Comments: Peter Ball: letters of support released

It's a rather strange press release, in that it makes no mention at all of the topic in its own subject. That senior bishops and archbishops attempted to intervene in the CPS's handling of the prosecution of a sexual abuser is pretty damning, one would have thought, to the point it at least deserves some mention. But no.

And the letter from the headmaster of Lancing College is beyond bizarre, with its talk of young people "misunderstanding" "penitential exercises". That sounds awfully like the headmaster of Lancing College knew full well that Ball was up to no good, but was trying to dress up sexual abuse in theological robes. It's also hard to see how you can simultaneously claim that someone was innocent and naive about how their actions might be construed, while also denying that the same person had done anything wrong. What actions, exactly, did the headmaster of Lancing college think were being misconstrued, misunderstood, etc?

Posted by Interested Observer at Thursday, 31 December 2015 at 9:50pm GMT

How interesting that these letters appear to have been released on New Year's Eve--a time when few would notice and fewer still would remember.

Posted by Jeremy at Friday, 1 January 2016 at 2:42am GMT

At long last after several decades, with the publication of these letters, the cover on the alleged "cover up" has been blown and an unappealing can of worms has been revealed with regard to Bishop Peter Ball's ministerial misdemeanours.
A spirit of honesty and openness now seems to be the correct order of the day. Should there not also be a similar honest and open response to the allegations made against Bishop George Bell even more decades ago, whose posthumous reputation has now been ruined? The cloak of secrecy surrounding what Bishop Bell is alleged to have done must surely now also be removed?

Posted by Father David at Friday, 1 January 2016 at 6:42am GMT

After Ball retired as a bishop, he was permitted to continue officiating in the C of E by Carey.

Canon Jeremy Davies, the retired precentor of Salisbury Cathedral has been denied Permission to Officiate in the Diocese of Winchester.

?????????????

Posted by clairejxx at Friday, 1 January 2016 at 7:44am GMT

The C of E comment does sound rather self-defensive in tone. I am sure that all that they claim to have done they have indeed done, and the results of the various investigations will be important, especially to the victims and their families, but also to all of us.

Nevertheless, I do think it is extraordinary that there is no comment at all about the reason for this latest comment, which is the enormous number of prominent people who all wrote or telephoned in support of Peter Ball, and the particular letters that have been released. One wonders if there will be more released, or are these a representative sample?

The letters themselves all give perfectly proper character references for what people knew of Peter Ball. But it is at least naive of those writing to make protestations that they do not want to influence the decision-taking of others, and then try their very hardest to do exactly that with references to his mental health and "suffering" and so forth. They are not shy of waving their establishment credentials about, either, "a magistrate in four counties" etc.

It is also very shocking that one letter at least infers that the complainants are not to be taken seriously, and that not one letter really spends any time expressing any real concern for the victims of Ball's manipulations and abuse. As we now know, that abuse has proved deadly for one man.

I think it would have been good to have a recognition by the Church of England not only of regret at the events and the impact they made on the victims, but also an acknowledgement that these latest disclosures do require serious questions to be asked of some people who were very senior in the church at that time.

Posted by Jeremy Pemberton at Friday, 1 January 2016 at 8:36am GMT

"How interesting that these letters appear to have been released on New Year's Eve"

From a West Wing summary site:

"Donna brings Josh his takeout, and asks him about "Take out the trash day". He explains that it is the day when the White House releases as many stories it does not like as it can, hoping they will be buried under the flood, and it is always a Friday since no one reads the paper on Saturday."

Posted by Interested Observer at Friday, 1 January 2016 at 10:15am GMT

If a vicar delivers a sermon it might be heard by a score or less of parishioners. In very few churches, a sermon will be heard by a hundred people or more.

This press release will probably read by thousands. Still a small number, but many more than a typical sermon; it was a mission opportunity. Was that mission opportunity taken? I think not - and I doubt the question of witness and mission was even considered. That is so sad.

Posted by Kate at Friday, 1 January 2016 at 2:12pm GMT

The publication of these letters is a depressing sign of the culture of the time in which they were written. No author had any idea about the context in which they were writing. Worse, it is self-evident that the prosecuting authorities placed emphasis on the letters (we have only seen a handful - there appears to have been a campaign involving far more people, establishment or not) and their actions were influenced as a result. There is no place for such support today, save in the context of character references when sentencing is being considered. The Church still seems unable to understand the concept of zero tolerance. Where allegations are made, it remains the sole function of the CPS to investigate, unincumbered by such distractions, which must be ignored as they conduct their work.

