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Archbishop Says Church of England Hid Decades of Sex Abuse

LONDON — The Church of England "colluded" with and helped to hide the long-term sexual abuse of young men by one of its former bishops, the head of the church said Thursday.

Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby apologized to the victims of ex-bishop Peter Ball as his church published a damning report that detailed how senior leaders did little about allegations against Ball over years and even appeared to cover up the case.

Image: Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby
Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby (2nd L) is pictured during his enthronement service at Canterbury Cathedral on March 21, 2013 in Kent, south-east England. File Philip Toscano / AFP - Getty Images File

Welby ordered the independent report after Ball was convicted and imprisoned in 2015 for misconduct in public office and indecent assaults against teenagers and young men from the 1970s to 1990s. Ball, who admitted to abusing 18 young men, was released after serving 16 months.

The report said Ball's conduct "caused serious and enduring damage to the lives of many men," but at the time the church trivialized it, partly because of a lack of understanding about safeguarding vulnerable adult men.

Some victims reported that Ball, 85, encouraged them to engage in "spiritual exercises" involving naked praying and cold showers. One of his victims, Neil Todd, later took his own life.

"The church, at its most senior levels and over many years, supported him unwisely and displayed little care for his victims," the report said.

Ball was arrested in 1992 for suspected indecent assault and given a police caution. He retired as bishop of Gloucester, but was allowed to continue work in churches and schools for years. He was not prosecuted until two decades later.

Image: Peter Ball Case
Former Bishop of Lewes, Peter Ball, is shown October 27, 2002. File Kirsty Wigglesworth / PA Wire/PA Images

The report said George Carey, Archbishop of Canterbury at the time, believed Ball to be "basically innocent" and played a lead role in enabling Ball's return to ministry.

Carey and other church leaders also appeared to try to cover up the problem when they failed to pass on letters that raised concerns about Ball to police, the report said.

The church said Thursday that Welby has asked Carey to "consider his position" as an honorary assistant bishop in Oxford in light of the report.

Describing the report as "harrowing reading," Welby said: "The church colluded and concealed rather than seeking to help those who were brave enough to come forward."

"This is inexcusable and shocking behavior," he said, adding that while most of what happened took place years ago "we can never be complacent, we must learn lessons."

Vickery House, a retired Anglican priest who worked under Ball, was sentenced in 2015 to 6 ½ years in prison for sex attacks on teenagers and young men in the 1970s and '80s.

Last year the church published a review that said senior clergymen were reportedly told of an unnamed priest's alleged abuse of a young man, but the victim's repeated attempts to get help and justice didn't get anywhere.

The Anglican and Catholic churches are among institutions being investigated in a wide-ranging British probe into child sex abuse after it emerged that entertainers, clergy, senior politicians and others were implicated in decades-old abuse.