Ball changed his plea to guilty and was charged with misconduct in public office and a string of sex offences including two counts of indecent assault involving separate male victims and a misconduct charge relating to 16 others just two weeks before he was due to go on trial.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.

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"I was so troubled, that evening after dinner I went to my study. We are not going to take anything any further." Ball, of Langport, Somerset, entered his pleas via video link from Taunton Crown Court. Detective Chief Inspector Carwyn Hughes of Sussex Police said Ball had “used religion as a cloak behind which to carry out his grooming activity”.

"I was supplied with a number of a man at the CPS I believed to be a director. "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.

Lord Carey, the former Archbishop of Canterbury, personally contacted the Crown Prosecution Service more than 20 years ago to seek assurances over its decision not to pursue charges against a sex abuser bishop, the Old Bailey has heard.

The then leader of the Church of England telephoned a senior prosecutor after being told in 1993 that the Bishop of Gloucester Peter Ball, who had just resigned in disgrace, had been handed a caution for gross indecency rather being charged with indecent assault.

In a case expected to have implications for the prosecution of other Anglican clerics facing sexual allegations, the charges included a count of misconduct in a public office because of his position of authority within the Established Church.

• Catholic Church issues 'profound' apology to victims of child sex abuse That charge said he had misused his position in authority “to manipulate and prevail upon others for his own sexual gratification” in relation to the 16 young men, who were taking part in church-run “Year For Christ” scheme to test a possible calling to the ministry.

The former bishop’s lawyers attempted to persuade Mr Justice Sweeney that the case should be dismissed on the grounds that he had been told there would be no future action.

His barrister Richard Smith QC, argued the CPS may have settled on the caution to avoid the publicity of a bishop in the dock after discussion “behind closed doors”.

He drew on a statement from Lord Carey, which was read to the court during legal argument. "I was worried that if any other allegations of past indecency were made it would reignite.

• Ex-Archbishop quits over Church of England child sex abuse It said: “I was troubled - I did not think this was good enough. I wanted some reassurance that this would not be the case.