Posted by Anthony Archer at Friday, 1 January 2016 at 6:55pm GMT

When I was doing my safeguarding training a couple of years ago, we were told that churches are precisely the sort of places where paedophiles will go, in search of a rather naive community where it's easy for someone to be accepted and gradually to work their way in towards the contact with children that they crave. We were told paedophiles have very long time frames - they're not going to offer to 'help' as soon as they arrive. Those on the course were noticeably shocked by this information, and found they were scanning their congregations in a different way, and not one they liked. But this caution must surely be preferable to the former 'he gets on so well with the young people so it's fine to leave them alone together' approach which seems to have been prevalent at the time Ball was active.

Posted by Cassandra at Saturday, 2 January 2016 at 8:48am GMT

"No author had any idea about the context in which they were writing"

I disagree. Several of them clearly knew exactly what Ball was up to: they just thought that the religious clothes his abuse was wearing made it acceptable. We know they knew because of the euphemistic references to "penitential activities" and "misunderstandings" and so on: the writers knew about the deeds, but just thought that the intentions justified them.

And as you say, they show an institution that has no idea of zero tolerance, and still doesn't.

Posted by Interested Observer at Saturday, 2 January 2016 at 10:07am GMT

Did Archbishop Carey's expressly stated high opinion of Peter Ball assist in him becoming the Diocesan Bishop of Gloucester when clearly this was a most inappropriate step to take in the light of what was known at the time of allegations of misconduct during his time as Bishop of Lewes?

Posted by Father David at Saturday, 2 January 2016 at 10:39am GMT

Here's one way the establishment could start to get its act together: laicise Peter Ball. Why has it not yet been done?

Posted by Victoriana at Saturday, 2 January 2016 at 12:22pm GMT

A part of the Church of England's investigation into this will need to be what the Crown Appointments Commission (as then was) knew about Ball when it nominated him for Gloucester. However, we needn't hold our breaths; no Secretary from that period is alive and there are probably few records. There will however be some members of the Gloucester CAC alive, except, they are of course bound by confidentiality!

Posted by Anthony Archer at Saturday, 2 January 2016 at 1:17pm GMT

Interested observer You write 'Several of them clearly knew exactly what Ball was up to'. Can I ask how you know?

Posted by David Runcorn at Saturday, 2 January 2016 at 4:34pm GMT

"Can I ask how you know?"

Because I've read their letters. For example, turn to page eight of the bundle and read the letter from the head of Lancing College. "I understand he has used acts of penitence and contrition...I can see these could have been open to misunderstanding and misrepresentation, especially be any who have not grasped the "absolute" nature of the bishop's commitment". If the activities of which the writer knew were above board, why would he write of their potential to be misunderstood, and what does "absolute commitment" mean? The intent behind that is obvious: I've seen what he's doing, it looks dodgy, but it's OK because he has a good heart.

And in case that's not clear enough for you, it goes on "The bishop may have failed to grasp the inappropriateness of such exercises for some of the young people". That's a straightforward statement: not potential inappropriateness, or arguable inappropriateness, it's simple inappropriateness. The bishop was doing things with young people that were inappropriate in the eyes of the writer, but it's OK, because he's a good egg. "He may be guilty of an innocence" and so on and so on. The writer knew he was up to no good, but decided it was OK because his intentions were pure. It's not good enough, and the author of that letter was essentially saying that it was OK to abuse young people so long as you do it in God's name.

Posted by Interested Observer at Saturday, 2 January 2016 at 7:54pm GMT

It's also worth reading this nasty tale:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-34670570

Posted by Interested Observer at Saturday, 2 January 2016 at 8:29pm GMT

Perhaps Lord Carey might reflect on his intervention in this case and consider whether, from this point onwards, a period of silence on his part would be most welcome?

Posted by Richard at Saturday, 2 January 2016 at 9:40pm GMT

Sad to say, I expect this from the church hierarchy, but it's disturbing to read a senior judge so glibly go to bat for Peter Ball. If anyone could be expected to know better, it'd be him.

