PETER BALL found the “perfect cover” for his sex-offending in the Church of England, and the “perfect accomplices” in fellow bishops who turned a blind eye to his actions, the Independent Inquiry into Child Sex Abuse (IICSA) has heard.
The details of the abuse carried out against vulnerable adults by Mr Ball, the disgraced former Bishop of Gloucester, during his ministry were heard on Monday at the start of a week-long hearing being conducted by IICSA, as part of its investigation into the extent to which the Anglican Church failed to protect children from child sex abuse.
The first hearing, in March, used the diocese of Chichester as a case study (News, 9 March). This week is to focus on the repeated failures of the police, Crown Prosecution Service, and the Church to identify, prevent, and prosecute abuse carried out by Ball over several decades, the lead counsel to the Anglican investigation, Fiona Scolding QC explained.
Ball received a three-year sentence in 2015, having admitted to a series of indecent assaults and the abuse of 18 young men aged 17-25 (News, 7 October 2015).
The offences included praying naked with vulnerable young people who had joined the monastic-community scheme Give a Year to God, which Ball had founded and run in Littlington, East Sussex, in the 1980s, when he was Bishop of Lewes.
Summarising the evidence received by the Inquiry, which included more than 100,000 documents, Ms Scolding said that Ball had admitted to being naked with, caressing, anointing, and physically assaulting young men, who would sleep in his house, sometimes in his bed, and with whom he would prayer naked, embrace, and masturbate. The victims were told that these practices were an expression of humiliation, penitence, and devotion to Christ.
One of his victims was the late Neil Todd, who was repeatedly abused during the 1980s and ’90s, and who later took his own life. His allegations brought about the police investigation in 1993, which resulted in Ball accepting a police caution, thereby admitting his guilt.
Ms Scolding also quoted several senior clerics who had held Ball in high esteem, most of whom had “flooded to defend him” after the police investigation and, latterly, his conviction. It had become clear in the Chichester hearing that abusers were required to “manipulate and charm” everyone around them, not just their victims, she said.
Among his defenders was Michael Ball, his twin brother and a former Bishop of Truro, who repeatedly urged Lambeth Palace to restore Peter Ball to ministry during the 2000s in what has been described in evidence as a “manipulative” campaign which drew on connections with senior figures, including the Prince of Wales.
A lawyer representing six survivors of Ball, Richard Scorer QC, said that in the Church Ball had found the “perfect cover” for his offending.
“If a charlatan with an insatiable appetite for abuse wanted to secure a continuous supply of vulnerable young victims, there was no better way of achieving this than by founding a religious order not subject to any external supervision, and by making his victims participation in the abuse a religious duty obligated by their oath of absolute obedience.
“Not for the first time, theology and religious ritual provided the ideal mask for abuse, with the evil of what Peter Ball did being compounded by his nauseating claim that the abuse was spiritually uplifting.
“Most of all, however, Peter Ball found in his fellow bishops in the Church of England the perfect accomplices, prepared to turn a blind eye to his abuse over many decades, to collude in the lie that the abuse of Neil Todd was an uncharacteristic aberration, to cast doubt on his guilt, to smear his victims, and to rehabilitate him.”
Mr Scorer also criticised Prince Charles for not making efforts to check the position of Ball in 1993, after the bishop accepted a caution. “This extraordinary lack of curiosity looks like wilful blindness. . . He failed in that responsibility and therefore failed the victims.”
In her introduction, Ms Scolding said that the key questions being put by the Inquiry included: Why did Peter Ball escape detection as an abuser? How did the Church permit him to run a scheme where young people stayed in his home over a ten-year period without any oversight? Why was he given a caution and not prosecuted? Why was he allowed to return to public ministry? Would the Church approach a similar case involving a senior figure in the same way today?
Core participants due to be questioned by the Inquiry this week include Dame Moira Gibb, who produced a critical review of the Ball case last year. Lord Carey, who was heavily criticised in the Gibb report for failing to pass on evidence against Ball, gave evidence on Tuesday.
Ms Scolding confirmed that Ball had submitted two witness statements to the Inquiry, but was too unwell to be questioned either in person or by video link.