Anglican Watch

Bishop Peter Ball and the dynamics of abuse

The late Peter Ball was a bishop in the Church of England. A founder of the Community of the Glorious Ascension, he was a notorious pedophile and abuser of the boys and young men in the monastic order. His abuse ranged from sex, to spankings, to massages and more.

The allegations against Ball are well documented, and there is no need to reiterate the horrific details. Instead, this author would like to focus on the underlying dynamics that allowed the abuse to continue for so long.

Much of the situation stems from Ball’s association with Prince Charles. Although it does not appear to have been a particularly close relationship, Ball traded on this connection, creating the impression that he was in close contact with the royal family and thus above reproach.

Subsequent investigations raised several related issues. One was the church’s use of high-priced, high-power attorneys, who intimidated victims, making it difficult for them to sound the alarm.

There also was a large element of what the Rev. Robin Hammeal-urban terms, “if it can’t be conceived, it can’t be perceived.”

Far too often, fellow bishops and other church enablers minimized Ball’s conduct, brushed it aside, or ignored it altogether.

Worst of all, investigators later found that Lord Carey, the Archbishop of Canterbury, ignored and brushed off warnings for more than 20 years. Indeed, he is known to have received seven letters warning of Ball’s conduct over the years, but only passed one — the least innocuous — to the police. Rowan Williams similarly came in for criticism, even as Justin Welby concluded that the “colluded and concealed,” instead of trying to help, being concerned primarily with its own reputation.

Survivors mirrored these comments, with one, Graham Sawyer, saying that the church treated him with contempt. “I continue to endure cruel and sadistic treatment by the very highest levels of the church,” adding that he wants police to investigate Justin Welby’s role in the matter. Others noted that the church had bullied and silenced whistleblowers and victims.

But if there is one message to be gleaned from of this, it’s the group think that besets churches as they worry first about the organization, and secondly (if at all), about the persons who make up the organization.

Today Ball is dead, having suffered a fall in his home.

But his appalling and outrageous use of the church and his monastic order as a recruiting ground for victims, and the lack of ecclesiastical oversight, will sound far too familiar to victims of abuse in any church setting.

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