The church’s cover-ups, head and wink surveillance and sexual abuse sound like raw materials in a stereotype of Irish scandal. Therefore, it is revealing – “novel” feels too frivolous – to witness the same wretched forces that extend its rot within the Anglican hierarchy in Exposed: The Church’s Darkest Secret (BBC Two, Monday and Tuesday, 9pm) .
“Evil” is a word used again and again in the first part of Ben Steele’s two-part documentary about the dishonest Bishop Peter Ball and the British establishment that turned a blind eye to the depredations it inflicted on vulnerable young people. In interviews with survivors and in dramatic, sensitive and moderate performances, Steele looks unswervingly at the darkness that took root in the episcopal wing of the British state and that for decades proved impossible to eliminate.
This is a horror story and there is a monster. Ball, the bishop of Gloucester, introduced himself to the world as a charismatic esthete. Whether he was bothering Wogan or the Prince of Wales, he had the beatific smile and pixieish glow of someone who had found transcendence in self-denial.
But in the shadows he prepared needy youth in his monastic community. At night, far from prying eyes, they were required to drink deeply from the chalice of humiliation. He pressed the acolytes to pray naked, and dispensed manic beats and whips. Being one with Jesus, he said, required suffering.
Meanwhile, he cultivated influential contacts with impunity. Margaret Thatcher was an acquaintance. Ball, an unredeemable narcissist, also boasted about his proximity to the Charles princes. When one of his victims, Neil Todd, went to the police, a senior judge called the investigating officer to speak on behalf of the cleric. Ball was arrested anyway. At a press conference the next day, a main bishop offered his prayers for the defendant and his family.
Ball went down with police caution and re-officiated in a few years. George Carey, then archbishop of Canterbury, declined to pass the complaints of other victims to the police.
Only in 2015 did Ball’s crimes reach him, since he was belatedly sentenced to 32 months in prison for indecent aggression. He turned two and died last June at age 87.
The choice of Game of Thrones actor, Donald Sumpter, to play Ball in recreation is a bit annoying. Exposed is much more powerful in giving voice to those who suffered and whose warnings were ignored.
One of them, Graham Sawyer, was essentially blacklisted by the Anglican church in England and Wales for facing Ball. He had to go to New Zealand to be ordained and today he continues his vocation in Ireland, where he is rector in Tipperary. Sawyer says that Ball still has too many high-ranking friends to feel comfortable in Britain.
His is one of the many exciting testimonies in an exhibition that shows that no faith has a monopoly on harboring monsters. Evil does not care about arbitrary religious divisions and wears many necklaces, as this fiery investigation reminds us.