THE sentencing of the former Bishop of Gloucester, the Rt Revd Peter Ball, to 32 months in prison for a series of offences against teenage boys and young men has caused “deep shame and regret”, the Bishop of Durham, the Rt Revd Paul Butler, has said.
Bishop Ball, aged 83, was jailed after a hearing at the Old Bailey by the Hon. Mr Justice Wilkie on Wednesday after pleading guilty last month to two charges of indecent assault against two boys in their teens in the 1980s, and also a charge of misconduct in public office (News, 11 September).
The second charge relates to “manipulative behaviour, including several specific sexual offences, against 16 young men in their late teens or early twenties”, Sussex Police said at the time.
Bishop Ball was told by the judge that he would serve at least 16 months of his sentence behind bars before being released on licence. He had been forced to stand down as Bishop of Gloucester in 1993 when the allegations first came to light, after accepting a caution from police for just one count of gross indecency (News, 12 March 1993).
Responding to the sentence, Bishop Butler, who leads the C of E’s work on safeguarding, said that there were “no excuses . . . for the systemic abuse of trust perpetrated by Peter Ball”.
“We apologise unreservedly to those survivors of Peter Ball’s abuse, and pay tribute to their bravery in coming forward and also the long wait for justice that they have endured.”
The Rt Revd Lord Carey of Clifton, who was Archbishop of Canterbury when Bishop Ball was cautioned in 1993, has also apologised.
He said: “I greatly regret the fact that during my tenure as Archbishop of Canterbury we dealt inadequately with Peter Ball’s victims and gave too much credence to his protestations. In the past we failed many victims and allowed abusers to flourish in ministry.
“Allegations by some that my actions amounted to a cover-up or collusion with the abuser are wrong.”
Bishop Butler also noted that many of those who endured abuse at the hands of Bishop Ball would have their cases remain on file, which would make the sentencing “difficult” for them to accept.
He praised their “courage and persistence” in demanding that the truth come out. He paid particular tribute to Neil Todd, the first victim of Bishop Ball to accuse him publicly, in 1992, but who took his own life in 2012.
“[Bishop Ball] also abused the trust placed in him by the Church and others, maintaining a campaign of innocence for decades until his final guilty plea only weeks ago,” Bishop Butler said. Internal church disciplinary proceedings had now begun against him.
In his sentencing remarks, Mr Justice Wilkie said that Bishop Ball’s victims had been denied justice for what had happened to them for many years, and this had “greatly exacerbated their sense of hurt and damage”.
“Throughout that extensive period of offending you misused your office and authority as a bishop of the Established Church to manipulate and prevail upon a significant number of young adult men, some 16 in all, who, in various ways, were under your pastoral and spiritual care and guidance, all for your own sexual gratification,” the judge told Bishop Ball.
The Bishop used his Give a Year for Christ programme to persuade young men “to commit, or submit to, acts of physical or sexual debasement under the guise of their being part of an austere regime of devotion, when they were not”.
Bishop Ball also induced some young men to join him in naked worship and prayer, sometimes in places of worship, which was expressly for the purpose of sexual gratification, the judge said.
The Church had been hugely damaged by Bishop Ball’s crimes, Mr Justice Wilkie said, to the extent that many who could not believe the extent of his abuse permitted him to continue to minister as a priest after his 1993 caution.
“Thus the delay [in bringing the case to trial], and your apparent continued acceptance by the Church as a priest throughout much of that period, has also exacerbated the damage done by you to your victims.”
On Monday, the Archbishop of Canterbury announced that an independent inquiry would look into how the Church of England had handled the case.
The review will focus on the extent to which the Church co-operated with the police, and whether the risk of Bishop Ball’s offending again had been properly considered.
The statement that announced the review acknowledged that “questions have been raised about the Church’s handling of this case”. A report setting out in detail how the C of E dealt with allegations against Bishop Ball will be published after the independent review has been completed.
Earlier court hearings heard how the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) decided in 1993 to caution Bishop Ball for a single charge of gross indecency, despite there being significant amounts of evidence which could have taken the case to a full trial. The CPS had since conceded that this was the wrong decision, The Times reported on Monday.
It has also been revealed that Archbishop Carey phoned a senior official at the CPS when the caution became public knowledge, and was told Bishop Ball would not be prosecuted further.
A spokesman for Lord Carey has denied that he attempted to intervene in the case. “He discussed the matter with the CPS after the caution had been given to Peter Ball. If there was a cover-up, he was unaware. The allegations were investigated by police, and he believed this was a proper investigation.”
The Old Bailey heard on Wednesday that a member of the Royal Family, a Lord Chief Justice, and several MPs all called the police while they were investigating Bishop Ball to support him.
After he resigned, he rented a cottage from the Duchy of Cornwall, although the Prince of Wales, a friend of his, "made no intervention in the judicial process" on his behalf a spokeswoman said on Wednesday. The court also heard that Lord Carey allowed Bishop Ball to continue to preside at church services for a further three years after his 1993 caution.
Before Bishop Ball pleaded guilty last month, there had been a long legal battle over his claim that he had been assured in 1993 that the allegations of abuse would never be resurrected.
One of Bishop Ball’s alleged victims, Phil Johnson, has suggested that there was a cover-up by the cleric’s well-connected friends to ensure that the scale of his offending did not come to light.
On Monday, another one of Bishop Ball’s alleged victims, now a priest, the Revd Graham Sawyer, told ITV that the Church’s response to the abuse had been “deeply corrupt [and] deeply sinister”.
“At times, I have actually wanted to be dead — it was just so appalling,” Mr Sawyer said. “Here was this man who ostensibly was deeply spiritual, was heralded by people as one of the most spiritual and loving bishops in the Church of England, who was basically asking me for sex or, at the very least, trying to get me to take my clothes off, and, when I wouldn’t, taking them off my back.
“The truth must come out about those who protected him at that time.”
The latest investigation into Bishop Ball, which led to sentencing this week, began when the safeguarding officer at Lambeth Palace reviewed the case files and referred the case to Sussex Police in 2012.
The new church inquiry will look specifically at whether the C of E shared documents and files with the police in a “timely manner”, and whether it responded adequately to the concerns of survivors during the process. It will report next year.
Several people who allege that Bishop Ball abused them while serving as Bishop of Lewes between 1997 and 1992 are preparing to sue the diocese of Chichester for hundreds of thousands of pounds. Their lawyer, David Greenwood, said that no amount of money would compensate the victims for the trauma they had suffered.
“They have suffered psychological consequences because of the indecent assaults,” he said on Wednesday. “It’s not really about the money for them — they have had to keep this to themselves for so many years.”
At least two of his clients were motivated to act because they were frustrated at not being able to testify against Bishop Ball in a full criminal trial. “They have spoken about their dismay at not having their cases brought specifically to the court because of this plea bargain with the CPS.”
He was yet to receive a formal response from the diocese, but said that he hoped to resolve the claims out of court by means of a negotiated settlement in the next 12 months. A spokeswoman for the diocese acknowledged the existence of the legal action.
The Bishop of Horsham, the Rt Revd Mark Sowerby, said that the diocese of Chichester expressed its abhorrence at Bishop Ball’s crimes, and apologised to his victims.