The support the Prince of Wales gave to shamed clergyman Peter Ball after his caution for gross indecency was “misguided”, a scathing report into abuse allegations at the Church of England has concluded.
The church was accused of “putting its own reputation above the needs of victims” by offering secrecy and protection for child abusers which allowed them to “hide in plain sight” for decades, despite damning allegations against them.
The Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA) report said Ball, a self-styled confidant to Charles, was an example of how a senior member of the Anglican church “was able to sexually abuse vulnerable teenagers and young men for decades”, backed by support from senior colleagues which was “rarely extended to his victims”.
It said Charles’ actions – in speaking about Ball with the then-Archbishop of Canterbury and a member of Lambeth Palace, and the Duchy of Cornwall buying a property to rent to Ball and his brother – were “misguided”.
“His actions, and those of his staff, could have been interpreted as expressions of support for Peter Ball and, given the Prince of Wales’ future role within the Church of England, had the potential to influence the actions of the Church,” the report added.
Charles – who maintained a correspondence with Ball for more than two decades after the caution – told the inquiry he regretted being “deceived” by Ball, the former bishop of both Lewes and Gloucester.
The report focused on evidence against the Diocese of Chichester and against Ball, and found “a number of serious failings” following allegations of child sexual abuse dating back more than 40 years.
IICSA found claims of abuse were not handled adequately by the church, lacked urgency or appreciation of their seriousness and allowed the church to prioritise its own image above its responsibilities to victims.
One of Ball’s victims, Neil Todd killed himself aged 38 after being “seriously failed” by the church, which “discounted Ball’s conduct as trivial and insignificant” while displaying “callous indifference” to Mr Todd’s complaints.
The report also criticised the former Archbishop of Canterbury, Lord Carey, who showed “compassion” to Ball and displayed his “overt support” for him despite there being no justification.
Victims were “disbelieved and dismissed” by those in authority at the Diocese of Chichester, which received the most reports of child sexual abuse in any of the 42 dioceses in England and Wales during half a century.
Professor Alexis Jay, inquiry chairman, said: “For years, the Diocese of Chichester failed victims and survivors of child sexual abuse by prioritising its own reputation above their welfare.
“Not only were disclosures of abuse handled inadequately by the Church when they came to light, its response was marked by secrecy and a disregard for the seriousness of abuse allegations.
“Peter Ball is one example of how a senior member of the clergy was able to sexually abuse vulnerable teenagers and young men for decades.
“The public support he received is reflective of the Church’s culture at the time – a support that was rarely extended to his victims.”
Ball, now in his late 80s, accepted a caution for one count of gross indecency in 1992 and resigned due to ill health.
It was not until 22 years later that he finally admitted his crimes, and was jailed in 2015 for sexually abusing 18 young men over three decades.
The report also found Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) missed an opportunity to charge Ball with a slew of offences in 1992, which he subsequently admitted in 2015.
He was released in February 2017 after serving half of his 32-month sentence behind bars.
He was deemed too ill to give evidence to the inquiry in person, but submitted a lengthy statement in which he said he had got to know Charles better after his divorce from Diana, Princess of Wales, and that their relationship “was one of support and respect”.