One of the disturbing things about the Bishop Ball scandal is that the real issue gets very short shrift, even in the sensitive and very well done report by Dame Moira Gibb. The issue? Power and the church.
Church should be the place where people worry the least about power. Consider: Jesus undoubtedly had the ability to command great worldly power. Yet his concern was for the poor, the destitute, the lonely and the outcast.
Throughout the whole sordid Ball affair, however — and “sordid” is hardly adequate to describe such a truly ugly episode in the life of the church — the one constant is concern about power and reputation. It is power that Ball trades on by claiming to be a confidant of Prince Charles. It is the power of charisma that he uses to convince others to do his will. It is the power of liturgy he uses as a precursor to sex. And it is the power of the office, and the trappings of his office, that he uses to exploit boys and young men.
Nor is he alone in this. Throughout Ball’s more than 20 years of abuse, Lord Carey puts his prestige and power first, over the need to protect the innocent or to inform the police of abuse. Lord Carey, triangulated by Ball’s supporters, reinstates Ball after his first encounter with the law. And Lord Carey claims the power to override a bishop who acts to prevent Ball from serving in his diocese.
So how did Ball get away with his crimes? I believe the answer is that people at every level put power, prestige, privilege and appearance first, versus focusing on the basic ethical issues. In short, the Church of England was so busy being church that it forgot to be the body of Christ.
My hope is that, if any good is to come from this whole appalling scandal, that we all take to heart the ease with which churches lose their moral reference point when they focus on power and prestige.