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Shocking exposé

17 January 2020

THE failings of the Church of England over the late Peter Ball, former Bishop of Lewes and of Gloucester, have been well rehearsed. An Abuse of Faith, the report commissioned from Dame Moira Gibb in July 2017, listed the evidence that had mounted up over the years against Ball, and detailed meticulously the scandalous reluctance of church authorities to act on it. The Gibb report is particularly acute when recounting the torrid weeks at the end of 1992, after Neil Todd, one of Ball’s victims, set the wheels in motion that would lead to Ball’s resignation from Gloucester on 8 March 1993 — essentially a let-off for a man who would not be charged for another 20 years.

The report, however, does not have the impact of the interviews in the two-part BBC documentary this week, Exposed: The Church’s darkest secret. Most striking, and most moving, were the accounts by Christine and Michael Moss, members of Ball’s staff in Gloucester, who disclosed their concerns about Mr Todd’s treatment to the chief of staff at Lambeth Palace, Bishop John Yates. The Gibb report recounts: “Bishop Yates is said to have listened but did not commit himself to any action.” He instead recommended that they talk to the Bishop of Tewkesbury, the Rt Revd Jeremy Walsh, Ball’s subordinate. Dame Moira’s team had interviewed Bishop Walsh. He told them that he recalled speaking with the Mosses “but could not remember when the conversation took place, nor the detail of what was discussed”, a remarkable observation, given the gravity of the accusations. The BBC obtained footage of an ITV news item from 15 December 1992, when the police interest in Ball was becoming known. Bishop Walsh says in it: “I think the first thing we need to do is pray for Bishop Peter and his family and his friends. We look forward to the time when Bishop Peter will be able to be back with us.” It is hard to believe that the Mosses were any less plausible then than they are now, making the Church’s unquestioning determination at the time to protect Ball and cover up his blasphemous activities all the more staggering. Listening to Mary Todd’s account of the days after her brother’s fatal overdose is to be reminded of the immense harm caused when institutional leaders protect their own.

Later this year, the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA) will produce its final report on the Church of England. Survivors continue to have a justifiable suspicion of internal church investigations, but a chastened hierarchy is at least showing a readiness to refer matters to the police at an earlier stage. Nor are there the attempts to subvert the police’s work, as was seen in the Ball case.

Church TimesVersion of Julie Macfarlane’s 2015 account, with redactions proposed by official lawyers. The Church Times resisted, though in the end had to leave out Griffiths’s name and the name of the diocese

Though the mills of justice grind slowly, we are pleased that the Crown Prosecution Service has finally secured the conviction of Meirion Griffiths, the priest who preyed on Dr Julie Macfarlane and at least one other parishioner. We were privileged to feature Dr Macfarlane’s campaign in these pages in 2015, though not without opposition from the authorities. We illustrate the version of her story which would have appeared had we not succeeded in resisting official efforts to redact it.

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