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The Church of England has finally fully acknowledged the impact of the predatory sexual abuse committed by one of its most charismatic former bishops Peter Ball.
A forensic report by Dame Moira Gibb into both his activities and the cover up by the church of his behaviour which reached the then Archbishop of Canterbury, George Carey, (now Lord Carey) to protect the Church’s reputation.
It is a grim story only coming light after the former Bishop of Gloucester was successfully prosecuted and jailed in 2015 after a career of physically and sexually abusing and exploiting boys and young men, including some who were particularly vulnerable.
The report says : “He had used his position within the Church to identify those whom he then abused. and admitted two offences of indecent assault and a further offence of misconduct in public office.”
Tragically a young man, Neil Todd, who had first accused him in 1993 of abusing him in when he was 17 killed himself in 2012 when Sussex Police re-opened an investigation when he was Bishop of Lewes.
Equally culpable, though not an abuser, is Michael Ball, his twin brother and former Bishop of Truro, who ran a campaign after his brother had been given a caution for abusing Todd in 1993 to rehabilitate him using every type of pressure he could find.
None of the authorities, with the exception of Sussex police, come out of this well, Neither the Church, Lambeth Palace, Gloucestershire Police and the Crown Prosecution Service. It is litany of failed responsibility among those in power and also the misuse of power and reputation to protect the powerful.
Peter Ball comes out of this report as a manipulative, sadomasochistic predator who appears to have used every trick to entice young men from public schoolboys to priests and damaged and vulnerable youths coming to the Church for his own sexual gratification. It is not clear even now at 85 whether he shows any remorse as he refused to co-operate with Dame Moira’s inquiry.
While on the surface being a charismatic leader he and his brother appear to have conned the Establishment to cover up his activity and the Establishment appear to have been prepared to do so.
The report reveals how he wanted to whip Neil Todd who was only saved by worried staff at the Bishop’s house who sent him away. He also got youths to strip off in the chapel so they could pray together in the nude and even used a ceremony to anoint a youth’s penis in some bizarre religious rite.
But as bad is the 20 year cover up . This included dragging Prince Charles into Ball’s defence – by using his privileged access to Highgrove House – to claim, falsely, as an examination of letters between Ball and the Prince show, that he supported his cause. According to the report even a commercial arrangement that allows Ball and his brother to rent a house off the Duchy of Cornwall was twisted to say this was a Royal favour.
Lord Carey emerges as a very weak character in this sorry saga. On the one level he is aware of Ball’s transgressions and tries to investigate, on another level he intervenes with the aim, whatever he says in a letter to Gloucestershire’s chief constable, to prevent a public trial of a Bishop by just issuing a caution. In the end this is done in return for his resignation as bishop. It is here that Gloucestershire Police and the Crown Prosecution Service, which now admits its mistake, are totally at fault. Lord Carey also failed to pass on information to the police on people Ball abused and defended his reputation to the police.
Then after this ” escape from justice” he and his brother pursue a ruthless campaign to rehabilitate him as a priest – which is successful. They demand money from the archbishop to fund their expenses, insist on his reinstatement as a priest in his brother’s parish ( at one stage his brother actually threatens to do this without Lambeth Palace’s permission) and he even gets an honorary retired bishop’s post from the Bishop of Chichester.
The report recommends a strengthening of safeguarding in the Church of England and will be considered by the independent child sex abuse inquiry. But what it doesn’t address – and it is outside its terms of reference – is the glaring issue of homosexuality in the Church.
To put it in its historic context these events take place when people who were homosexuals in public life often lived a double life for fear of exposure in the press. This was the time when David Atkinson, the Tory MP for Bournemouth East was publicly a happily married man with a wife and children while secretly leading a double gay life in the House of Commons.
It was also the time when Britain’s first successful black footballer, Justin Fashanu, led a troubled double life attracted to young men, which led to his suicide when the US law caught up with him.
One wonders whether if as now – when to be openly gay no longer is a problem and gay marriage is acceptable ( except to the Democratic Unionist party) Ball could have had a stable relationship instead. Or was he a predatory abuser anyway? This is not to excuse the Ball twins from the appalling sexual abuse and cover up that followed. But it suggests the Church has got to address a wider problem than just the abuse.
The full report is here.