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Power of abuse

17 May 2019

THOSE who want to believe that stories end happily perhaps ought to stick to fiction; or maybe not read works with appendices. The report of the Independent Inquiry into Child Sex Abuse (IICSA), Anglican Church Case Studies: The diocese of Chichester and the response to allegations against Peter Ball, finishes with a table of allegations made against the former Bishop of Lewes and Gloucester, Peter Ball, the last of which involves beating and rape. The report makes clear that none of these allegations was tested in court, or has been admitted by Mr Ball. Perhaps it is best, then, to concentrate on the table that lists the 17 people whose accusations led to his conviction in 2015. Or yet another table, which shows the convictions of other priests and church workers in the Chichester diocese. The dates should suffice: the report lists one conviction from last year, one from 2017, one from 2016, six from 2015, four from 2013, two from 2012, the year that the present Bishop of Chichester, Dr Martin Warner, took office.

Dr Warner told the inquiry that he had been shocked by attitudes in the diocese when he arrived. “Several people in East Sussex who were very firm and hostile to me at that point about our treatment of Bishop Ball. . . They believed that the Church had mistreated him and continued to mistreat him, and that was a shock to me” (News, 14 March 2018). It is easy, then, to see why Dr Warner has been so reluctant to declare Bishop Bell innocent of the charges of abuse brought against him by “Carol”, despite encouragement to do so from those who have investigated the case thoroughly. The trial this week of Carl Beech, otherwise known as “Nick”, whose allegations of a Westminster paedophile ring contributed to the atmosphere of suspicion which led to IICSA’s foundation, is a reminder of how difficult it can be to authenticate non-recent abuse cases. Beech’s evidence, described at one time by the leader of the Metropolitan Police’s investigation, Detective Superintendent Kenny McDonald, as “credible and true”, was described in court this week as “totally unfounded, hopelessly compromised, and irredeemably contradicted”.

Appendices aside, the IICSA report concludes that “disclosures of abuse were handled inadequately”. Dioceses less exposed than Chichester might consider themselves judged unfairly by association, but the difference is largely one of quantity, not quality. And the involvement of a former Archbishop of Canterbury, Lord Carey, who overlooked Ball’s victims and canvassed actively on his behalf, justifies IICSA in pointing the finger more widely. It also justifies the present emphasis on rebuilding the Church as a community in which damaged people continue to be welcome but have no opportunity to damage others — no easy task. This is an outrageous chapter in the Church of England’s history. The story will end well only if the culture of deference to the powerful and indifference to the weak is eradicated.

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