK and although a European Region is mentioned in the Operational Manual this in fact did not exist, and is only now being considered.
In our conversations with Paul Llyod it is clear that many people could not reconcile the way things were operating in Ireland were equipment was regularly bought or upgraded and vehicles were plentiful despite the low level of reported tithes to the centre. However as is clear the system itself ensured that dominant people quelled any disquiet. As has also been said many people can point at the final debacle and say it was wrong but few did anything to address the evident waywardness of Valdez. That being said the final buck stops with Victory Outreach International and it is still hard to envisage how the centre only became aware of the problems in Ireland the evening before RTE aired their documentary.
We have not had any discussion directly with the centre and it would be useful to obtain at least the annual tithe amount sent back as this could be used to match to the accounts of Urban Outreach to see if in fact at least the correlate. It would also be useful to know what if any actual oversight policy exists at the centre to review operations outside of the United States.
The lack of central accountability is not in any way unique to Victory Outreach, but perhaps the illusion of a central accountability is. Many of the non- mainstream Churches in Ireland are structured as self- governed congregations and each of them stand or fall on their own adherence to their corporate requirements. Valdez clearly used a number of methods to suppress any dissension in the ranks. We understand that he would promote and favour those who were compliant with his wishes. It behoves all those who are part of these organisations to make sure that proper and honest dealings occur, and particularly when dealing with vulnerable people such as those with addictions who will also have multiple underlying psychological and emotional issues and are not in a position to protect themselves.
The future of Victory Outreach in Ireland
From the outset of our conversations with Paul Lloyd who is now tasked with leading VO in Ireland we have sought to gain an insight into the thinking of the organisation. Our discussions have been long and difficult and have done little to alleviate our concerns. At times although we had established that each local church is “sovereign and autonomous” redirection form the centre was being cited as a reason for delay. Paul has expressed on numerous occasions that Valdez was just a “bad tooth” and that as he had been extracted all will be well. However we are aware that in other countries concerns similar to those in Ireland emerge with alarming regularity.
We had expressed to VO that in our opinion that the level of damage done by Valdez was such that a period during which they withdrew from Ireland might serve better to repair that damage. They however chose to endeavour to keep the shop open as they sought to regroup and re-establish. We understand that new corporate structures are being put in place, and are told that strict protocols will be adhered too. We still believe this essential as there is total confusion as people write to us as if we are VO or they see people from Freedom Ministries and confuse them with VO. There is no way that this confusion can be eradicated at present. We also assume that the Regulatory bodies, the gardaí and the HSE will not make it easy for new workers to come into Ireland. As there has been no ownership taken for the corruption involved, it is unlikely this will change soon.
While we acknowledge that every organisation has the right to self- determination we did make the following recommendations to VO. Victory Outreaches initial responses are given in red, and DI were required have appended a note in response. VO may wish to address these as in our view their response does not address fully the issues.
• That Victory Outreach reviews the corporate structure of its General Oversight and adopts a structure similar to AOG and IPHC, in that they have an elected body of leaders selected by and elected by the fellowship. This will in time ensure accountability flows throughout the body and will also as a side product address the matter of who will lead in the future.
Victory Outreach International have a leadership system consisting of elders, multi-regional and regional pastors and the office holders are people with the relevant giftings and experience and character.
• That member churches have a system of accountability that is more than just “passing up” financial contributions.
• Victory Outreach has clear guidelines of accountability both Internationally and regionally.
DI note: The facts of the matter in Dublin themselves refute this claim. If such a system in fact existed then Valdez would not have run his regime as he did. It is true that the manual has guidelines but there is no sign of anybody checking to see if they are in fact adhered to.
• That the matter of sovereignty and autonomy be clarified so as to make it clearer that the local operation is not directly overseen by anyone.
• All Victory Outreach churches are directly responsible for their own governance. However ministers who hold credentials with VOI sign a trade mark agreement which ensures that the use of the VO logo and resources are only allowed where the minister is in compliance with VO policies and procedures. DI note our comments on accountability apply.
• That nobody who was in any level of leadership in Ireland be appointed to any ministry for at least two years. This includes running recovery homes.
Nobody who was in any level of leadership , is being used in the Irish operation in its reconstituted form. The leadership has been drawn from Manchester VO and will be enhanced by staff from Netherlands.
DI note . while we accept this on face value we have had reports of Martin Lynch being used in a ministerial role even if in a minor way, and this is way too soon. There is no Irish leadership and we believe the organisation will not be able to sustain its presence here. So likely the only resolution will be the exit of VO and the erratic presence of Freedom Ministries which we are monitoring. We believe that as people come out from that organisation they should give a statement to the Gardai. We are disappointed to have not heard that Martin Lynch and Gerard Martin have as people with direct evidence of criminality not reported Valdez and their own involvement with Social Welfare fraud and other financial crimes to the appropriate authorities. It is these types of actions that will change the views of the watching public
• That the corporate structure chosen, have directors that have the requisite level of skill to perform their duties.
This process is being currently undertaken.
• That they consider having for a period of time a person who is a committed Christian who can act as a director who is not associated with Victory Outreach. This would give a level of accountability that will address the concerns of other churches.
