The Church of England has made a clean breast of it, but for the many victims of Bishop Peter Ball, it comes far too late. When it mattered, the Church enabled and colluded with a pederast who exploited young men and boys for years. When it mattered, they put the reputation of the Church before the emotional and spiritual well-being of the vulnerable.
The archbishop of Canterbury has asked his predecessor George Carey to step down as an honorary assistant bishop after a damning independent report found that senior figures in the Church of England colluded over a 20-year period with a disgraced former bishop who sexually abused boys and men.
Justin Welby said the report on the church’s handling of former bishop Peter Ball made harrowing reading. “The church colluded and concealed rather than seeking to help those who were brave enough to come forward. This is inexcusable and shocking behaviour,” Welby said.
“To the survivors who were brave enough to share their story and bring Peter Ball to justice, I once again offer an unreserved apology. There are no excuses whatsoever for what took place and the systemic abuse of trust perpetrated by Peter Ball over decades.”
Archbishop Welby commissioned the report to assess the crimes and the cover-up that played out over decades. The resulting document, An Abuse of Faith, is a hard read. It recounts accusations of sexual abuse, some admitted by Ball and others not, of boys as young as 13. Abuse included praying in the nude, various sexual acts, and beatings, in a bizarre context of religious atonement. The only named victim is dead by his own hand, after several previous suicide attempts. The report stops short of saying there was an organized network of abusers in the C of E, but Ball protected and enabled other abusive priests, writing letters of recommendation and helping them conceal their crimes.
Ball was protected by then Archbishop of Canterbury George Carey and other well-placed connections. When he faced potential prosecution in 1993, the system gave him a buy.
Ball, who counted the Prince of Wales as a loyal friend, had first been accused in 1993 by Neil Todd, who had attempted suicide three times as a result of his abuse, and went on to kill himself in 2012.
The police investigated and six other victims came forward. But support flooded in for Ball from within the establishment and he was never charged. Instead he received a caution for gross indecency, resigned his post as bishop and was allowed to continue officiating at ceremonies for many years by the then archbishop of Canterbury, George Carey.
Bobbie Cheema QC, prosecuting, said: “The police report that accompanied the papers sent to the CPS in 1993 after the police had done their work stated they had received telephone calls supportive of Peter Ball ‘from many dozens of people – including MPs, former public school headmasters, JPs and even a lord chief justice’”.
She said there were many more letters of support, including from cabinet ministers and a member of the royal family.
A spokesman for Prince Charles has denied that he had any involvement. The report demonstrates how skillfully Ball could name-drop to protect himself.
Ball clearly intimates on many occasions, to Lord Carey and others, that he enjoys the status of confidant of the Prince of Wales. He ensured that Lord Carey was aware that he corresponded with the Prince (see paragraph 3.7.17 above) and that he visited Highgrove House. There are frequent references in Ball’s letters to Lord Carey and others to his attending royal functions and to meeting members of the Royal Family. Following the retirement of Bishop Michael Ball, the brothers lived together in a house which they rented from the Duchy of Cornwall after the Duchy had acquired the house specifically for that purpose. Ball publicly claimed that it was the Prince of Wales who “allowed me to have a Duchy house”. The Duchy has made it clear that the house was purchased, and let on a commercial basis, by the Duchy estate, not by the Prince. [6.1.2]
In the final analysis, the report found "no evidence that the Prince of Wales or any other member of the Royal Family sought to intervene at any point in order to protect or promote Ball."
Archbishop Carey, no doubt swayed by Ball's exaggerated claims, went to great lengths to protect him.
Seven letters were sent to Carey after Ball was arrested in 1992, raising concerns about his activities. Only one, which was of least concern, was passed on to the police. “The failure to pass six of the letters to police … must give rise to a perception of deliberate concealment,” the report said.
In 1993, Carey wrote to Ball’s identical twin brother, Bishop Michael Ball, saying: “I believe him to be basically innocent.”
Ball evaded accountability, under both secular and ecclesiastical law, by taking his slap on the wrist and resigning.
Ball was at the time unwell and had resigned. In many professions and callings we have seen disciplinary processes avoided by a resignation. One can perhaps understand why there might have been a view that, in all the circumstances, disciplinary action was unnecessary. It was the easy option but it was not the right option. [5.4.2]
By avoiding any serious punitive action, Ball was able to continue as a priest and to officiate in 17 public schools. It would be nearly 20 years before the law and a changing Church culture began to catch up with him. The Church's own forensic examination of its pedophile problem, drudged up the abysmal handling of this particular predator.
In 2009 a psychological assessment was done of Peter Ball, over the objections of both Peter and his twin brother Michael. Both were actively campaigning for more, not less Church involvement.
It concluded that while the residual threat posed by Peter Ball was not high, he had manipulative and controlling tendencies and had not come to terms with the seriousness of his abusive activity. It highlighted Ball’s recent public support of an abusive priest, referred to above. The report concluded that it would remain important to deny him unsupervised access to young people. [3.9.15]
Over the next several years Church officials re-examined the records and turned material over to the authorities. It wasn't until 2015 that he was finally convicted and sentenced to 32 months in prison. He was released in February 2017 "on license," after serving half of that term.
While it is gratifying to see the C of E finally making one of their most egregious, serial predators accountable, justice delayed is justice denied. Even in his final sentencing, he got off light.
Were the norms of the time at play? As I've said more than once about the Vatican abuse crisis, they surely were. Even into the 90s there was tremendous ignorance on the part of law enforcement, psychologists, and society at large, as to the toll sex abuse takes on the psyche. It was far too common to sweep these things under the carpet, even then. But, unlike the Catholic Church, the C of E is making no such excuses. Their apology is full-throated and without equivocation. That is too their credit. It is still, however, too late, and Neil Todd is still dead.