Bishop Peter Ball:Time for the Church of England to take a lead on stamping out child sex abuse

bishop peter ball

Bishop Peter Ball at his trial . Pic Credit: BBC

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This week was a torrid week for the Church of England and very embarrassing week for the heir to the throne, Prince Charles, as the Independent Inquiry into Child Sex Abuse reran the scandal of  former Bishop Peter Ball, a convicted sex offender who preyed on young men. He jailed in 2015 for 32 months for offences against 18 teenagers and men.

The case which I wrote about a year ago here  was a classic Establishment cover up where a lively and personable bishop lead a double life which was well exposed last year by Dame Moira Gibb in her investigation into the scandal. As I said last year :

“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.”

Let it not be forgotten that as a result of his activities 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.

As last year’s report revealed 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.

Now it appears while all this was going on Peter Ball could rely on the support of the former Archbishop of Canterbury, Lord Carey, and Prince Charles, who were both subject to a very active campaign from the former bishop and his twin brother saying it was a   “vendetta ” against  him and all the claims were false.

Prince Charles letters reveal frankly he was duped by the bishop. – a man he had known for 20 years. In the letters between Prince Charles and the Bishop, read to the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA), Ball spoke of a “malicious campaign” against him and “harassment” by “fraudulent” accusers.

In a letter to Ball in 1995, the prince said: “I wish I could do more. I feel so desperately strong about the monstrous wrongs that have been done to you.” In 1997, the prince wrote a letter in which he described an apparent accuser as a “ghastly man… up to his dastardly tricks again”.

In the written submission, read by the counsel to the inquiry Fiona Scolding,

“I first became aware of Peter Ball during the 1980s. He was later appointed Bishop of Gloucester when he became my local diocesan bishop.Peter Ball told me he had been involved in some sort of ‘indiscretion’ which prompted his resignation as my local bishop.

“He emphasised that one individual that I now understand to be Mr Neil Todd had made a complaint to the police, that the police had investigated the matter, and the Crown Prosecution Service had decided to take no action.

“That sequence of events seemed to support Mr Ball’s claim that the complaint emanated from one individual and that individual bore a grudge against him and was persecuting him, that the complaint was false, but that the individual had nonetheless profited from the complaint by selling his story. Events later demonstrated beyond any doubt, to my deep regret, that I, along with many others, has been misled.”

The main point of these disclosures seem  not to be that Prince Charles was to blame but he is probably the highest profile figure to be conned by a manipulative sex offender. He is not the first and won’t be the last

The real blame in my view lies inside the Church of England which needs urgently to take a real stand against child sex abuse – by first ending the conflicting and blurred distinction that requires senior people in the Church to take a pastoral role in looking after priests while at the same time having to handle abuse complaints against them. It needs to segregate the two by handing over complaints to an independent authority.

It also needs to look at mandatory reporting of claims of sexual abuse. It doesn’t have to heed what the government believes over this issue – it can take a stand by itself. In that way the matter will be handed over to the police for a proper investigation to find out the truth.

It does not have to wait the full inquiry’s findings before it takes action either. It owes people like Neil Todd who was vilified and took his own life to create a just and fair system to deal with sexual abuse – so that others do not take their own lives.

An Establishment cover up: The sordid and sad saga of sex abuser Bishop Peter Ball

bishop peter ball

Bishop Peter Ball at his trial . Pic Credit: BBC

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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.

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Lord Carey: Former archbishop of Canterbury Pic credit: BBC

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.