By John Martin
Twelve letters released under the United Kingdom’s Freedom of Information Act show how establishment figures rallied in support of the disgraced former Bishop of Gloucester, the Rt. Rev. Peter Ball. It helps explain how he avoided prosecution for sex abuse 22 years ago. Two Archbishops of Canterbury, Conservative members of Parliament, a senior judge, and elite school headmasters rallied to his defense.
The law finally caught up with the retired Bishop of Lewes and of Gloucester in October. Ball, 83, admitted that he abused 18 teenagers and young men between 1977 and 1992. He was sentenced to 22 months in jail.
In the context of Ball’s trial, the former Archbishop of Canterbury, the Rt. Rev. George Carey, admitted church authorities dealt with him inadequately. Back in 1993 he came to Ball’s defense, writing in one letter it was improbable he was guilty and saying that accusations caused Ball and “excruciating pain and spiritual torment.”
“I have known him as a godly man,” wrote the Rt. Rev. Donald Coggan, the 101st Archbishop of Canterbury, who ordained him. Others include Ian Beer, a former headmaster of the prestigious Harrow School, and members of Parliament including Prime Minister David Cameron’s godfather, Tim Rathbone. While Ball claimed a close friendship with Prince Charles, the prince sent no letter of support.
The letters were released under the provisions of the Freedom of Information Act. They help explain why Ball was let off with a caution. While he resigned as Bishop of Gloucester, he retained Permission to Officiate in the Diocese of Bath and Wells.
It is unclear whether establishment support for Ball was spontaneous or orchestrated. A spokesman for survivors said at trial that Ball used “every trick in the book” to evade being brought to trial.
“It is a matter of deep shame and regret that a bishop in the Church of England was sentenced earlier this year for a series of offences over 15 years against 18 young men known to him,” said the Rt. Rev. Paul Butler, Bishop of Durham and the church’s lead bishop on safeguarding. “There are no excuses whatsoever for what took place, nor for the systematic abuse of trust perpetrated by Peter Ball.”