An ex-bishop who abused 18 young men and aspiring priests over 30 years has finally admitted his guilt after a last-ditch effort to throw his case out on the word of a former Archbishop of Canterbury failed.
Former Bishop of Lewes Peter Ball, 83, used religion as a "cloak" to manipulate his victims, many of whom were in their teens, after they came to his home to explore their spirituality.
In 1993, he accepted a caution in relation to one young man and resigned his post, believing the matter was closed despite police being aware of two more complaints.
But in 2012, prompted by a Church of England review, Sussex Police reopened the case and last year charged him with a string of sex offences against teenage boys and young men who had gone to his former home in Litlington, East Sussex.
Earlier this year, Mr Justice Sweeney refused to dismiss the case on a legal technicality after it emerged Ball and former archbishop Lord Carey had been assured in 1993 that there would be no future action once he accepted the caution.
Today, weeks before his trial was due to start at the Old Bailey, Ball, who has suffered ill health but was deemed fit to stand trial, pleaded guilty to misconduct in a public office.
The charge stated that between 1977 and 1992 he misused his position in authority "to manipulate and prevail upon others for his own sexual gratification" in relation to 16 young men.
He also admitted two counts of indecent assault on two separate young men in their late teens at his East Sussex home between 1980 and 1983 and between 1990 and 1991.
Two other counts of indecent assault on a boy of 12 or 13 and a 15-year-old youth were denied and will lie on file.
Afterwards, Detective Chief Inspector Carwyn Hughes of Sussex Police said 12 of the victims had come forward since the investigation was launched.
He said: "It became clear that under the guise of his status as a Bishop, Ball had systematically abused the trust of the victims, many of whom who were aspiring priests, whilst others were simply seeking to explore their spirituality.
"He abused that trust and used religion, through his Give A Year For Christ scheme, as a cloak behind which to carry out his grooming activity, the principal aim of which was to satisfy his sexual interest in and desire for young men.
"We put tremendous effort into thoroughly and diligently investigating these allegations over several years, where necessary even sending officers abroad to interview witnesses and victims."
Details of the long history leading to the former clergyman being reinvestigated can only be reported today after restrictions were lifted by Mr Justice Wilkie.
In 1993, the Church of England avoided scandal when Ball, by then Bishop of Gloucester, accepted a caution for a single historic allegation of gross indecency and resigned, despite Gloucester Police being aware of allegations by two more men.
On March 5 that year, his lawyer received a letter from the Crown Prosecution Service which the defence said related to all allegations against Ball.
It stated: "The view is taken that there is sufficient admissible, substantial and reliable evidence available to support prosecuting your client for offences of indecent assault and gross indecency.
"Having regards to all the circumstances, however, the Crown would be prepared to allow disposal less than prosecution - namely a caution for an offence of gross indecency with (a 19-year-old man) as an alternative to prosecution."
Richard Smith QC, suggested the CPS may have settled on the caution to avoid the publicity of a bishop in the dock after discussion "behind closed doors" and not because there was no realistic prospect of conviction.
Giving evidence at that hearing, Ball insisted that the police officer who cautioned him had clearly told him that was the end of it.
He recalled: "After I took the caution I asked very clearly 'Does this include all other offences of the same nature?' before the taking of the caution and I was told very clearly that it did.
"I can remember so clearly I was so glad to get away - to get a guarantee that it was all over.
"That was the last words of the police officer - 'Bishop, it's all over'.
"I was so pleased I went like a rocket down to Cornwall to my brother."
Lord Carey, who was Archbishop of Canterbury at the time, appeared to back up his claim in his recollections of the incident which were read out in court.
On hearing the news of Ball's caution, he wrote: "I was troubled. I did not think this was good enough. I wanted some form of assurance.
"All we had was the resignation of Bishop Peter.
"I was worried that if any other allegations of past indecency were made it would reignite. I wanted some reassurance that this would not be the case.
"I was so troubled, that evening after dinner I went to my study.
"I was supplied with a number of a man at the CPS I believed to be a director. I do not recall his name.
"I rang him and asked what might happen if allegations from the past were made.
"I was told quite categorically that the other allegations would not be taken further as far as we are concerned.
"He has resigned. He is out of it. The matter is closed. We are not going to take anything any further."
The defendant also claimed that a promise to resign from his post was a condition of the police caution, even though he later explored the possibility of being allowed back to work.
Cambridge-educated Ball, who now lives in Langport, Somerset, appeared frail and falteringly entered his pleas via video link from Taunton Crown Court.
Mr Justice Wilkie remanded him on bail to await sentencing on October 7.
Ball was Bishop of Lewes between 1977 and 1992 and Bishop of Gloucester from 1992 until his resignation the following year.
He was said to have many high-profile friends and acquaintances, including the Prince of Wales.