Bishop Peter Ball and Failures to Tackle Manipulative Abuse in the Church of England

From the Church Times:

Bishop [Peter] Ball, aged 83, was jailed after a hearing at the Old Bailey by the Hon. Mr Justice Wilkie on Wednes­day after pleading guilty last month to two charges of indecent assault against two boys in their teens in the 1980s, and also a charge of mis­conduct in public office (News, 11 September).

The second charge relates to “manipulative behaviour, including several specific sexual offences, against 16 young men in their late teens or early twenties”, Sussex Police said at the time.

…The Rt Revd Lord Carey of Clifton, who was Archbishop of Canterbury when Bishop Ball was cautioned in 1993, has… apologised.

He said: “I greatly regret the fact that during my tenure as Arch­bishop of Canterbury we dealt inadequately with Peter Ball’s victims and gave too much credence to his protesta­tions. In the past we failed many victims and allowed abusers to flourish in ministry.

“Allegations by some that my actions amounted to a cover-up or collusion with the abuser are wrong.

Most of these crimes occurred while he had been the suffragan Bishop of Lewes, although the initial complaint against him at the end of 1992 was made not long after he had become the Bishop of Gloucester.

The Daily Mail has some of the specific details:

Allegations against Ball were first made in 1992 by novice monk Neil Todd, one of many boys abused at the bishop’s house at Litlington, East Sussex. 

Bobbie Cheema QC, prosecuting, said the teenager had been introduced by Ball to what he called ‘penitential psalms’. 

This involved saying prayers naked at night in a chapel before Ball watched the teenager taking a cold shower and pulled down his underpants.

Ball, who called the youngster ‘love’ and ‘gorgeous’, went on to suggest he be beaten with a stick or whipped so his body could ‘bear the marks’.

The abuse emerged after he tried to commit suicide in 1992. Gloucestershire Police launched an investigation, prompting more victims to come forward.

I wrote about the case after Ball pleaded guilty last month. It’s a subject that is of some personal interest to me, having stayed at the bishop’s house in Litlington myself for a few days after leaving school. The chapel was a converted outhouse in the property’s garden; it was explained to me by Ball that the naked prayers was a penitential practice that members of his “Give a Year for Christ” scheme would sometimes choose to undergo, although I’m not aware of anyone at the house while I was there participating in the practice.

A cover-up?

As I wrote in my earlier blog entry, it does seem that a cover-up occurred; when Ball was issued with a caution in early 1993, many reports were vague and the general impression was that there had been some unfortunate grope or misunderstanding, despite an account given by the victim in the Sun under the headline “Evil Bishop Drove Me to Suicide”. Here’s what a 1993 profile by Graham Turner in the Sunday Telegraph had to say:

The details of what actually went on at Bishopscourt, [Ball’s] home in Gloucester, are still murky. As in all such matters, the whole truth is impossible to ascertain, but what seems to have happened is that, while the young man was staying there last year, there took place a series of incidents which, according to the Bishop, sprang from his desire to help and comfort someone in considerable distress and which did involve physical contact.

The young man, however, who last week sold his version of event to the Sun after offering it to at least one other national newspaper, claims that the Bishop sexually assaulted him, He duly duly complained to the police, who then spent 15 weeks turning out every cupboard in Ball’s life over the past 20 years.

Whatever else the police found – and there may well have been other allegations – they evidently decided to take no further action.

Turner may as well have just said plainly that Ball was the victim of a false allegation by someone wanting to make some money from the newspapers. The dismissive detail that “there may well have been other allegations” leaves the strong impression that Turner knew damn well that there had been.

One person who knew for sure was George Carey, who made enquiries to see if the CPS intended to look into these other allegations. When he was told that the CPS would not being doing so, Carey did not feel that the Church of England needed to enquire further, either. This apparently remained the case even when a new complaint was made in 1996 by someone who said he had been abused by Ball some years before when he was aged 13. Then, in 2006, the Bishop of Chichester, Eric Kemp (who was essentially Ball’s line manager while Ball was Bishop of Lewes) published a memoir in which he now-notoriously referred to “mischief-makers”; it is difficult to avoid the conclusion that his memoir was calculated to mislead by smearing the complainants and downplaying the extent of the allegations.

According to the BBC last month:

The CPS said a caution given to Peter Ball in 1993 was wrong as there was sufficient evidence to prosecute.

However, it said its approach to sexual abuse has changed and such a decision would not be made today.

During Ball’s sentencing, it was revealed that the police in 1993 had received many character witnesses on Ball’s behalf:

Bobbie Cheema QC, prosecuting, said: “The police report that accompanied the papers sent to the CPS in 1993 after the police had done their work stated they had received telephone calls supportive of Peter Ball ‘from many dozens of people – including MPs, former public school headmasters, JPs and even a lord chief justice'”.

