Church 'concealed' sex abuse claims against bishop

Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby observes a minute of silence during a vigil with faith leaders outside Westminster Abbey in London March 24, 2017 (AFP Photo/CHRIS J RATCLIFFE) (AFP/File)

London (AFP) - The Church of England "colluded and concealed" to suppress claims of long-term sexual abuse against one of its bishops, Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby said Friday.

The Anglican Communion leader issued a statement following the publication of an independent review into the Church's response to claims against former bishop Peter Ball, who was jailed for 32 months in 2015 after pleading guilty to historical offences.

The "Abuse of Faith" report "makes 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 added.

The report, chaired by former civil servant Moira Gibb, said that Ball had "abused many boys and men over a period of twenty years or more."

"That is shocking in itself but is compounded by the failure of the Church to respond appropriately to his misconduct," it added.

"Ball's conduct has caused serious and enduring damage to the lives of many men.

"The Church at its most senior levels and over many years supported him unwisely and displayed little care for his victims."

The report said that Church officials had "made significant progress in recent years" but that "we can see how difficult it is to make change across the complex structures of the Church."

It warned that faster improvement was still required, and made 11 recommendations focusing on victim support and the oversight of bishops.

Welby said that he "fully endorsed the recommendations" and that he wanted "once again offer an unreserved apology" to Ball's victims.

London's Old Bailey court heard that Ball had made victims strip naked and suggested they submit to beatings in claims ranging from 1977 to 1992.