SURVIVORS of sexual abuse carried out by Peter Ball have described a persuasive and sexually driven man obsessed with humiliation, suffering, and nakedness, who took advantage of their vulnerability and confusion as young adults.
Three witnesses described their separate ordeals to a hearing being conducted by the Independent Inquiry into Child Sex Abuse (IICSA) this week.
One witness, known only as ANA-177, was one of the last young people to have been admitted to the Give a Year to God scheme, in 1991, which Ball had founded and run in Litlington, East Sussex, in the 1980s, when he was Bishop of Lewes. Some of the participants were aged 17 or younger; one was as young as 13, the Inquiry heard.
The witness told the lead counsel to the investigation, Fiona Scolding QC, that he had been attempting to suppress his own homosexuality when he found out about the scheme. “I turned to Christianity consciously as a way of seeking an ideology that would justify my own repression. That I would find safety in the scriptures and religious gospel.”
Instead, he was admitted to an unofficial, unmonitored scheme run by the Bishop of Lewes in his private residence, Beacon House, in Sussex, which had no Visitor or safeguards in place. The witness spoke to Bishop Ball on the phone, he said, and had two or three one-to-one interviews in which the pair discussed humiliation and spirituality.
“I felt like I was auditioning for Peter,” the witness said. “He said that I was very lucky to have spoken to him on the phone. He talked about humiliation in a spiritual sense, like St Francis taking off his clothes in front of the town people; being naked in front of God so you could get into a direct relationship with him.”
The witness described how, on the morning after his arrival, Bishop Ball had woken him at 5.30 a.m. to tell him to strip naked and take a cold shower in front of him. This was followed by silent prayer, matins, and “light housework”.
“I was terrified of it. I was full of self-hatred and physical hatred. I had begun to self-harm, cutting my fingers while I was praying. I was in a condition to understand that if you did punish your body that it would crush your diabolical desires, all the bad things about yourself.”
Lewd comments about genitals, conversations about masturbation, and invitations to watch television naked with Ball, led to naked beatings during Lent, in “solidarity and suffering” with the people fighting in the Gulf War at that time, the Inquiry heard.
“After the first beating he [Ball] said that he would take away the pain by using grease, or Vaseline, which he would rub onto my backside. . . He insisted he do it himself. He said that hugging afterwards would take away the sexual element.” Both men were naked, he said.
Another witness, known as ANA-10, said that he had visited Ball at Beacon House, aged 21, at the suggestion of his mother, who had held the Bishop in high regard. The witness had been confused about his sexuality, he said.
In a one-to-one interview, Ball had spoken about religion and sexuality: “At some point, he sat down on the sofa with me, and he said: ‘I think you have this great problem with physical closeness, and if it would help. . .’ And he undid his monk’s habit so that he had a bare chest, and he put my hand on his chest. I was quite embarrassed by this.”
The third witness, the Revd Graham Sawyer, who has waived his right to anonymity, said that his refusal to strip naked for Ball, who was his sponsor for ordination, had thwarted his calling to become a priest. He had repeatedly refused approaches from Ball, who was insisting that Mr Sawyer take off his clothes in the manner of St Francis, or Ball would not approve him for ordination.
“I was extremely reluctant, and, on the final occasion, he began fondling me in his chapel. It was very confusing. I knew it wasn’t right, and it didn’t feel right to me.”
Mr Sawyer withdrew from ordination, but on reapplying a few years later was told by a priest that there was a “big black mark” against his name in the Church.
Mr Sawyer emigrated to New Zealand, where he was ordained in Wellington in 1998. He later met the then Archbishop of Wales, Rowan Williams, who asked him to come to his diocese in Wales.
Mr Sawyer told the IICSA panel: “Sexual abuse that was perpetrated upon me by Bishop Peter Ball pales into insignificance when compared to the enduringly cruel and sadistic treatment that has been meted out to me by officials, both lay and ordained, in the Church of England.
“I know from the testimony of other people who have got in touch with me over the past five or ten years that what I have experienced is not dissimilar to the experience of so many others.”
He referred to the “purple circle” of bishops in Anglicanism who support each other in a “club-like” way to the point of “destroying” the person making an allegation. He did not feel that Lord Williams had failed him in any way, however, he said.
Witnesses described Ball as having been revered at the time of the abuse as a living “holy saint” both by the Church and society.
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