[ACNS] The Church of England has spoken of its “deep shame and regret” this afternoon [Wednesday] after a former diocesan bishop was sentenced to 36 months in prison after admitting a series of abuse offences against 18 young men.
Peter Ball committed the abuse between 1977 and 1992 when he was Bishop of Lewes in the Diocese of Chichester.
In 1993, a year after being appointed Bishop of Gloucester, Peter Ball stood down from full time ministry after accepting a police caution for the sexual assault of a young man, named Neil Todd, who later committed suicide. A police caution in England and Wales is a non-judicial method of disposing of admitted criminal accusations and is usually reserved for first-time minor offences.
The renewed police investigation against Peter Ball was sparked by concerns raised by the Church of England following an in-house review of all clergy files by independent safeguarding professionals. Last month, after first arguing – unsuccessfully – that he was not fit to stand trial and that a bishop is not the holder of a “public office”, the 83-year-old pleaded guilty to charges of indecent assault and misconduct in public office.
“There are no excuses whatsoever for what took place and the systematic abuse of trust perpetrated by Peter Ball over decades,” a C of E spokesman said after Ball was sentenced at the Old Bailey, London's Central Criminal Court.
“We apologise unreservedly to those survivors of Peter Ball’s abuse and pay tribute to their bravery in coming forward and also the long wait for justice that they have endured.
“We note that there are those whose cases remain on file for whom today will be a difficult day, not least in the light of the courage and persistence that they have demonstrated in pressing for the truth to be revealed. We also remember Neil Todd, whose bravery in 1992 enabled others to come forward but who took his own life before Peter Ball’s conviction or sentencing.”
The C of E said that Peter Ball had “systematically abused the trust of the victims, many of whom who were aspiring priests, whilst others were simply seeking to explore their spirituality.” They say that he “also abused the trust placed in him by the Church and others, maintaining a campaign of innocence for decades until his final guilty plea only weeks ago.”
Questions have been raised about the C of E’s original handling of the allegations against Peter Ball and about the Permission to Officiate – a type of licence to minister – that Ball received for a number of years after he had stood down.
Earlier this week the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Most Revd Justin Welby, announced that he had commissioned an independent review of the case.
“The independent review will examine the Church of England’s cooperation with the police and other statutory agencies and the extent to which it shared information in a timely manner, identifying both good practice and shortcomings alike,” a statement from Lambeth Palace said. “It will also assess the extent to which the Church both properly assessed the possible risk that Bishop Ball might pose to others and responded adequately to concerns and representations submitted by survivors.”
Archbishop Welby has confirmed that the report of the review will be published and will include a detailed account of how the case was handled within the church.
“The Church of England always takes any allegations of abuse very seriously and is committed to being a safe place for all,” the C of E said this afternoon. “To this end we have robust procedures and policies in place. But we can never be complacent. Any survivors or those with information about church-related abuse must always feel free to come forward with confidence that safeguarding procedures will be followed.”