The Church of England "colluded" with and helped to hide the long-term sexual abuse of young men by one of its former bishops, the head of the church said Thursday.
Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby apologized to the victims who spoke out and helped bring ex-bishop Peter Ball to justice as the church published a detailed report on how it handled the case.
Welby ordered the independent report after Ball was convicted and imprisoned in 2015 for misconduct in public office and indecent assaults against teenagers and young men from the 1970s to 1990s. Ball, who admitted to abusing 18 young men, was released after serving 16 months.
Some victims reported that Ball encouraged them to engage in "spiritual exercises" involving naked praying and cold showers.
The report said Ball's conduct "caused serious and enduring damage to the lives of many men," but that at the time the church trivialized it, partly because of a lack of understanding about safeguarding vulnerable adult men.
"The church, at its most senior levels and over many years, supported him unwisely and displayed little care for his victims," it said.
Ball was arrested in 1992 for suspected indecent assault and cautioned. He retired as bishop of Gloucester, but continued to work in churches and schools for more than a decade.
The report said that George Carey, head of the Church of England at the time, believed Ball to be "basically innocent" and played a lead role in enabling Balls' return to ministry.
Church leaders also failed to pass letters that raised concerns about Ball to police, the report said.
Describing the report as "harrowing reading," Welby said: "The church colluded and concealed rather than seeking to help those who were brave enough to come forward."
"This is inexcusable and shocking behaviour," he said, adding that while most of what happened took place years ago, "we can never be complacent, we must learn lessons."