*** DEBUG END ***

Paul Vallely: Action matters more than words 

03 August 2018

Both Anglicans and RCs have failed to tackle abuse, says Paul Vallely


Peter Ball (right) and his twin brother Michael Ball, pictured in 1989

Peter Ball (right) and his twin brother Michael Ball, pictured in 1989

IT WAS famously said of Watergate that it was not the original crime — a burglary of the offices of political opponents — that was the real scandal. It was, rather, the cover-up. If that is the lesson of history, it is one that the Churches have singularly failed to learn, Roman Catholics and Anglicans alike.

In recent days, we have had the unedifying spectacle of Lord Carey in the witness box at the Independent Inquiry into Child Sex Abuse, where, unlike the Prince of Wales, he was subject to cross-examination by Fiona Scolding QC (News, 27 July). Across the Tiber, as it were, the Archbishop of Adelaide, the Rt Revd Philip Wilson, has finally been shamed into tendering his resignation — or has been told privately by Pope Francis that he has to go.

What the two senior clerics, Anglican and Catholic, have in common is not sexual misconduct, but the inadequacy of their handling of crimes by others. Both men have mouthed the correct words of revulsion against sex abuse, but both have been found wanting in their actions.

Lord Carey, in mitigation, spoke of the different social attitudes to sex abuse in the “pre-Savile era”, and of his inability, when confronted with the allegations about the disgraced prelate Peter Ball, to “believe that a bishop in the Church of England could do such evil things”.

That was an incredulity that society then generally shared, of course, even where it did not embrace the Church’s foundational commitment to forgiveness after repentance. But Lord Carey was disingenuous in relying on shifting social attitudes as an excuse. Once Ball had accepted a formal police caution — which constitutes an admission of guilt — after committing an act of gross indecency, there was no way that he should have been supported by Lord Carey, given his lack of remorse.

It was similarly extraordinary that Archbishop Wilson refused to resign after becoming global Catholicism’s most senior cleric to be charged and convicted for failing to report an abuser priest to the police (News, 25 May). He had shown “no remorse or contrition”, according to the court that has sentenced him to a minimum of six months’ imprisonment. He had even resisted calls from the Australian Prime Minister to resign.

The abuse itself continues. Only a few days ago, a former Archbishop of Washington, DC, 88-year-old Theodore McCarrick, had to resign as a Cardinal and was ordered by Pope Francis “to a life of prayer and penance” as he awaits the outcome of an ecclesiastical trial for the abuse of seminarians, including an 11-year-old boy.

Archbishop McCarrick has also been removed from public ministry pending his church trial, which the Vatican clearly expects to end with a guilty verdict. This represents a step change for the Vatican, as did Pope Francis’s recent demand that several bishops in Chile resign after allegations that the Church there, at the highest levels, colluded in the cover-up of sexual abuse.

Has a watershed truly been reached in wider church consciousness? Will Lord Carey retain his permission to officiate in church services? Will Archbishop Wilson offer compensation to those he has wronged? Or have the Churches still not fully realised that apologies, and pledges about policy and procedure changes, are not enough? Action is required if faith in the institutional Churches is to be restored.

Browse Church and Charity jobs on the Church Times jobsite

Letters to the editor

Letters for publication should be sent to letters@churchtimes.co.uk.

Letters should be exclusive to the Church Times, and include a full postal address. Your name and address will appear below your letter unless requested otherwise.

Forthcoming Events

Green Church Awards

Closing date: 30 June 2024

Read more details about the awards


Festival of Preaching

15-17 September 2024

The festival moves to Cambridge along with a sparkling selection of expert speakers

tickets available



Festival of Faith and Literature

28 February - 2 March 2025

The festival programme is soon to be announced sign up to our newsletter to stay informed about all festival news.

Festival website


ViSIt our Events page for upcoming and past events 

The Church Times Archive

Read reports from issues stretching back to 1863, search for your parish or see if any of the clergy you know get a mention.

FREE for Church Times subscribers.

Explore the archive

Welcome to the Church Times


To explore the Church Times website fully, please sign in or subscribe.

Non-subscribers can read four articles for free each month. (You will need to register.)