FOR decades, the Church of England repeatedly and seriously failed to respond to allegations of child sex abuse made against clerics and churchpeople, the official abuse inquiry has concluded.
It also failed to implement safeguarding structures to protect children and vulnerable adults who “should have been safe” under its care.
These conclusions are included in the report from the Independent Inquiry into Child Sex Abuse (IICSA), Anglican Church Case Studies: the Diocese of Chichester and the response to allegations against Peter Ball, published on Thursday.
The 252-page report summarises the thousands of documents, witness statements, and oral evidence given during two public hearings in London in March and July 2018. The hearings used the diocese, and the case of the disgraced former Bishop of Lewes, Peter Ball, as case studies to examine the extent to which the Church of England as a whole failed to protect children and vulnerable adults from abuse over several decades.
In both the diocese and the wider Church, the report states: “The responses to child sexual abuse were marked by secrecy, prevarication, avoidance of reporting alleged crimes to the authorities and a failure to take professional advice.”
This includes the Church’s “unwavering support of Peter Ball” during the Gloucestershire Police investigation (allegations about Ball came to light when he was translated to from Lewes to Gloucester), and its failure afterwards to “recognise or acknowledge the seriousness” of Ball’s misconduct.
The report comments specifically on the evidence given by the former Archbishop of Canterbury, Lord Carey, on the case, whose response is described as “weak”. His “compassion” towards Ball did not extend to the victims, it says.
“He failed to have sufficient regard for the wellbeing of complainants, victims and survivors affected by Peter Ball’s behaviour. He was undoubtedly faced with difficult decisions by virtue of Peter Ball’s position, by Peter Ball’s own manipulative behaviour, and by the support of Bishop Michael Ball and other vocal individuals. It was nonetheless Archbishop Carey’s responsibility to display strong leadership and to act decisively. He did neither.”
A table in the report summarises the convictions and allegations made against Ball from 1977 to 1990, many of which overlap. The age of the victims or complainants at the time of abuse ranged between 13 and 25 years. Many had attended the “Give a Year to God” scheme set up and run by Ball while he was Bishop of Lewes in the early 1980s; the nature of the abuse included naked praying, masturbation, and flagellation for Ball’s own sexual gratification.
Another table lists 20 clerics and church volunteers in the diocese of Chichester who were convicted or cautioned between 1951 and 2018 for a combined total of more than 230 child sex offences.
The Church “seriously failed” in its treatment of victims and complainants, the report says, not least in the case of Neil Todd — the first victim to accuse Ball publicly, in 1992 — who took his own life in 2012. Victims were “disbelieved and dismissed”, and, on occasion, stigmatised by the Church, which perceived them as being from “problem backgrounds” and therefore less creditable.
The Church also failed to report suspected or known child abuse to the police, or hand over key documents, including six of the seven letters sent to Lambeth Palace which detailed Ball’s sexualised conduct towards teenagers, among them Mr Todd.
The 2007-09 Past Cases Review (PCR) of more than 40,000 files on diocesan staff, clergy, and lay ministers, dating back 30 years, “did not unearth the full scale of the abuse that was taking place inside its doors.
“It failed to take into account the actions of all volunteers and retired clerics. Despite the limitations of this review, the issues that it did raise should have been considered and dealt with by the diocese at the time.”
The report makes five recommendations. The Government should amend Section 21 of the Sexual Offences Act 2003 to include the clergy within the definition of a position of trust, it says. “This would criminalise under s16–s20 sexual activity between clergy and a person aged 16–18, over whom they exercise pastoral authority, involving the abuse of a position of trust.”
The Church should introduce mandatory safeguarding guidance for religious communities, and remove the phrase “due regard” from Canon 30 requiring clerics to comply with the Bishop’s Guidance on Safeguarding, which, it says, “lacks sufficient clarity. Very few individuals who gave evidence to the Inquiry said they understood what this meant, including the Archbishop of Canterbury himself.”
All individuals must complete a DBS check and compulsory safeguarding training, or be banned from holding voluntary offices within the Church. “Failure by ordained clergy to comply with either requirement should result in disciplinary proceedings.”
And finally: “If religious organisations have undertaken internal reviews or enquiries into individual safeguarding incidents, their findings should be sent to the national review body (set up under the Children and Social Work Act 2017).”
The report concludes: “The Church put its own reputation above the needs of victims and survivors. It did not always treat victims and survivors with the compassion or dignity they deserved. Disclosures of abuse were handled inadequately . . . there was also a failure to appreciate the significance of allegations of non-recent sexual abuse, either because they did not understand the continuing harm suffered by some victims and survivors or because they thought that the passage of time had erased the risk posed by the offender.
“In allegations involving victims and survivors over the age of 16, a number of individuals in the Diocese of Chichester and Lambeth Palace misinterpreted the actions of abusers as homosexual behaviour. In such cases, there was an unwillingness to challenge that behaviour or to recognise that the abuse may not be about sex alone, but the exercise of control.
“The Church has now offered unreserved apologies to victims of child sexual abuse. . . However, apologies are not sufficient in themselves.”
The Bishop of Bath and Wells, the Rt Revd Peter Hancock, the Church’s lead bishop for safeguarding, said that the Church would “study in full” the recommendations.
He said: “The report states that the Church of England should have been a place which protected all children and supported victims and survivors and the Inquiry’s summary recognises that it failed to do this. It is absolutely right that the Church at all levels should learn lessons from the issues raised in this report.
“While the report acknowledges the progress the Church has made in safeguarding, we recognise that our work must continue at pace in order that we can ensure that the Church is as safe as possible for all.”
The chair of the Inquiry, Professor Alexis Jay, said: “For years, the diocese of Chichester failed victims and survivors of child sexual abuse by prioritising its own reputation above their welfare. Not only were disclosures of abuse handled inadequately by the Church when they came to light, its response was marked by secrecy and a disregard for the seriousness of abuse allegations.
“Peter Ball is one example of how a senior member of the clergy was able to sexually abuse vulnerable teenagers and young men for decades. The public support he received is reflective of the Church’s culture at the time; a support that was rarely extended to his victims.”
“We are immensely grateful to survivors for their courage in coming forward to IICSA to share their experiences of how they were treated by the Church, knowing how difficult this would have been; their testimonies have made shocking and uncomfortable listening.”
A third and final IICSA hearing, due to take place in July, will scrutinise, among other topics, the seal of the confessional, the Clergy Discipline Measure (CDM), and the House of Bishops’ forthcoming teaching document on gender and sexuality (News, 18 January). It will produce a separate report and recommendations focusing on the wider Anglican Church — the Church of England and Church in Wales, including religious communities.
The full report is available to download at www.iicsa.org.uk/reports/anglican-chichester-peter-ball