She said there were many more letters of support, including from cabinet ministers and a member of the royal family.

The member of the royal family is widely thought to have been Prince Charles, who was a personal friend of Ball and who arranged for his accommodation after his resignation (I recall that Ball had a signed photograph of Charles on display at his home). While the CPS would still have been free to make its own decisions, it is obvious that such support would have been a significant informal pressure to drop the matter. The widespread view now is that this was simply “the establishment” closing ranks, but it should be remembered that, regrettably, there was genuine widespread incredulity at the idea that Ball had committed a crime: unusually (exotically, even) Ball was was a monk, and with his good-humoured and gentle manner he appeared to embody spirituality and personal holiness. I’m not sure that any other bishop would have automatically received the same amount of support.

However, once Ball had admitted an offence – in “great penitence and sorrow”, according to his statement following his caution – his supporters ought to have been more circumspect. Would a 61-year-old really have offended for the first time at such an age? If this was just a one-off mistake for which he was sorry, why had he lied for several weeks by protesting his innocence? Many people, though, retained an affectionate view of the man and would have been very willing to believe minimising spin such as Turner’s whitewash. [1]

Inevitably, the internet is awash with allegations about his association with Prince Charles, and how this in turn must have something to do with Jimmy Savile; one crackpot claim, put forward by Meirion Jones on Twitter yesterday, was that BBC Panorama‘s critical look at claims of a “Westminster paedophile ring” was scheduled for broadcast on the eve of Ball’s sentencing in order to discredit claims that Ball had benefited from the intervention of a “Tory politician”

Consent, manipulative abuse, and “public office”: some thoughts

Guardian editorial about Ball considers the issue of consent:

The greatest change between then and now is the slow emergence of a sexual ethic based on consent to replace the old one based on duty. This is not complete yet and may never be. Consent is the right test in theory, but its absence is notoriously hard to apply in court; the tangles of the human heart cannot be combed out by pretending that sexual dealings can work like clear commercial contracts.

Ball’s offending, so far as has been established by his guilty pleas (which do not include two complaints that amount to child abuse – these, oddly, have been allowed to remain on file) was an abuse of religious authority. Although there were sexual assaults that have been admitted (a Sunday Times article refers to the “groping bishop”), other offences did not involve physically overpowering or threatening his victims, and those who stayed at his home were free to leave at any time. I suspect allegations of this sort would have been tricky to pursue, despite the CPS’s new-found confidence.

Thus, presumably, the recourse to “misconduct in a public office”. The legal definition of “public officer” is vague, and Ball’s lawyers initially attempted to argue that it should not include “bishop”. Presumably again, a significant factor here would be the fact that the Church of England is the established church; would the manipulative behaviour which has led to Ball’s conviction on this score still have been an offence had he been a religious leader in some other denomination?

Also, does this now mean that vicars of the Church of England are also now confirmed as being “public officers”? If so, this must surely affect how other cases of manipulative abuse are looked at. In particular, I’m thinking of two other clerical scandals from the same period.

In 1994, it was revealed that a certain Rev Andrew Arbuthnot, of the London Healing mission, had been subjecting vulnerable women to intimate intrusions in the guise of exorcisms. From the Herald Scotland:

POLICE are investigating allegations that an Anglican priest practised exorcisms involving internal ”cleansing” of sexually abused women.

Old Etonian the Rev Andrew Arbuthnot is reported to have poured wine over the victims’ genitals and to have inserted crucifixes and used fingers to make the sign of a cross in their vaginas.

An account of the investigation, Operation Lentil, appears in Charismania, a 1997 book by a journalist named Roland Howard:

After several months of investigation Detective Inspector Turner’s team raided the London Healing Mission. They found the bottles of Dubonnet, the initialized tubs of Vaseline and the specially soundproofed room… The Arbuthnots were subsequently charged with indecent assault, false imprisonment and actual bodily harm. Much later, against the wishes of Detective Inspector Turner, the Crown Prosecution Service dropped the charges. “It was decided”, he says “that one of the problems evidentially was the issue of consent amongst those involved”. (page 106)

Would this be handled the same way today?

Arbuthnot is now deceased, but so far as I am aware, the perpetrator in a second case, which emerged the following year, is still alive. This is the former Reverend Chris Brain, who ran the “alternative” Nine O’Clock Service under Church of England auspices in Sheffield. Brain was a charismatic figure, who was allowed to cut a few corners on his path to ordination due to his ability to attract the youth to church – but it turned out that he was a classic sociopath who was running what the media inevitably described as being a “sex cult”. The Independent reported:

As many as 150 former members of the radical Anglican group, the Nine O’Clock Service, still in Sheffield are receiving counselling following the group’s suspension by the Bishop of Sheffield, the Rt Rev David Lunn.

