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IICSA Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse

Anglican Church Case Studies: Chichester/Peter Ball Investigation Report

C.2: Peter Ball’s ordination and progression within the Church of England


14. Peter Ball was born in 1932. He attended Lancing College and then Cambridge University. He was made a deacon in 1956 and ordained as a priest in 1957.

15. In 1951 Peter Ball was interviewed for the first time by the Church Assembly Central Advisory Council of Training for the Ministry (CACTM), who were responsible for selecting individuals for ministry. He was not recommended because the board thought that his religious life was, at that stage, “immature and underdeveloped”.[1] He was encouraged to return after he had completed university.

16. Bishop George Bell, then the Bishop of Chichester, wrote to the CACTM that he was “not inclined to accept the judgement of the Selectors”. Having interviewed Peter Ball, he threatened to accept him as a diocesan candidate for ordination regardless of the recommendation.[2] He wrote that Peter Ball was:

“Junior Squash champion for the South of England and Sussex, and is regarded as a possible Blue at Cambridge. He represented Lancing at soccer, athletics and tennis, besides being head prefect, and managing the school remarkably well, though undoubtedly a reserved boy. Surely this says something for character?”[3]

17. In 1953, Peter Ball returned to the CACTM and was accepted for ordination. Bishop Bell sponsored him and placed him within a parish in Chichester for his curacy[4] in 1957, where he visited him.[5] Peter Ball told others he was “a sort of blue eyed boy of his”.[6] A curate usually would spend three to four years in a parish but, almost as soon as he was ordained, Peter Ball sought an exemption to leave within a year to spend time in a school and in a religious community.[7] This was to further his desire to become a monk and establish his own religious community. Bishop Bell allowed him to reduce his time in the parish to two years.[8]

The Community of the Glorious Ascension

18. Religious communities are very much a minority within the Church of England. At present, there are no more than a few hundred individuals in the UK who are part of a religious order aligned with the Church. Religious communities vary from those which take monastic vows of poverty, chastity and obedience to individuals who live together in lay communities devoted to a common life of prayer and work.

19. Bishop David Walker, Chair of the Advisory Council for Relations between Bishops and Religious Communities (The Advisory Council), and the Bishop of Manchester, gave detailed evidence about the workings of a monastic order and how it would have been set up both now and in the past 60 years.[9] To want to become a member of a religious order was unusual for an Anglican young person, and to want to set up one’s own religious order was even more unusual.

20. In March 1960 Peter Ball and his brother Michael established a monastic community, the Community of the Glorious Ascension (CGA). The stated aim was to provide a monastic community which would provide teachers for state schools and engage in other work with young people. At the time of starting his order, Peter Ball was 28 years old. He was Prior of the CGA until 1977.

21. Over time, CGA communities were set up in Stroud, Birmingham, Burton-on-Trent, Old Cleeve and Sheffield.[10] At its peak, the CGA consisted of 18 professed brothers and around the same number of novices and postulants (those training to become members of the community).[11] There were also six to eight female members who lived separately. Michael Ball taught in schools whilst Peter Ball focussed on “pastoral work within the community”.[12]

22. Religious communities are not part of dioceses, and are run as distinct and independent organisations in accordance with their constitutions. At present they are not subject to regulation by way of canon law (save that any member of a religious order who is also ordained will be subject to canon law). They may or may not be formally recognised by the Advisory Council. This is a body established by the Church of England which ‘recognises’ such communities.[13] However, it was not and is not necessary to make an application to the Advisory Council before establishing a religious order and the Council does not and has not ever had the power to prevent someone from doing so.[14] Nonetheless Peter Ball and his brother sought support from the Advisory Council as early as 1957 to establish the CGA. The CGA was not recognised by the Advisory Council until 1974.[15]

23. The CGA rules permitted 17-year-olds, with their parents’ permission, to become postulants and live with the CGA. They would be the responsibility of Peter Ball.[16] In publicity material, the CGA sought to emphasise the CGA’s involvement with young people.[17]

24. Whilst the Church of England has no formal oversight or supervision of religious orders, it is expected that recognised communities will follow the Handbook of the Religious Life published by the Advisory Council. It is, however, a guide; it is not legally binding nor a direction to the communities involved. Its purpose is to provide assistance to visitors[18] to such communities as to what standards should be applied.

