The Church of England failed to respond appropriately to victims who accused a former bishop of sexual misconduct decades ago, an independent report released on Thursday has found.
The review claims bishops and other senior leaders in the centuries-old religious institution were more concerned with protecting the church’s image than listening to men and boys who were abused by former bishop Peter Ball.
The independent investigation was led by Dame Moira Gibb, a former public official who has experience conducting reviews of how institutions handle sex abuse allegations. Gibb had 11 recommendations for how the church can move forward, which included creating support systems for survivors and strengthening disciplinary measures.
Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby, the highest-ranking bishop in the Church of England, called the behavior described in the report “inexcusable and shocking.”
“The Church colluded and concealed rather than seeking to help those who were brave enough to come forward,” Welby, who appointed Gibb as chair of the independent review in 2016, said in a statement.
“For the survivors who were brave enough to share their story and bring Peter Ball to justice, I once again offer an unreserved apology,” he added. “There are no excuses whatsoever for what took place and the systemic abuse of trust perpetrated by Peter Ball over decades.”
Ball, the former bishop of Lewes and Gloucester, admitted in 2015 that he had sexually abused 18 young men who had approached him for spiritual guidance between 1977 and 1992. Allegation of Ball’s misconduct were made known to police, prosecutors, and church leaders in 1993, The Guardian reports. But the bishop was merely cautioned by police.
Ball resigned as bishop in 1993 and moved into a private home on Prince Charles’ Duchy of Cornwall estate. Once there, he was given permission to continue working as a priest. It wasn’t until 2012 that the Church began a new investigation into Ball’s past led to his conviction. Ball was released from jail this February, after serving 16 months.
Lord George Carey was the archbishop of Canterbury in 1993. Gibb’s report found that Carey “set the tone for the church’s response to Ball’s crimes and gave the steer which allowed Ball’s assertions that he was innocent to gain credence.”
Welby has asked Carey, who currently serves as an honorary assistant bishop in the Diocese of Oxford, to step down from that position.
In a statement, Carey accepted the criticism and apologized to Ball’s victims.
“I believed Peter Ball’s protestations and gave too little credence to the vulnerable young men and boys behind these allegations,” Carey said.
The report also reviewed the actions of another former archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams. While Williams did initiate the review in 2012 that led to Ball’s conviction, the report said it happened at a rate that “now seems lamentably slow.”
Gibb said the Church of England has made significant progress in recent years. But, she said, “Progress has been slow and continuing, faster improvement is still required.”
“It is the leadership of the Archbishops and Bishops which will determine whether change is effective,” Gibb said in a statement.