Church of England put reputation above abuse victims' needs, inquiry finds

Report into Peter Ball case criticises ex-archbishop George Carey as well as Prince Charles

The Church of England put its own reputation above the needs of victims of sexual abuse, with a serious failure of leadership by the former archbishop of Canterbury George Carey, in its handling of the case of a bishop who eventually went to prison, an official inquiry has concluded.

It also found that Prince Charles and other members of the establishment were misguided in their expressions of support of Peter Ball as he battled the accusations.

Ball, a former bishop of Lewes and Gloucester, was jailed in 2015, more than 20 years after allegations were made against him that were largely ignored or downplayed by the church. Ball accepted a police caution in 1993 and resigned as bishop but was allowed to continue officiating in the C of E.

Ball “seemed to relish contact with prominent and influential people”, a 250-page report published on Thursday by the independent inquiry into child sexual abuse (IICSA) said. He “sought to use his relationship with His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales to further his campaign to return to unrestricted ministry”.

The prince and his private secretary spoke about Ball with the archbishop of Canterbury and arranged for the Duchy of Cornwall to buy a property to be rented by Ball after he resigned as a bishop.

The prince had been “misguided”, and his actions “could have been interpreted as expressions of support for Peter Ball and, given the Prince of Wales’s future role within the Church of England, had the potential to influence the actions of the church”, the report said.

It said Carey showed compassion to Ball that was not extended to the bishop’s victims, and displayed overt support for Ball’s innocence despite having no justification. Carey was archbishop of Canterbury from 1991 to 2002.

The church’s response to allegations of abuse by Ball and others in the diocese of Chichester was marked by secrecy, prevarication and avoidance of reporting alleged crimes, the report said.

Disclosures of abuse were handled inadequately by the church, and responses failed to display an appropriate level of urgency or appreciation of the seriousness of allegations made.

Peter Ball, a Church of England bishop, was jailed in 2015 for sexually abusing 18 vulnerable young men between 1977 and 1992. He had evaded justice when the allegations first arose in 1993 after receiving support from a member of the royal family, a senior judge, cabinet ministers, public school headmasters and George Carey, then former archbishop of Canterbury.

Ball, who was bishop of Lewes and later Gloucester, was first accused by Neil Todd. The police investigated and six other victims came forward, but Ball was not charged, instead receiving a caution for gross indecency. He resigned his post as bishop and was allowed by Carey to continue officiating at ceremonies for many years.

Todd went on to kill himself after a new investigation into Ball began in 2012. Ball was later charged, and after months of further attempts to avoid justice by claiming he was unfit to stand trial, he admitted his years of offending and pleaded guilty to misconduct in public office. The Old Bailey heard that the abuse included beatings, and victims being made to strip naked during baptisms in which Ball was also naked. One victim said he had seen Ball as a “living saint”.

Carey told the independent inquiry into child sexual abuse in July 2018 that with 25 years' hindsight it was clear he should not have been so generous in his views of Ball, but he had been “under great pressure” from Ball’s supporters to believe his protestations of innocence.

The Prince of Wales told the inquiry he had not sought to influence the police investigation into Ball and felt “deep personal regret” for having trusted Ball when the initial allegations emerged.

The report said “clericalism and tribalism” in the diocese of Chichester contributed to an abuse of power. During the inquiry’s public hearings last year, senior clergy squabbled about responsibility for failing to deal with past sexual abuse.

“The damaging consequence of this overriding allegiance to one’s own ‘tribe’ was that child protection was compromised,” the report said.

Perpetrators, about whom there were allegations or even convictions, were provided with unrestricted access to children and young people, the report found.

Apologies given by Justin Welby, the present archbishop of Canterbury, and other senior church figures over the C of E’s failures were “unconvincing”, it said.

Ball’s “charm, charisma and reputation” enabled him to avoid a criminal conviction until 2015, the report said. He was sentenced to 32 months in prison for sexual offences against 18 young men, and was released on licence after serving four months.

Alexis Jay, the inquiry’s chair, said: “For years, the diocese of Chichester failed victims of child sexual abuse by prioritising its own reputation above their welfare. Not only were disclosures of abuse handled inadequately by the church when they came to light, its response was marked by secrecy and a disregard for the seriousness of the abuse allegations.

“Peter Ball is one example of how a senior member of the clergy was able to sexually abuse vulnerable teenagers and young men for decades. The public support he received is reflective of the church’s culture at the time; a support that was rarely extended to his victims.”

The report recommended amending the 2003 Sexual Offences Act to include clergy among those defined as being in a position of trust. Such a move would criminalise sexual activity between clergy and a person aged between 16 and 18 over whom they exercise pastoral authority.

The inquiry held a hearing into the church’s handling of Ball’s case last July, taking evidence in person from two former archbishops of Canterbury – Carey and Rowan Williams – and Welby, the current incumbent. It also received a six-page written submission from the prince.

Carey told the inquiry that with 25 years of hindsight, he should not have been so generous in his views of Ball. He was “under great pressure” from Ball’s supporters to believe his protestations of innocence, he said.

William Chapman, representing survivors, told the inquiry: “The story of Peter Ball is the story of the establishment at work in modern times.”

Ball had been able to call upon the “willing assistance of members of the establishment. It included the heir to the throne, the archbishop and a senior member of the judiciary, to name only the most prominent,” Chapman said.

In his statement, the prince said he had been deceived about the true nature of Ball’s activities, but denied he had sought to influence the outcome of police investigations.

He wrote to Ball in February 1995, saying: “I wish I could do more. I feel so desperately strongly about the monstrous wrongs that have been done to you and the way you have been treated.”

Neil Todd, who made the first complaint against Ball to the police in 1992, killed himself in 2012 after several previous attempts.

A separate independent review of the Ball case, commissioned by the C of E and published last year, found evidence of collusion and a cover-up at the highest levels over a 20-year period.

Responding to the IICSA report, Peter Hancock, the bishop of Bath and Wells and the church’s lead bishop on safeguarding, said: “The report states that the Church of England should have been a place which protected all children and supported victims and survivors and the inquiry’s summary recognises that it failed to do this. It is absolutely right that the church at all levels should learn lessons from the issues raised in this report.”

He added that the church was committed to introducing changes to better protect children and vulnerable adults from abuse, and said it would consider the report’s conclusions and recommendations.

Richard Scorer, a specialist abuse lawyer at Slater and Gordon, who acts for a number of victims, said: “We may never know the true harm caused by Prince Charles’s intervention and support for Ball, but welcome the fact that the inquiry did not shy away from highlighting his role in this scandal.

“This report is a damning indictment of years of church cover-up, facilitation of child abuse and denigration and dismissal of victims. It rightly criticises senior church figures for serious failings, but it also exposes alarming cultural and structural problems in the Church of England.

“Yet again this shows the urgent need for an independent oversight of safeguarding and a mandatory reporting law to protect innocent and vulnerable people.”


Harriet Sherwood Religion correspondent

The GuardianTramp

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