The Church of England 'colluded' with the former bishop Peter Ball over his abuse of young boys and men, a new independent report into Ball's case states.
The report, Abuse of Faith by the respected former social worker Dame Moira Gibb is damning of the Church's handling of the 84-year-old former Bishop of Lewes and Gloucester, who was jailed for 32 months in October 2015 after admitting a string of historical sex offences against 18 teenagers and young men.
The report has led to apologies from two former Archbishops of Canterbury, George Carey and Rowan Williams, over how they handled the allegations against Ball.
Following Ball's conviction, Justin Welby, the current Archbishop of Canterbury commissioned the report into Ball, who was released from jail in February after serving 16 months.
'This report considers the serious sexual wrongdoing of Peter Ball...who abused many boys and men over a period of twenty years or more. That is shocking in itself but it is compounded by the failure of the Church to respond appropriately to his misconduct, again over a period of many years,' Dame Moira writes in the report's foreword.
'Ball's priority was to protect and promote himself and he maligned the abused. The Church colluded with that rather than seeking to help those he had harmed, or assuring itself of the safety of others.'
The report outlines some eleven recommendations for the Church focusing on a range of issues including ensuring the right support for survivors, the leadership roles of bishops, strengthening guidance and the effectiveness of disciplinary measures regarding safeguarding.
Archbishop Welby said: 'Abuse of Faith makes harrowing reading: the Church colluded and concealed rather than seeking to help those who were brave enough to come forward. This is inexcusable and shocking behaviour and although Dame Moira notes that most of the events took place many years ago, and does not think that the Church now would conduct itself in the ways described we can never be complacent, we must learn lessons.'
Welby fully endorsed the recommendations in the report and offered 'an unreserved apology'. He added: 'There are no excuses whatsoever for what took place and the systematic abuse of trust perpetrated by Peter Ball over decades'.
Lord Carey, currently an assistant bishop in the Oxford diocese, comes under considerable criticism in the report for apparently ignoring a series of complaints about Ball from abused young men and other advisers. Lord Carey allowed Ball to continue officiating even after he resigned as Bishop of Gloucester in 1993 following a police caution over an act of gross indecency with a 19-year-old man.
Ball subsequently continued to conduct ministry in seventeen private schools and retain links to one private school for which he was at one time a governor, until at least 2007.
The report states: 'Lord Carey set the tone for the Church's response to Ball's crimes and gave the steer which allowed Ball's assertions that he was innocent to gain credence.'
Lord Carey said the report 'makes deeply uncomfortable reading'. He continued: 'I accept the criticisms of me. I apologise to the victims of Peter Ball. I believed Peter Ball's protestations and gave too little credence to the vulnerable young men and boys behind those allegations.'
The report points out that Carey's successor as Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, presided over the Church when it began a review of abuse which led to Ball's case being reopened. It adds: 'Lord Williams inherited a confused situation regarding Peter Ball but he and his staff missed the opportunity to review and clarify it at the start of his time in office. He did oversee real change but at a pace which now seems lamentably slow.'
Lord Williams said: 'Having read the report and reflected on its details it is clear that I did not give adequate priority to sorting out the concerns and allegations surrounding Peter Ball at the earliest possible opportunity. I recognise that such a delay is likely to have increased the pressure and distress experienced by the survivors of his abuse and I am sincerely sorry for this. There are no excuses for abuse; I am grateful for the courage of those who have shared their stories and continued to press for justice while continuing to live with hurt and damage, and my prayers are with them.'
Receiving the report on behalf of the Church, Bishop Peter Hancock, the lead safeguarding Bishop, said: 'I am truly sorry that as a Church we failed the survivors of Peter Ball; having read the report I am appalled and disturbed by its contents; as Dame Moira says...we colluded, we failed to act and protect those who came forward for help. There are no excuses. We accept all the recommendations and we are working to action them.'
Bishop Hancock added that for the survivors, 'it may feel like this is all too late'. He said that he is aware from his meetings with survivors they 'live with the effects of this abuse for their whole life'.