Posted by James Byron at Saturday, 2 January 2016 at 10:30pm GMT

I fear Interested Observer has it completely right. Paedophiles, ordained or lay, have the most devious personalities and live lives of total denial. They have no concept of the fact that their actions ruin the lives of their victims. When abuse occurs in the context of what should be trusted relationships, the crime is even more heinous. We have this week witnessed in our village the funeral of a twice convicted paedophile whose crimes led to a most unfortunate relationship in prison, leading to an attempted burglary and a neighbour whose Good Samaritan intentions led to his murder. I am sorry to be blunt on TA but this activity, mercifully less prevalent today, is a stain on society. The sooner perpetrators are held to account the better.

Posted by Anthony Archer at Saturday, 2 January 2016 at 11:26pm GMT

Victoriana: I'm not sure that the C of E has any way of "laicising" clergy. Perhaps it should have, but I don't think it does, any more than the RC church does. Ordination, like Baptism, is an indelible sacrament. However, in order to function as a priest you have to have a licence from the bishop of the Diocese in which you live, and clearly Peter Ball will never receive one of those again.

Posted by Anne at Sunday, 3 January 2016 at 2:01pm GMT

In response to Victoriana - unfortunately laicisation (formally 'deposition from Holy Orders', popularly 'defrocking') was dropped from the penalties available when the present Clergy Discipline Measure came in. The strongest possible action now is prohibition for life, which I assume has been applied to Peter Ball. I have been involved some discussion on restoring deposition, which is much needed for precisely this reason, but it will require a fresh Measure in General Synod.

Posted by Neil Patterson at Sunday, 3 January 2016 at 3:37pm GMT

What nobody has yet explained is how it was that Peter Ball had a Permission to Officiate from 1997 until 2009/2010. See this statement from the Diocese of Bath & Wells:
https://www.bathandwells.org.uk/2015/10/retired-bishop-peter-ball-receives-custodial-sentence/ when the current bishop wrote:

"It is now clear that the PTO should never have been granted in 1997."

But we do not know *who* it was that granted that PtO.

Posted by Simon Sarmiento at Sunday, 3 January 2016 at 4:04pm GMT

"But we do not know *who* it was that granted that PtO."

The shocking thing is that Bath and Wells still have child protection policies that are a joke. "This restricted his ministry and stated he could have no unsupervised contact with children". That's just completely unacceptable: he was able to officiate, and through that could still form relationships with children. The "unsupervised" is just nonsense: he wasn't going to assault children at the altar, was he? But by using the authority and respectability of his office, he would be able to groom potential victims. In 2009 (not ancient history) Bath and Wells decided that child abuse didn't matter as much as being nice to their mate the retired bishop. The people who took that decision should be named and called to account.

Posted by Interested Observer at Sunday, 3 January 2016 at 4:24pm GMT

Simon, I thought to check your last statement, and amazingly found Peter Ball is still listed in Crockford's online (as 'Non-Diocesan Appointment'??!), the detail in fact shows simply retired, but gives his Bath & Wells PTO dates as 2001-2010. In any case, the Bishop of B&W in both 1997 and 2001 was Jim Thompson.

Posted by Neil Patterson at Sunday, 3 January 2016 at 6:49pm GMT

Interested Observer - Peter Ball's PTO in Bath and Wells was several years ago, and says nothing about current policy. "still have" is not shown by the evidence you cite. Of course practice may not reflect policy, even if the policy is good, and both may be inadequate if there are high levels of collusion such as may be indicated by your "nasty tale" link (though this is not definitive).

Accountants have a concept "segregation of duties", to minimise the risks of collusion compromising systems (NB minimise, not eliminate). Theologically, thinking of Jesus as prophet, priest and king, and imagining that we are following in his footsteps, can lead the church towards an "aggregation of duties" particularly in the person of "The Bishop" or "The Priest". Such aggregation is (a) potentially idolatrous in the final accounting (it is Christ not the Bishop ...); and (b) ignores the doctrine of sin, a human reality of which accountants are painfully aware. (I write as an ordained accountant)

Posted by Mark Bennet at Sunday, 3 January 2016 at 10:01pm GMT

"Peter Ball's PTO in Bath and Wells was several years ago"

It takes insight and reflection to determine where things went wrong, so that you can do things better next time. All the church appears to be saying here is "it was an awfully long time ago and things are different now".. But the same people are making the decisions, and the decision taken in 2009 to respond to concerns by restricting access to children was simply wrong, and there is no admission of this. There should be zero tolerance of child abuse in the church, as in all other organisations. This story shows that in Bath and Wells, at least, six years ago child abuse was balanced against being nice to retired bishops.

