London - A British court sentenced a former Church of England bishop to 32 months in prison for sexual abuse of young men on Wednesday after authorities failed to prosecute him for more than two decades.
Police first found evidence against Peter Ball, now 83, in 1993 but the case was dropped after lobbying by establishment figures, including an unidentified member of Britain's royal family, prosecutors said.
On Wednesday, a judge said Ball had sexually abused young men and teenagers in the church, misusing his position since 1977 to "persuade selected individuals to commit or submit to acts of physical or sexual debasement under the guise of being part of their austere regime of devotion".
Ball pleaded guilty to two counts of indecent assault on 18 victims aged 17 to 25 years old, and to misconduct in public office.
The police reported receiving dozens of phone calls supporting Ball from politicians, judges and others, prosecutor Bobbie Cheema told the court.
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They also received more than 2 000 letters of support, including one from a member of the royal family, Cheema said, adding that it was "impossible to say whether those letters were encouraged and it is unlikely that those who wrote were in possession of the full facts".
The Church of England said Ball's imprisonment was "a matter of deep shame and regret".
"There are no excuses whatsoever for what took place and the systematic abuse of trust perpetrated by Peter Ball over decades," Bishop Paul Butler said.
The church has promised to investigate its response to the allegations against Ball.
"The independent review will examine the Church of England's co-operation with the police and other statutory agencies and the extent to which it shared information in a timely manner," Butler said.
It will also examine whether the church "responded adequately to concerns and representations submitted by survivors", he said.