25. The 1957 edition of the Directory of the Religious Life did not require any religious community to have guidance about what would now be called safeguarding. The 1976 edition added a prohibition on postulants under 18 and required communities to make enquiries of postulants’ background and health. Nonetheless the CGA rules were not changed.

26. There was no supervision or oversight of the CGA as a recognised religious order by the Church. Nor were there any safeguarding procedures or checks on the suitability of the monks working with the children and young people who lived with the CGA or were postulants.

27. Members of a recognised religious community are subject individually to the oversight of the bishop of the diocese in which they reside, but the diocesan bishop does not have a direct right to intervene in the affairs of the community.[19] The CGA had a formal Visitor, in the same way that a cathedral would,[20] but their formal visits only occurred once every five years.[21] Members of the CGA do not remember seeing the Visitor often.[22] It was the expectation at that time that there be a record of the visits kept in reports or minutes.[23] Only one set of notes of any Visitation can be found, and Bishop Walker concluded that it was not thorough and seemed to be more in the way of a ‘chat’ with relevant members.[24]

28. Peter Ball exploited his position as a member in the CGA for his own sexual gratification. In 2015 he accepted he had taken advantage of AN-A97, who joined the CGA when he was 19 years old. He considered Peter Ball to be a “charismatic holy leader with authority”. He told police in 2013 that in 1969 at Peter Ball’s request, he had massaged Peter Ball, beaten him with a slipper, and been beaten in return. He also said they watched each other masturbate and masturbated one another. AN-A97 said he “felt very trapped” and that there was “a huge emotional blackmail inside”.[25] In a document setting out his 2015 guilty plea, Peter Ball accepted that when he did this, AN-A97 was a vulnerable young man who looked upon Peter Ball as his spiritual leader.[26]

29. AN-A110, another member of the CGA, saw Peter Ball’s “obsession” with AN-A97 and recognised signs of abuse. He reported this to an Anglican priest affiliated with the CGA. AN-A110 says that the next day he was asked to leave the CGA by Peter Ball and the Anglican priest, although Peter Ball says this was not the case.[27]

30. AN-A110 also told the Inquiry that religious communities live their lives on the margins of ecclesiastical authority. There needs to be, he thought, a dialogue between communities, their members and leaders, and the authorities of the established denominations to encourage communities to safeguard the spiritual, psychological and social welfare of their members.[28]

31. Bishop Walker confirmed that even in 2018 there was no canon for the regulation of religious communities.[29] The Advisory Council has produced the Handbook on the Religious Life since the 1940s.[30] The last handbook issued was 2004, which had no real mention of safeguarding or child protection but set the minimum age for postulants as 18.[31] In 2015 specific practice guidance Safeguarding in Religious Communities was issued.[32] However, this does not bring together all relevant safeguarding advice and requires religious communities to look also at the general House of Bishops’ guidance.[33] A canon has been drafted on religious life and was brought to General Synod in February 2019, alongside an updated handbook on the religious life.

32. There is no power for the Advisory Council to close religious communities where there are problems[34] and no power to expel individual members from religious communities.[35] The only power it has available is to cease to recognise religious communities, but this would not prevent the community from operating.[36] If a religious community is also a charity then the Charity Commission could intervene. However, that would not stop individuals continuing to be a community, it would simply mean they could not run it as a charity. The Church of England relies upon the influence of the local diocese and encourages religious communities to integrate with the diocese.[37] Whilst the bishop is only required to formally visit once every five years, he would be expected to attend the community more regularly (at least yearly) to get a sense of what is going on.[38] Communities should have a safeguarding representative who will then report any matters to the Diocesan Safeguarding Adviser.[39]

33. The Church of England is in the process of revising its approach to religious communities, as identified above, and addressing the recommendations made by Dame Moira Gibb. A canon on the religious life and an updated Handbook on the Religious Life are being drafted. This is to be welcomed. If religious communities are to be recognised by the Church, there should be common and enforceable standards and appropriate regulation by the Church.

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