• That no recovery house be opened until the church is set up and all corporate structures in place. That regard be had to the proximity of other local churches in any area where a house is being opened and the local pastors informed.
The VOCC Church , Corporation and bank account have been set up and a charity number applied for. In relation to Teen Challenge it is should be clearly noted that VO and Tiglin (Teen Challenge) operate differently. Unlike Tiglin, VO are not rehabilitation centres, rather the recovery homes of VO are operated as ministries of the local church. Generally VO churches do not access the same type of grants or funds as Tiglin so there should be no conflict.
DI note: We appreciate this but the reputational damage caused by the way Valdez operated VO has already had a detrimental effect on “faith based” recovery programs. We feel this belies the expressed desire to walk in harmony and greater integration with the general church body and is insensitive where sensitivity is required. This recommendation is not just about Teen Challenge but about all local churches who in the past have found a recovery home on their door step.
• That consideration be given to the constituent nature of the church to ensure that it is representative of the community as a whole and not just be drawn from recovering addicts.
VO draws its member from a wide cross section of the community
This is patently not the case in Ireland and it has been a Drug addict ministry rather than a Church. Paul Lloyd kept saying it was happening which is totally irrelevant to what we see on the ground in Ireland.
• That the running of recovery homes be totally reviewed and that the purpose be recovery and not income generation.
Such a review is unnecessary as the purpose is understood to be recovery and not income generation.
• That the guidelines regarding street collections and fund raising be stringently policed.
Already a policy which is taken very seriously.
• That a full review of complaints lodged with DI be undertaken and any steps towards helping any victim be undertaken, and that this continue until such time as required.
The operation of Victory Outreach International is in essence an umbrella organisation run on lines similar to a franchise agreement. However we find no adequate system in force to oversee any individual church using the “logo VO.” While we accept fully that Valdez was a rogue and that he broke all of the guidelines, it is also clear that as long as he kept sending some level of contribution and attended conferences he was left alone. It is only when the matter was made public by RTE in conjunction with DI and other concerned parties that in fact he came under any authority and Scrutiny.
We had hoped that as part of the review process that Victory Outreach International would issue a statement accepting failure on their part and acknowledging the damage done both to individuals, the reputation of the Churches in Ireland and the general public in Ireland. Instead we have had to chase and follow up at ever turn. In December 2014 we agreed to meet with Sonny Arguinzoni whom we were told would be at a Dublin hotel, but upon our arrival there were a series of telephone calls between the VO people there and some other party, which ended with us being told that in fact Sonny was not coming. We do not know at what level or who made that call. We were left to deal as best we could with Martin Lynch the former head of the Cork branch and at that time still a director of Urban Outreach and an American called Chris. The meeting was of absolutely no value and we are of the opinion that had we met Sonny at that juncture we could have come to our conclusion on that day and certainly sooner than several months later.
As already stated our next meeting was with Paul Lloyd who from the outset endeavoured to point us away from the view that VO had a systemic structural problem and to his conclusion that all that was wrong was the rotten apple Valdez.
Until we became more fully aware that in fact Victory Outreach International had little or no interest in the mechanics of their local branches and in fact there is a spoken of but non-existing regional structure we wasted a lot of time waiting for responses to questions and issues raised. Paul would invariably appeal to needing to go up the line at one point saying he had sent a report document prepared for us for review. It is now our opinion that in fact Victory Manchester has stepped into an open territory, i.e Dublin and is free to operate under the VO logo, and is most likely not under direction from VOI. We can only assume that the haste to re-establish Dublin is motivated by the need to hold the pitch as little or no attempt is seen to have been made to reach the victims of Valdez, in fact the last response to our recommendation to follow up complaints made to DI was returned “no comment”.
We acknowledge that if the template in the VOI manual is adhered to the results will be positive as regard running the operation. However a review of the responses to our recommendation displays and organisation that is not keen on interaction and or transparency.
Valdez worked alone and for his own advancement, using vulnerable addicts, as the foot soldiers to collect unknown amounts of cash. Part of his modus operandi was to stay isolated and to keep others isolated. We see in the decision to place their first residential home under the new regime on the doorstep of an other Christian rehab a gross disregard for others and a lack of desire to actually come out of that isolation.
Victory Outreach International gives a sense of cover to anyone using the “Brand logo” but in reality is only concerned about advancing their own network of people who send money up the line. This illusion of something bigger which makes it safe is in fact only an illusion. The new Victory Outreach headed up by Paul Lloyd is merely an independent church flying a VO flag. All who become involved should not rely on a big brother keeping control, there is none? If our experience to date is indicative they are unlikely to be as integrated with other churches as they need to be. We suggest that all Evangelical/Pentecostal/Independent church leaders need to keep a close eye on this as it develops and not sit, wringing their collective hands but actively insist on accountability when they see issues that are Clearly wrong emerge. It is imperative that the HSE, the Gardai, the courts and the Charities Regulatory Authority keep this group under scrutiny.
We are at this stage still open to meet with Victory Outreach International, in particular Sonny Arguinzoni, should he wish to make himself available.
We have been told “it will be different.” We are not convinced. Why? Because we still await somebody to take responsibility for Valdez.