…Mr Brain, 38, who has a wife and five-year-old daughter, has admitted to church officials that he “enjoyed sexual favours” from as many as 20 of his female followers.

…The Rev Paddy Mallon, a former colleague, said: “Many members have left the Sheffield area because they were so traumatised by the whole situation. As many as 150 are now receiving counselling elsewhere as far as I know…”

Brain’s abuses caused misery, but he was never arrested. Might this now be looked at again? When compared with Ball’s predations, I don’t see why not.


[1] Not everyone was taken in by this, though; the conservative evangelical clergyman Tony Higton wrote an attack on Carey’s handling of the affair in the Christian Herald, in which – as summarised by Ruth Gledhill in the Times – he pointed out that “some of the abuses were allegedly in a religious context, which made them blasphemous” (“Carey ‘made light of bishop’s sin'”, The Times, March 24, 1993).

(Amended and updated – I had not originally been aware of the Sunday Telegraph profile or the Sun story)

4 Responses

  1. The whole CoE thing is hard to fathom – but given the wide range of ‘worship styles’ within the fold (not to mention beliefs) there’s much that could have led to illegality – if not blatant exploitation.

    At the time in 1992, the CoE seemed content to allow catholic priests to be rightly or wrongly accused of abuse even though nothing as bizarre as Ball ever emerged as far as I am aware in the catholic fold. (Discounting the odd ‘Satanic ‘ fabrication) But the publicity even in the England and Wales minority was huge. (Remember Ray Wyre and his ‘Gracewell priests’ – mostly Irish actually, but the English cases subject to intense media scrutiny and speculation – c/f Fr Penny, a community priest with alcoholic and other weaknesses(somewhat enlarged in stories), MACSAS, and various ‘incense laden’ speculative docs and articles.

    I do remember the Ball allegations made front page of the Sun. What effect this had – either way – I don’t know, but it seems there was a determined effort by the church to ‘repent minimally and move on’. With little or no opposition.

    While the catholic church invested parishioners offerings in inquiries and punitive guidelines on the accused, standing independent inquisitions and the like – be they ever so innocent, who unlike CoE priests, had no spousal support to fall back on – the CoE glided on, buttressed by their liberal polices re women priests and ambivalent gay contexts – to avoid the kind of inveterate villification visited on the catholic church – though not much emerged in England and Wales, even historically.

    The ‘naked’ retreats sound a bit like some of the ‘progressive’ music teachers in the 80s – they have either received very stiff sentences indeed or committed suicide. Sounds like Ball got an easy ride – even at the end. Compare, for instance, with the Stuart Hall revised sentence – and on guilty pleas.

    The straightjacket of ‘sex abuse’ allegations and charges is a hard thing to fathom in retrospect when something untoward did go on. But nobody seems in doubt as to the alleged iniquity in Asian ‘grooming’ charges – though I maintain these are poorly researched by observers.

    It’s much easier when the claim is nothing went on, though paradoxically often more difficult, historically, to defend – though rational analysis of the claims and accusers might dictate otherwise.

    Thank you for your excellent blog analysis of these abstruse matters – you’re one in a million!

  2. Dr. Bartholomew,

    I know this probably isn’t the place to ask this and I’m sorry for taking your time, but I have a question about your Neo-Paganism section of the 30 Second Religion book. You write “much of the scholarship on ‘The Goddess’ that Wicca draws on today is regarded as historically problematic.” I took a graduate course on Jacobian Witchcraft literature, and I remember discussing with the professor some of the reasons why the foundations of Wicca can be considered shaky. Could you, if it isn’t too much trouble, give a brief explanation as to why “The Goddess” is problematic? Thank you so much for your time and if you are too busy to answer I completely understand.

  3. […] Bishop of Lewes, Ball, of Langport, Somerset, had hand-picked vulnerable victims to commit acts of “debasement” in the name of religion, such as praying naked at the altar and encouraging them to submit to beatings, a court at the Old Bailey heard. “…having stayed at the bishop’s house in Litlington myself for a few days after leaving school. The chapel was a converted outhouse in the property’s garden; it was explained to me by Ball that the naked prayers was a penitential practice that members of his “Give a Year for Christ” scheme would sometimes choose to undergo, although I’m not aware of anyone at the house while I was there participating in the practice.”… […]

  4. […] “…having stayed at the bishop’s house in Litlington myself for a few days after leaving school. The chapel was a converted outhouse in the property’s garden; it was explained to me by Ball that the naked prayers was a penitential practice that members of his “Give a Year for Christ” scheme would sometimes choose to undergo, although I’m not aware of anyone at the house while I was there participating in the practice.”… […]

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