Posted by Interested Observer at Monday, 4 January 2016 at 7:30am GMT

Thanks for your response, Neil. I hope your effort to put deposition back into the CDM works out in a way that it can be workable for cases like this.

Anne -- Rome can and does laicise its clergy. It has a process, and a set of conditions in which it occurs latae sententiae. This happens quite cheerfully and with remarkable haste, in the case of honest priests getting married, or coming out publicly about their SS relationships. They seem to have been notably hesitant about laicising priests convicted of sex crimes against minors. If you've been following the progress of the various public inquiries into sexual abuse in the churches around the world over the last few years you will have seen some of the the evasive -- not to mention frequently stupid and uncompassionate -- answers coming out of the RC Church on this very question. It is hard to avoid concluding that the institution protected and ultimately colluded with the offenders.

The problem exposed by these documents for the CofE is the extent to which senior people were prepared to turn a blind eye and enable Peter Ball. There is a question of how the institution atones for its protection of clergy who are engaged in problematic or criminal behaviour, remembering that sexual activity involving minors was always a criminal matter. Misuse of pastoral authority is also one of those perennial problems with which the Church has always had to wrestle: Peter Ball clearly preyed on the trusting and vulnerable, and he gained access through his pastoral authority as a priest, monastic and bishop. How does the institution express atonement for letting this carry on, and for the likes of George Carey to have let it carry on under their protection?

I don't think I am alone in thinking that a prohibition for life really isn't enough in this case. Only a definitive removal of orders would answer the gravity of the crimes which brought about Peter Ball's quick retirement in 1993 and his conviction and sentencing in 2015. It may be too little too late, but it would be enough to demonstrate the seriousness with which the CofE now understands the matter, since it has been investigated by the police and brought through the courts. It ought to be the case for any cleric convicted of a sex crime against a minor or vulnerable person. And there should be disciplinary implications for the people who write the sorts of letters we've seen here.

Since deposing Peter Ball from the clerical state seems not to be an option right now, perhaps he ought to be excommunicated? Surely that's still possible?

Posted by Victoriana at Tuesday, 5 January 2016 at 6:09am GMT

Victoriana: Although RCs talk about "laicising" priests, that's not really accurate. I know because I am married to a "laicised" RC priest. All it consists of is freeing the priest from their vow of celibacy so that they can then marry. My husband is still, technically, a priest, and was clearly told when he was "laicised" that, in extremis he not only could but should celebrate mass if, for example, he had found himself in a concentration camp, with Catholics in need of sacraments and no other priest to offer them. Like the Anglican church, priests need the permission of the Bishop to operate in a particular Diocese, and this shouldn't be granted if the priest isn't in good standing, but priesthood is indelible for Catholics just as it is for Anglicans. The issue in Peter Ball's case is why he was given PTO after the trouble first came to light in the 1990's. There was and is no way of stopping anyone wearing a clerical collar and calling themselves "Rev" even if they are no longer recognised as authorised ministers in the C of E, but it sounds as if the then Diocesan Bishop has questions to answer about why he didn't send out the message that this man was not to be trusted by refusing him authority to minister.
He could, of course, be denied communion, if that's what you mean by being excommunicated, but only if he refused to repent. We can't simply cut people out off from communion because they have sinned - however grievous the sin- otherwise none of us would be able to receive it.

Posted by Anne at Tuesday, 5 January 2016 at 10:12am GMT

With apologies to those uninterested in the technicalities of English ecclesiastical law, I reply to Victoriana: No, there has been no mechanism of excommunication since 1963 in the CofE. In response to both her and Anne, it must be noted that both Rome and the CofE (in the Canons) recognise something called 'the character of holy orders' which is not removed by deposition/laicisation, although what that actually means is more a theological than a legal question. It is referred to in the ARCIC documents somewhere as the sense that God's action in ordination is irreversible. It is still entirely possible in the CofE to laicise oneself, by a 'Deed of Relinquishment of Holy Orders', so the principle is there, just not the means of doing it to someone who doesn't want it.

Posted by Neil Patterson at Tuesday, 5 January 2016 at 8:09pm GMT
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