THERE was a telling phrase by a survivor of the former Bishop of Lewes and Gloucester, Peter Ball, at this week’s hearings of the Independent Inquiry into Child Sex Abuse (IICSA). Graham Sawyer, who has waived his right to anonymity, spoke of a “purple circle” who surrounded Ball and defended him, even after allegations had been made and an offence admitted. Listening to the account given on Tuesday by Lord Carey, Ball’s Archbishop from 1991 to 2002, it became clear that the focus of the Church’s attention was overwhelmingly on Ball himself: his minimising of the assaults, his pastoral care, his legal defence, his episcopal ministry, his suicidal depression (which seemed to clear up quickly), his accommodation, his finances, and so on. Lord Carey spoke of letters in support of Ball that “ran into their thousands”. Fiona Scolding QC, lead counsel to the Anglican investigation, reminded him that Lambeth had received 32 such letters. The other thousand-odd had been reported to Lord Carey by Ball himself. In such a way, a constantly active, manipulative man took full advantage of the clubbable atmosphere that existed — vestiges of which remain — within the episcopate. In part, it is simple human nature. Asked why Lord Carey favoured Ball’s account over that given by Neil Todd, one of his victims, Lord Carey said that he knew Peter and did not know Neil Todd.
This is why the Church, after initial reluctance, has been forced to acknowledge the need for independence and neutrality in its safeguarding procedures. Lord Carey was fortunate that Ms Scolding did not ask him about a note he wrote to a US parish in January 1993, less than two years after Ball had admitted an offence of gross indecency: “Peter was possibly the victim of a plot but that, of course, cannot be proved.” This is the dark side of extending grace towards abusers: too often it involves heaping disgrace on their accusers. Although it has been played down at the inquiry, there was a strong desire at the time of the initial accusations to dismiss Neil Todd and the other complainants as delusional young gay men. A former Bishop of Chichester called them “mischief-makers”. Their youth was taken to be a sign of unreliability — and not, as it should have been, a clear sign that their involvement with Ball could not have been mature or consensual. When those who knew many of the details could be so partial, it is understandable that those who knew next to nothing came to the Bishop’s defence (including those who wrote to the Church Times).
Mr Todd took his own life in 2012. Dame Moira Gibb, who chaired the 2017 Independent Peter Ball Review at the request of the C of E, wrote: “For many years, Neil Todd lived in the shadow of the knowledge that he had not been believed by many in the Church, while he was vilified by Peter Ball. The harm done to him was compounded by the lack of support he received.” Her point is that the guilt for the mistreatment of survivors stretches further than the original abuser, touching the “purple circle”, and wider.