The case of the disgraced Bishop Peter Ball, and the establishment cover-up of his abusive activities with young, aspiring monks raises a range of issues for me. The biblical foundation for monasticism derives largely from the apostle Paul, who clearly had a problem with sex of any sort. In my recent blog post Heavenly Prurience, I drew attention to his censure of homosexuality, but he was equally wary of the power of women: he directed that they be silent in church, in submission to their husbands, and to dress dowdily. Apparently, their subsidiary status is to be blamed on Eve, and the way for women to make up for this original sin is through dutiful child-bearing. The Catholic Church was not slow to take the hint. First it was decided that priests should be celibate. But this was not going far enough for some. The Church then encouraged the emergence of monasteries where celibate priests could lock themselves away from the temptation of women forever. If you set out to describe a utopia for homosexuals, you could hardly do better. I am assured by gay friends that the only difference between a straight man and a gay man is 4 pints. It is not hard to imagine that behind the locked gates of monasteries, widely famous for the various liqueurs and spirits that bear their names, nights must have been filled with no end of amusement and fun. For those unfortunate priests of the Anglican persuasion however, such opportunities are limited, unless your tastes run to choirboys. But Peter Bell created his own solution. Why should catholic monks have all the fun – why shouldn’t Anglicans have monasteries too? So, with his twin brother, he established with Church blessing his own monastery, the Community of the Glorious Ascension – rather unfortunately named given that we now know exactly what was ascending gloriously, and with whom.
But putting jokes aside, Bell has been found guilty in 2015 of multiple indecent assaults on young religious males – boys as well as youths - over a 15-year period during the 1970s and 1980s. The CPS had evidence against Ball in 1993. Why then did it take 22 years for him to be brought to justice? An independent review this year has found that the Church hierarchy, notably former Archbishop of Canterbury, George Carey, colluded in concealing Ball’s abuse. Another archbishop, Rowan Williams, was also criticised. But this is just the tip of the iceberg. The Anglican Church, as a State Religion with the Monarch as its Head, is an integral part of the effete, upper class and aristocratic, British Establishment. At Ball's trial in 2015 it was stated that a lord chief justice, JPs, cabinet ministers and public school headmasters—"many dozens" of people—had campaigned to support him in 1993. A member of the Royal Family was also said to be involved. Given Prince Charles’s known affection for medieval Church tradition, we hardly needed to be told that after his resignation, Ball was given accommodation on the Duchy of Cornwall estate and that Ball described Charles as a "loyal friend". How long are we going to allow this sort of cronyism, conspiracy and abuse to deface our democracy and affront the morality of Christian and Atheist alike? If May and Corbyn want the fairer society they both speak of, they need to start by dismantling the bastion of privilege, nepotism and corruption that is the British Establishment – in our institutions of government, education and justice. And disestablishing the rotten-to-the-core Church of England would make a good start.