LONDON — Prince Charles misused his influence to shield Peter Ball, a former Anglican bishop and old friend, from punishment after the cleric had admitted sexually abusing a young novice, an independent inquiry found this week.
In an unusually tough rebuke of the future king, the inquiry concluded that “the actions of the Prince of Wales were misguided.”
“He should have recognized the potential effect that his apparent support for Peter Ball could have had upon decision-making within Lambeth Palace,” the headquarters of the Anglican Church, concluded the Independent Inquiry Into Child Sexual Abuse, which was led by a professor of social work, Alexis Jay.
The prince has expressed “deep personal regret” that he was deceived by Mr. Ball, and said he had not been aware that any abuse had taken place.
“As he made clear in his voluntary witness statement to the inquiry, at no time did he bring any influence to bear on the actions of the church or any other relevant authority,” a spokesman for Clarence House, the prince’s administration, told the Press Association.
The report details a powerful old-boys’ network that mobilized to defend Mr. Ball, who was first accused of sexual misconduct in 1969 but continued to rise through the church hierarchy for two decades.
Upon being appointed bishop of Gloucester, in 1991, he was warned that “there should be no more boys,” the inquiry found. In 1993, Mr. Ball admitted to an act of gross indecency with a 19-year-old and accepted a police caution, which allowed him to avoid a criminal trial. He was forced to step down as bishop, but returned to the ministry within two years.
Only in 2015, after the investigation was revived, did Mr. Ball plead guilty to indecent assault and misconduct in public office in connection with the abuse of 16 boys and men who had come to him for spiritual guidance. He was sentenced to 32 months of imprisonment, but was released on parole after serving half the sentence.
The report offers a kind of anatomy of social influence in Britain’s power structure.
Mr. Ball, 87, who attended Lancing College and Cambridge University, was friends with headmasters of many of the country’s most prestigious boarding schools, and belonged to a private dining club called Nobody’s Friends, which met twice a year at the home of the archbishop of Canterbury.
He was close with the archbishop, George Carey, and Lord Lloyd of Berwick, an appeals court judge. But the most powerful of his friends was Charles, the Prince of Wales. He lived in one of the prince’s properties from the late 1990s — after he had been forced to step down — until 2011, and preached at the funeral of the prince’s second father-in-law, Bruce Shand.
Wayne Murdock, a police detective assigned to the investigation in 1993, anticipated early on that the suspect’s powerful friends would try to quash it.
“The jungle drums will start going and the phone calls will start,” he said, according to the report.
The report quotes correspondence suggesting that, after Mr. Ball was forced to step down as bishop of Gloucester, the prince lobbied for him to be returned to the ministry.
“I wish I could do more,” the prince wrote at one point. “I feel so desperately strongly about the monstrous wrongs that have been done to you and the way you have been treated. It’s appalling that the archbishop has gone back on what he told me, before Xmas, that he was hoping to restore you to some kind of ministry in the church. I suspect you are absolutely right — it is due to fear of the media.”
When questioned as part of the inquiry, Prince Charles played down the significance of their correspondence, saying he answered Mr. Ball’s letters, “believing it the polite thing to do.”
Investigators, who pored over a large file of correspondence between the two men, said “the replies are suggestive of cordiality rather than mere politeness.”
They noted, as well, that the prince’s private secretary had made inquiries about Mr. Ball’s reinstatement with a top aide to the archbishop of Canterbury.
Within six weeks of his resignation, the archbishop publicly said that he hoped to see Mr. Ball returned to the ministry.
The inquiry concludes that Mr. Ball’s supporters were not knowingly covering up crimes, but failed to consider that someone they knew and liked might also be an abuser.
“It is likely that they genuinely believed in Peter Ball’s innocence,” the inquiry says. “These individuals could not conceive of the possibility that someone like Peter Ball could be guilty of such offending behavior.”
They “thought they knew more than they did and, in fact, knew nothing about the extent of the allegations faced by Peter Ball,” it continued.
Mr. Ball’s victims, many of them teenagers, described approaching him for spiritual guidance and being asked to strip naked, take cold showers while he watched, masturbate him, submit to beatings, or sleep naked with him.
One cleric, who had asked Mr. Ball to support his ordination, said he refused to remove his clothing at Mr. Ball’s request. Mr. Ball subsequently withdrew his recommendation for ordination. The cleric was later rejected for ordination, told that there was “a big black mark against him in the Church of England.”
Mr. Ball was eventually arrested as a result of a complaint by Neil Todd, who began to visit Mr. Ball at the age of 17, and became fearful when the bishop began speaking of beating or whipping him as part of their religious practice. Mr. Todd attempted suicide at age 19, and subsequently made reports of Mr. Ball’s behavior.
Mr. Todd killed himself in 2012, days before the case was officially reopened.
Lord Carey, the former archbishop, has since said that he and other church officials underplayed Mr. Ball’s conduct because it did not involve penetration.
“I think all of us at the time were saying, ‘Well, he wasn’t raping anybody, there was no penetrative sex,’” he said.
He acknowledged that he attached more importance to Mr. Ball’s testimony than to Mr. Todd’s.
“I actually believed him for quite a time, because who else were complaining about him? I didn’t know these people,” he told the inquiry.