PRESS coverage of the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA) report on Peter Ball divided sharply: was it the Prince of Wales or the then Archbishop of Canterbury who was most guilty of the Establishment cover-up that allowed him to stay out of prison for so long?
The Daily Mail had no doubt. From the startling front page — “Charles damned over the pervert bishop” — through to a near-double-page spread inside, it concentrated entirely on the royal family. This is the first time in years that I have seen the word “pervert” used in a headline.
The story inside mentioned the considerable part played by the ecclesiastical Establishment: “As news of the investigation spread, Lambeth Palace received seven letters containing potentially disturbing information about him, including one from a man who told how, when he was 15, he had been asked by Ball to perform a sex act.
“Lord Carey was briefed about the claims and replied personally to two of the tip-off letters. But only one, which was of least concern, was passed to the police.
“Two Archbishops of Canterbury, Tory MPs — including David Cameron’s godfather — a senior judge and public school headmasters were also among the Establishment figures who rallied to protect Ball during the investigation.”
The guts of the story, however, was a series of horribly ill-judged quotes from the Prince in his letters to Ball, such as this one, from February 1995: “I wish I could do more. I feel so desperately strongly about the monstrous wrongs that have been done to you and the way you have been treated. It’s appalling that the Archbishop has gone back on what he told me, before Xmas, that he was hoping to restore you to some form of Ministry in the Church.
“I suspect you are absolutely right — it is due to fear of the media. . . If it is any consolation, the Archbishop has written me a letter (between you and me) in which it is also clear that he is frightened of the press — what he calls ‘public perception’, which in fact [is] perception of events and characters based entirely on lies, invention, speculation and sensation.”
I feel a small rush of pride that I was then an important part of the dreadful media thatso frightened the Archbishop out of doing the wrong thing.
The Times also led with Prince Charles and the suggestion that his evidence had been misleading: “The Prince of Wales was misguided in using his position and influence to support a sex offender bishop, a report said yesterday. . .
“Such criticism of a senior royal by a public inquiry is unprecedented.”
The Guardian, in contrast, concentrated on the part played by the Church, although Prince Charles got a reasonable showing.
It was Matthew Parris, writing in The Times the next day, who put the boot hardest into the Archbishop. He wrote: “The most we can offer Lord Carey is a verdict of not-proven. Charles’s problem was that he knew too little. Lord Carey’s is that he knew too much. He had in his possession letters which, even if he had not believed a word of any of them, he should have known raised concerns of such gravity that he was duty bound to refer them on, arguably straight to the police.
“What’s the best case we can make for Carey? I’m afraid it has to be incredible stupidity. It is possible he was completely gulled. . .
“I blame Thatcher. It was she who, faced with recommending a successor to Robert Runcie as Archbishop of Canterbury, preferred the evangelical Carey to the more liberal and (to her) irritatingly intellectual John Habgood: the last Anglican theologian I used to make the walk to the Lords chamber to hear speak.”
I think this analysis underplays the part played by snobbery in both men’s misjudgements; also, perhaps, in Prince Charles’s case, the sense that some socially liberal people had in the 1990s: that a great many gay men were the victims of unjust laws about the age of consent, and thus one should not enquire too closely into their arrangements. I remember being shocked by my friend Monica Furlong defending the paedophile publisher Patrick Gilbert on similar grounds at about the same time as the allegations against Peter Ball were emerging.
I LOVED the detail in the Washington Post’s long profile of the Archbishop of Malta, the Most Revd Charles Scicluna, the chief Vatican investigator of child abuse, that he “is also a self-described bookish ‘nerd,’ who holds both civil and canon law degrees. At barely 5 feet tall, he says he struggles to find clothes that fit properly. In Malta, he eschews the grand residence offered to the archbishop and instead lives in a ground-floor apartment with his 83-year-old mother.”
BUT the best foreign, or almost foreign, report of the week comes from the Belfast Telegraph: “US ‘ghostbuster’ who helped Catholic Belfast family rid home of chain-smoking hardline unionist spectre dies”.
Why spoil a headline like that with the story?