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Peter Ball was not Church’s choice for Gloucester

25 July 2018


Peter Ball, then Bishop of Gloucester, with Desert Orchid in November 1992, exactly one month before his arrest for indecent assault

Peter Ball, then Bishop of Gloucester, with Desert Orchid in November 1992, exactly one month before his arrest for indecent assault

LORD CAREY has expressed his horror that the former Prime Minister John Major was persuaded by a senior aide to choose Peter Ball over another candidate for the see of Gloucester against the wishes of the Crown Appointments Commission (CAC — now the Crown Nominations Commission).

Lord Carey, who was Archbishop from 1991 to 2002, was giving evidence on the case of Ball to the Independent Inquiry into Child Sex Abuse (IICSA) on Tuesday, as part of its investigation into the extent to which the Anglican Church had failed to prevent child abuse.

Ball was sentenced to three years in jail in 2015, having admitted to the abuse of 18 young men aged 17-25 during the 1980s and ’90s while he was Bishop of Lewes, then Gloucester (News, 7 October 2015). He had been appointed to Gloucester before his arrest in 1992. He resigned the following year after accepting a police caution, thereby admitting indecent assault.

Lord Carey was shown a note sent to John Major by his appointments secretary, Sir Robin Catford, in October 1991, advising the Prime Minister to choose Bishop Ball over another candidate for Gloucester, whose name has been redacted, despite the latter’s being the CAC’s favoured nominee, by a two-third majority.

The note read: “Peter Ball is a most unusual person who, more than the other candidate, could give Gloucester the special lift it now needs through inspirational spiritual leadership.

“He has been enormously valued as a Suffragan in East Sussex and (perhaps because he is a monk) has demonstrated a unique ability to move across what to many are the different frontiers between you and age, town and country, affluence and deprivation, the intellectual and the prosaic.”

Sir Robin, who died in 2008, wrote that it would be the “last chance” for Peter Ball, who was then 59, to become a diocesan bishop. He also suggested that the other candidate would be better placed in Bradford where a vacancy was forthcoming.

“Bishop Peter Ball is a man of humility, holiness, and vision combined with quite an extraordinary sparkling personality, impish humour, and an unrivalled ability to communicate to the highest and lowest of all ages and background. He is of course a celibate, but he is a completely adjusted and confident person who is loved and revered by everyone.”

Lord Carey told the Inquiry: “I find this very deeply disturbing. I didn’t know this was going on, so very clearly the secretary was influencing the mind of the Prime Minister and going beyond his responsibilities. I find this quite appalling.

“Because the clear structure of the Crown Appointments Commission under my leadership, or, if it was the case of the Province of York, the archbishop concerned would have discussed this with the officers, the representatives, the two secretaries there, to convey the wishes of the Appointments Commission.

“It does look as though Robin has gone further than that in shaping the mind of the Prime Minister. What should have happened, the Prime Minister should have seen me to go over this letter and then a decision should have been made, and this happened several times with respect to Tony Blair.

“There were several moments when we couldn’t find our way through a particular appointment, and I met the Prime Minister, we argued it out and, on one occasion, his instincts were quite right and we followed his advice. So, yes, I find this worrying.”

In his second witness statement from February, Lord Carey said that he had complained to Sir Robin about the outcome, “because the Prime Minister had chosen the second name rather than honouring the preference of the CAC. This only happened occasionally. However, it was too late to do anything about this after the Prime Minister had made his choice. It was his prerogative and could not seriously be challenged by the Church.”

After an agreement made with James Callaghan in the late 1970s, the convention was established that the Church submitted two names to the Prime Minister, who would choose the first. The system is confidential, and the only suspected instance of prime-ministerial interference was when Margaret Thatcher was said to have rejected the nomination of James Thompson, the left-leaning Bishop of Stepney, for Birmingham. (He later became Bishop of Bath & Wells.)

Lord Carey’s remarks suggest a much more fluid arrangement during his time. This was changed in July 2007, when Gordon Brown formally agreed to choose only the first name proposed by the Crown Nominations Commission.

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