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IICSA report: the Anglican Church dismissed concerns about child sexual abuse as 'trivial and insignificant'

The Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA) has published the first of its case studies into child abuse in the Anglican Church.

Posted on 09 May 2019

In a damning report, the IICSA criticised the Church’s handling of complaints of child sexual abuse by senior figures in Chichester Diocese, and allegations of abuse by Peter Ball, former Bishop of Gloucester and Chichester.

The IICSA concluded that the responses by the Anglican Church were marked by ‘secrecy, prevarication, avoidance of reporting alleged crimes to the authorities and a failure to take professional advice’.

Peter Ball was cautioned in 1993 for gross indecency and convicted of further offences in 2015, after admitting offences against 17 teenagers and young men. The Inquiry heard that Ball was able to sexually abuse vulnerable teenagers and young men for decades.

Despite concerns about his behaviour being raised to a senior bishop in 1992, the Church dismissed Ball’s conduct as ‘trivial and insignificant’. The inquiry concluded that the Church of England was not a place which protected all children and supported victims and survivors.

On publication of the report, the IICSA’s chairperson Professor Alexis Jay stated:

"What is notably disappointing is the Church’s failure to recognise the seriousness of disclosures of abuse at the time, frequently putting its own reputation above the welfare of victims and survivors".

Prince Charles was also criticised by the Inquiry for his ‘misguided’ actions during his personal friendship with Ball. The Inquiry found that Ball tried to use his friendship with Prince Charles to ‘further his campaign to return to unrestricted ministry’ following a police caution in 1992.

Thanks to Ball’s personal ‘charm, charisma and reputation’ the Inquiry noted that he managed to avoid a criminal conviction until 2017.

The report exposes that Ball, through his power and influence, groomed individuals and manipulated the institutions of the Church. Public figures who supported Ball and wrote to the police, the CPS and the Church on his behalf ‘should have taken greater care before using their positions of prominence to seek to influence the criminal justice system’.

After he was cautioned in 1992, the Church returned him to ministry without any kind of basic assessment of risk to children. No disciplinary action was taken by the Church. Little or inadequate support was offered by the Church to Ball’s victims.

The Inquiry noted that the then Archbishop of Canterbury, Lord George Carey – who overtly supported Ball’s innocence - did not extend the same compassion towards Ball’s victims. It strongly criticised his decision-making as indicative of ‘poor judgement and a failure to recognise the appalling experiences of Ball’s victims’.

Subsequent apologies by the Church of England about its handling of the allegations relating to Ball ‘remain unconvincing’ according to the Inquiry.

Alison Millar, head of the Abuse Team at Leigh Day said:

"For the victims and survivors of abuse by members of the Anglican Church, the IICSA report confirms what many of them already knew: that the Church of England has repeatedly failed to protect children under its care, and completely neglected to take action to address the heinous crimes committed by its clergymen, such as former Bishop Peter Ball.

"The Church now needs to take immediate steps to ensure that survivors are given proper redress and recognition for the abuse that arose in many cases because the Church consistently protected its own reputation – and members of its ministry - over the safety of children."

Key points from the IICSA’s report:

  • Over 50 years, 18 individuals with connections to Chichester Diocese have been convicted or pleaded guilty to acts of child sexual abuse.
  • Victims were “disbelieved and dismissed” by those in authority at the Diocese of Chichester.
  • During the Gloucestershire Police investigation into complaints of sexual abuse by Ball, the Church expressed unwavering public support for him. It gave him extensive financial help after his caution for gross indecency in 1992.
  • Ball could have been charged with several other offences in 1992, at least one of which he subsequently pleaded guilty to.
  • From the early 1990s until 2013 onwards, there were inadequate safeguarding structures and policies in place within the Anglican Church and in Chichester Diocese.
  • The Archbishops’ Council, on behalf of the Church of England, has accepted that it displayed “moral cowardice” in its response to the allegations against Peter Ball.