Church 'overcompensated' for conservative stance on homosexuality by treating paedophile bishop lightly

The Church of England tried to 'overcompensate' for its conservative stance on homosexuality by treating a paedophile bishop lightly, a former archbishop of Canterbury said today.

Peter Ball, the former bishop of Lewes, escaped with a police caution in 1992 after being accused of abusing a teenage boy but continued to officiate in a number of private schools until 2007.

Rowan Williams, the former archbishop of Canterbury from 2002 to 2012, gave evidence to the independent inquiry into child sexual abuse (IICSA) today.IICSA

The former archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, said elements of the Church had 'strong undercurrents of homosexuality' in his written evidence, according lead counsel Fiona Scolding QC. These were largely 'closeted', he told an independent inquiry into how the Church of England dealt with allegations of abuse.

'It does seem to be me, at a time when people were beginning to feel awkward about the traditional closeted attitude, there was perhaps an overcompensation saying, "well we don't want to be judgemental about people's sexual activities. We may formally, in a disciplinary way, we may disapprove, we may treat them according to the protocols but we mustn't be seen to be, or mustn't be, judgemental. We must therefore give people a second chance and understand the pressures and so on."

'So I think there is an element of that coming in; a rather paradoxical consequence of the traditional view of homosexuality within the Church - you want to overcompensate a bit for it.'

Lord Williams stressed that the link between homosexuality and paedophilia was a false one, although it was made at the time.

It comes after Fiona Scolding QC, lead counsel to the inquiry, said that 'in some cases ignorance or naivety about homosexual practices may have wrongly equated homosexuality with child abuse and so nothing happened'.

The inquiry is chaired by professor Alexis Jay, second from left.IICSA

The inquiry also heard about the extent to which Lambeth Palace officials were desperate to avoid being seen to be 'as bad as Rome'. Internal emails revealed how officials tried to protect the archbishop from being tarred over abuse allegations at a time when the full extent of child abuse in the Church of England was not yet known.

A communications adviser to Lambeth Palace at the time, George Pitcher, suggested the then bishop of Chichester, John Hind, 'may have to be thrown to the press as a sacrifice' as allegations of child abuse in east Sussex emerged.

'The real danger here is that these stories are used to suggest the CofE is as bad as Rome, both in abuse and cover-up,' he wrote in an email to Lord Williams' correspondence secretary Andrew Nunn and chief of staff Chris Smith.

'The aim must be to distance the current ABC [archbishop of Canterbury] from it as much as poss [sic]. All actions must serve that purpose in my view.'

When shown the email Lord Williams said: 'I had no involvement in this at all and I'm frankly rather shocked to see it.'

He added: 'If that was the approach of Lambeth Palace it was not an approach that I was aware of or sanctioned. I would really rather like to put my apologies to Bishop Hind on record.'

Lord Williams also admitted in his evidence 'clericalism' was 'undoubtedly' a problem in the Church that meant the status and power of the clergy was exagerrated.

'This may not connect immediately with abusive behaviour towards children but I would see it as part of a wider mindset in which the authority of the ordained ministry was thought of as beyond criticism.' 

It comes after the current bishop of Chichester, Martin Warner, told the inquiry this morning there was 'a historic bias in the diocese in favour of adults in positions of power and authority,'

He said: 'This has led to an unwillingness to take allegations of sexual abuse made by children or by adults sufficiently seriously.

'It reflects a wider social attitude of deference, a culture of deferring unduly to those in power and a culture of deference and defensiveness,' he added. 

Bishop Warner is from the Church's Anglo-Catholic wing, which tends to oppose the ordination of women. However he admitted 'the resistance to women's ordination has meant that those underlying trends of sexism which are unexplored and can go unchallenged have not been challenged'. He cited an example in which a female archdeacon was told she was 'not bad for a woman'.

'It is something we are working very hard to address and would certainly challenge them [misognistic views] wherever found,' he said.