A FORMER Bishop of Gloucester, the Rt Revd Peter Ball, has pleaded guilty to two charges of indecent assault and to misconduct in public office, decades after the first complaints were made.
The latter charge relates to the sexual abuse of 16 young men between 1977 and 1992, when he was Bishop of Lewes. An alleged victim has accused the Church of colluding in a cover-up.
Bishop Ball, who is 83, entered the plea at the Old Bailey using a video link on Tuesday, weeks before his trial was scheduled to start.
A statement from Sussex Police said that the misconduct was “relating to manipulative behaviour, including several specific sexual offences, against 16 young men in their late teens or early twenties, mainly at an address where he then lived in Litlington, East Sussex”. Bishop Ball also pleaded guilty to two charges of indecent assault on two boys in their late teens at Litlington in the 1980s.
“It became clear that under the guise of his status as a Bishop, Ball had systematically abused the trust of the victims, many of whom who were aspiring priests, whilst others were simply seeking to explore their spirituality,” said Carwyn Hughes, Detective Chief Inspector of Sussex Police.
“He abused that trust and used religion, through his ‘Give a Year for Christ’ scheme, as a cloak behind which to carry out his grooming activity, the principal aim of which was to satisfy his sexual interest in and desire for young men.”
Bishop Ball resigned as Bishop of Gloucester in 1993, after less than a year in office, after being formally cautioned by Gloucester Police for “one offence of gross indecency, contrary to the Sexual Offences Act of 1956” (News, 12 March 1993).
The offence involved a 17-year-old novice from what was described as “an embryo order”. Bishop Ball claims that, at the time the caution was given, a police officer reassured him: “Bishop, this is all over.” He told the Old Bailey: “I knew there were people waiting in the wings who wished to accuse me. I have never disguised the fact there could easily be allegations.”
The argument by his defence team that this meant that he could not be prosecuted was rejected by the judge. A statement from Lord Carey, who was Archbishop of Canterbury at the time, explained his involvement. He had spoken to someone at the Director of Public Prosecutions’ office to clarify the status of the caution, he said.
“I was worried if any other allegations were made it would reignite a police investigation,” he said. “I was told quite categorically that any past indecency matters would not be taken any further.”
After his resignation, Bishop Ball was given Permission to Officiate in the diocese of Bath & Wells from 2001 to 2010. His name came up in investigations by the police and the Church during this time, and he was arrested in 2012 (News, 16 November 2012), after Lambeth Palace passed to the police reports from a Church of England safeguarding consultant.
Bishop Ball pleaded not guilty, on Tuesday, to indecent assaults on two boys aged 13 and 15 in the late 1970s and early 1980s. The Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) decided not to proceed with these charges.
Phil Johnson, who first made allegations against Bishop Ball in 1996, claims that he was abused at the age of 13. He told The Guardian that he had been “silenced and denied justice”. He has lodged a complaint with the Director of Public Prosecutions and with the Crown Prosecution Service.
“He is very well-connected,” Mr Johnson said of Bishop Ball. “There has been pressure on the police ever since 1993 when all this first emerged . . . There are many, many victims who have fought for a long time to see him face justice and have not been believed.
"The Church and the Establishment has colluded in covering up Bishop Peter Ball’s offending at the highest level over very many years.”
Bishop Ball co-founded a monastic community, the Order of the Glorious Ascension, in 1960, and was visited by many young men considering their calling.
The caution Bishop Ball accepted in 1993 related to gross indecency on Neil Todd, a 17-year-old novice monk.
In 2012, when a new police investigation began, Mr Todd told the BBC that the abuse had “stayed with me throughout my life’s journey. . . It took a long time for people to be convinced the events that actually took place actually took place.” He took his own life shortly after the interview.
On Tuesday, the Bishop of Durham, the Rt Revd Paul Butler, who speaks for the House of Bishops on safeguarding, offered “an unreserved apology to all the survivors and those affected by this news. We commend the bravery of those who brought these allegations forward, acknowledging how difficult and distressing this would have been.”
At the time of Bishop Ball’s resignation in 1993, reaction reported in the Church Times focused on the “devastating blow” delivered to the diocese by the loss of a much-loved Bishop.
Sentencing will take place at the Old Bailey on 7 October.