A SURVIVOR of sexual abuse carried out by the disgraced former Bishop of Gloucester Peter Ball has criticised the Church for rejecting “open” and “frank” communication in favour of power and control.
The individual, known only as AN-A8, was giving evidence on Monday at the start of the third and final week of the public hearing conducted by the Independent Inquiry into Child Sex Abuse (IICSA). The Inquiry is using the diocese of Chichester as a case-study to investigate the extent to which the Anglican Church has failed to protect children from sexual abuse.
The lead Counsel to the Anglican investigation, Fiona Scolding QC, focused her questions on safeguarding in religious communities rather than the nature of the abuse, which is described in detail in the independent report on the Ball case by Dame Moira Gibb (News, 22 June 2017).
The first witness had attended one of the monastic-community schemes for young people, “Give a Year to God”, which Ball had founded and run in Littlington, East Sussex, in the 1980s, when he was the Bishop of Lewes.
The witness had left the religious life in 1989 to pursue ordination, but left the priesthood for several years from 1996. He confirmed that he had later made a claim for damages against the Church in respect of the grooming and sexual abuse that he had suffered there at the hands of Ball during this time.
“I was still anxious to have open lines of communication with the church hierarchy,” he said. “I don’t think that they are very good at communication. I don’t think they want communication. The impression that I get is that I don’t think they actually want me to exist.
“I forgive everybody, and always have done, because it is absolutely essential in having open lines of communication with other members of the Church. As far as the church hierarchy is concerned, I don’t think they like frankness, openness.”
AN-A8 said in his witness statement that the Church needed to create a “culture of challenge”. He described this to IICSA as “a place where Christians can challenge everybody around them in order to not quite be so infantilised.
“One of the things the Church does, the church hierarchy and bishops, is to make sure that people, Christians, are as infantilised as possible, so that they can be controlled. If you are going to be saved, you have to have a ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach. That is to say, go to church and don’t say anything.”
Questioned on whether he thought that the Church’s approach to homosexuality had affected its institutional response to abuse carried out by Ball, he said: “If you are going to give pronouncements about sex or to regulate people’s sexual behaviour, you should have a positive approach to it.
“You should also have a thorough grounding and understanding of what sex actually is: you should appreciate it, nurture it, and even encourage it — at least positive expressions of it.”
This had not been the case at time of the abuse, and was not the case today, he said. “The matter is not about sex: it is about control — the lust for control. What bishops, in particular, need to do is to examine why they have a lust for control. There is a psychology behind it, a sociology behind it — also, a very long history. These are the things that need to be homed in on and checked out.”
Asked what practical steps the Church should take to avoid repeating its failures over safeguarding, the witness said: “It needs to stop squelching discussion. It has a way of doing things where it tries to crush people when they try to speak. It needs to stop doing that, and treat people as adults rather than children. . .
“The institution itself doesn’t need to be defended; it will look after itself in so far as it is informed by, and filled with, the Holy Spirit. Anything beyond that is irrelevant. There is a larger thing at stake here, which is about the physical and psychological health of Christians. When that sort of thing is put to one side or not taken account of, it more or less amounts to spiritual or psychological abuse.”
Ms Scolding pointed to the apology issued by Ball, through his legal team, at the start of the hearing, to everyone whom Ball had hurt or harmed through his actions.
The witness responded that apologies were “far from” a helpful way of healing: “Apologies are very often used as weapons. It is a way of saying: ‘We have now taken account of you; you are in our sights; you are our enemy: you are not part of our team. We have now discharged our responsibilities with regard to you with this apology; so you can now go away and never darken our doors again.’
“It is a way of saying goodbye. . . They have gone through the ringer of being looked at by lawyers and insurers. You wonder how genuine these things are, or whether they are done just for the look of the thing. Hypocrisy is the problem here.”
The second anonymous witness on Monday, AN-A7, had been less enamoured by the religious life, but had been attracted to the scheme in Littlington after Ball had delivered an assembly at the school that the witness had attended, in 1981.
The witness had been groomed and sexually abused by Ball between April and August 1985. He had been asked by Ball to be naked with him and to massage him. The witness said that believed that these “sessions” were “innocent” at the time.
He had been aware that Ball had a simultaneous, similarly “odd” relationship with Neil Todd, whose case led to a police investigation and the eventual arrest of Ball in 1993. Mr Todd later took his own life in 2012.
The scheme, AN-A7 said, had attracted young boys who, like himself, he had considered, were mentally unwell or “on the edge”.
“There was a strain that ran through Littlington which was explicitly designed to appeal to people whose outlook on life was morbid and self-loathing, and very receptive to ideas of Original Sin: that we are all dreadful sinners, and that while we didn’t nail Christ to the cross personally, we might as well have done. . . There is a kind of masochistic thrill about that train of thought.”
The Bishop of Manchester, Dr David Walker, later gave evidence to IICSA on the current practices, guidance, regulation, and forthcoming canon on religious communities in relation to safeguarding (News, 16 February).
In a Twitter post on Friday, the Bishop of Buckingham, Dr Alan Wilson, lent support to demands from other clergy and abuse survivors for an independent body to hold the Church of England to account over safeguarding.
He wrote: “Yes. A terrible week with evidence of religious exceptionalism, stupidity, incompetence, lying, dumping responsibility at every level including the highest, and folie de grandeur. Bishops must be acccountable. This means not just to themselves. End of story.”