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Peter Ball, disgraced former Bishop of Lewes and Gloucester, dies, aged 87

24 June 2019


Peter Ball in 1988

Peter Ball in 1988

PETER BALL, the former Bishop of Lewes and Gloucester, who was later imprisoned for offences against teenage boys and young men, has died, aged 87.

Ball was sentenced in 2015 to 32 months in prison for a series of offences, including misconduct in public office and indecent assault, more than 20 years after the first allegations against him were made (News, 7 October 2015). He served 16 months of this sentence. Further charges were allowed to lie on file.

The Bishop of Bath & Wells, the Rt Revd Peter Hancock, the Church of England’s lead safeguarding bishop said on Sunday: “We have been made aware of the death of Peter Ball and our prayers and thoughts are with everyone affected by this news.”

Last month, the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA) published its report on the diocese of Chichester and the response to allegations against Ball (News, 9 May). It stated: “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 included the Church’s “unwavering support of Peter Ball” during the Gloucestershire Police investigation (allegations about Ball came to light when he was translated from Lewes to Gloucester), and its failure afterwards to “recognise or acknowledge the seriousness” of Ball’s misconduct.

Ball resigned his post in 1993 after a receiving a police caution for a gross-indecency offence, but continued to hold a permission to officiate.

The Church “seriously failed” in its treatment of victims and complainants, the report said, 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 report also said that Ball “surrounded himself with powerful and influential” people, including the Prince of Wales, whom the report describes as “misguided”.

“The actions of the Prince of Wales were misguided. His actions, and those of his staff, could have been interpreted as expressions of support for Peter Ball and, given the Prince of Wales’ future role within the Church of England, had the potential to influence the actions of the Church.”

An independent report on the Ball affair, published in 2017, said that Ball had continued to abuse young boys and men sexually and physically for his own gratification, under the pretence of providing spiritual enlightenment, for the duration of his ministry as monk, priest, and, later, bishop (News, 30 June 2017).

It said that the Church’s “trivialisation” of such allegations, together with its naïve, prescriptive, and prejudiced attitude towards homosexuality, were in part to blame for its repeated failure to acknowledge and conduct a proper investigation into the exploitation carried out by Ball throughout his ministry.

Its publication led to apologies from two former Archbishops of Canterbury, Lord Carey and Lord Williams.

The IICSA report commented specifically on the evidence given by 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.”

Speaking on Monday, one survivor of Ball said: “There are a lot of people who have never got justice, because even to the end he continued to deny so many of his hideous crimes. . .

“It has brought up a lot of memories, bad memories, for a lot of survivors. How the Church deals with his funeral will be very interesting to see; I hope they deal with it sensitively.

“If there is any sense of a state occasion. . . That will be salt in the wounds for survivors.”

It is understood that bishops will be in contact with the survivors.

Ball, the son of a businessman, was born in Eastbourne, where the family had lived for several generations, and was educated at Lancing College, and Queens’ College, Cambridge, where he read natural sciences and was a squash “blue”, and was trained for ordination at Wells Theological College.

He was ordained by Bishop George Bell in 1956 to a curacy at Rottingdean, in Chichester diocese. After two years in the novitiate of the Society of the Sacred Mission, at Kelham, he founded, with his twin brother, Michael, in 1960, the Community of the Glorious Ascension (CGA), and was its Prior until 1977, when he was consecrated Suffragan Bishop of Lewes, to succeed Bishop Lloyd Morrell.

At this point, the community had nine houses scattered throughout the country, two in the Brighton area. “This is only the third time in living memory that the Crown has chosen a religious for the episcopate,” a press release from the Church Information Office said. He was translated to Gloucester in 1992, but the appointment was to be short-lived.

From 1966 to 1969, he had also been Priest-in-Charge of Hoar Cross, Staffordshire.

He was a Fellow of the Woodard Corporation (1962-71), and a member of the Archbishops’ Council of Evangelism (1965-68), the Midlands Religious Broadcasting Council of the BBC (1967-69), and the administrative council of the Royal Jubilee Trusts (1986-88). He was the Archbishop of Canterbury’s Adviser to the Headmasters’ Conference (1985-90), and held governorships of Wellington College (1985-93), Radley (1986-93), and Lancing (1972-82).

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