Today’s revelations about sex-abusing former bishop Peter Ball are evidence of the lengths that the upper classes will go to protect their own, even in a case of sexual abuse allegations. They are also a reminder that the Christian Church is seriously screwed up about sexual ethics.
The Guardian has revealed this morning that, while Ball was being investigated, the authorities received letters of support for Ball from establishment figures including bishops, MPs and the headteachers of elite schools.
Most alarmingly, George Carey interfered in the case while still in post as Archbishop of Canterbury. He wrote to the Chief Constable of Gloucestershire while Ball was being investigated, enphasising his belief in Ball’s innocence and how much he had suffered.
Ludicrously, Carey claimed that he was not trying to sway the outcome of the investigation or engage in “special pleading”. How else is a letter to a chief constable from such a prominent and influential figure to be interpreted?
I am not suggesting that Carey knew Ball was guilty. I dare say he genuinely believed in his innocence. But most people who believe in the innocence of their friends are not in a position to influence a police investigation. But Carey was, and he apparently saw nothing wrong in using his status to help his friend. That is not the job of a church leader.
The Church of England has, thankfully, apologised “unreservedly” to Ball’s victims. Will they now add a more specific apology, by accepting that Carey’s intervention was a misuse of power?
Despite my criticisms of George Carey, this is not about him personally. How did the structures, procedures and cultures exist that allowed this to happen? Why did nobody stop him? Did anyone advise against it?
Many of the church leaders who defended Ball were (or are) also opponents of loving adult relationships between people who happen to be of the same gender as each other. We have church leaders condemning love and excusing abuse. Many Christian attitudes to sex seem to have more to with power, convention, legalism or privilege than they have to do with love, justice, mutuality or the teachings of Jesus.
We need a major overhaul of Christian attitudes to sexuality to reconnect them with our radical saviour whose teachings challenged the abuse of power while promoting love and encouraging people to take responsibility for how they deal with their sexual feelings.