Former Church of England bishop, Peter Ball, has been given a 32-month prison sentence for sexual offences dating back to the 1970s.
Ball, the former Bishop of Lewes and Bishop of Gloucester, almost escaped justice in 1993 after the intervention of senior establishment figures, but was finally jailed by the Old Bailey this week after pleading guilty to misconduct in a public office and two counts of indecent assault. He earlier admitted the offences in a plea bargain deal, thus avoiding a full criminal trial.
Coming 22 years after his appalling crimes first came to light – a gross and systematic abuse of trust spanning several decades – Ball’s belated imprisonment will be of little comfort to those he abused.
It is nothing short of a scandal that it has taken so long for him to eventually face justice.
Religion as a Cloak
At the hearing, the Old Bailey heard how Ball used “religion as a cloak” to indecently assault teenagers and young men between the 1970s and 1990s.
We were also reminded how the disgraced clergyman had claimed his victims had been “spiritually uplifted” by his behaviour. A nauseating claim considering Ball had used his position of authority to persuade vulnerable people to commit degrading acts for his own sexual gratification, acts such as praying naked at the altar and encouraging them to submit to beatings.
As Mr Justice Wilkie told Ball during the Old Bailey hearing, "What you did was the antithesis of what was expected of someone holding your office."
Abuse by the Clergy
A number of complaints were made about Peter Ball in the early 1990s but he was never charged and, in 1993, accepted a caution for gross indecency. Many establishment figures – including MPs, cabinet ministers and members of the Royal Family – came out in support of Ball at a time when the media painted a negative portrayal of Ball’s victims, one of whom sadly took his own life in 2012.
Closing ranks around Peter Ball only compounded the anguish of his victims and reinforced the impression their abuse was inflicted upon them with the institutional backing of the church.
Numerous allegations of abuse in the Church of England have made headlines in recent years. The church announced in 2007 that it would review “more than 40,000 diocesan files dating back more than 30 years” and, three years later in 2010, 11 cases which “needed formal action” were referred to the authorities for further investigation. The case of Peter Ball was not one of those referred, despite his 1993 caution and other evidence suggesting he was a candidate for investigation.
The Church of England has now announced an “independent inquiry” into the Ball case, but are survivors likely to have faith in this inquiry given the failure of previous Church of England initiatives to answer important questions about Peter Ball?
Survivors now hope the Goddard Inquiry will succeed where previous church investigations have failed and expose the truth and full extent of abuse by the clergy. Only Justice Goddard, using her full statutory powers, can properly unpick the Ball case. It needs to be one of the first items on her agenda.
Richard Scorer is Head of the Abuse Team as Slater and Gordon Lawyers UK.
The specialist Abuse Lawyers at Slater and Gordon are currently representing over 800 survivors of abuse, including those who have been abused by members of the Church of England and other religious institutions.
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