CLIFF James was sexually, physically and mentally abused by a bishop in the Church of England.

He spent a year living in near-isolation with the paedophile Bishop of Lewes Peter Ball, who groomed and abused teenagers and young men enrolled on a church camp.

One, Neil Todd, took his own life after police reopened their investigation into Ball.

He said Ball had forced him to rehearse “penitential psalms” naked in the middle of the night so he could “feel the cold”.

Ball made him take cold showers and said he wanted to whip Neil so severely his body would “bear the marks”.

Ball was jailed for sexual offences against boys as young as 15, dating from the late Seventies to the early Nineties. In 2015, Ball was convicted of sexual offences against 18 young men and sentenced to 32 months in prison.

He was released after serving 16 months and died last year.

At his trial, the court heard how he chose young priests to share his bed, forced them to take freezing showers while he watched and made one man roll naked in the snow before towelling him dry and beating him until he bled.

An independent inquiry found that senior figures in the Church of England had engaged in collusion over the case, and a new BBC documentary, The Church’s Dark Secret, sheds light on the way the Church attempted to cover up the abuse.

As the programme airs, Mr James, formerly of Steine Street, Brighton, spoke to The Argus about his ordeal living alone with Peter Ball in a monastic retreat as part of the Give A Year to God scheme.

Ball founded and ran the camp in Litlington in the 1980s, when he was Bishop of Lewes. Some of the participants were aged 17 or younger. One was 13.

Mr James stayed at Ball’s country house in Berwick for a year.

He said: “I lived with him there. Peter abused dozens of young men. The earliest was in 1977. I was there for a year in 1991, between the ages of 17 and 18.

“It was lonely. I was the only young person living there. It was just me and Peter for most of the time during that year.

“I was fearful. I was always afraid of what Peter would ask or demand, or how he would manipulate me next.

“It was a large, rural house surrounded by fields. It was very opulent, very wealthy. There were chandeliers and beautiful decorations that Peter was very proud of.

“As well as being a bishop, he was a monk who had taken a vow of poverty. He would apologise for being surrounded by such luxury as if he had no choice over it.”

Mr James said Ball was a deceptive character, playing different roles depending on his audience.

He said: “He could switch between characters. To the public he was incredibly humble, meek and softly spoken.

“He could also be quite immature. He had a boyish, lewd sense of humour when he was with his chosen people. When he wanted to manipulate somebody or make a demand, he would put on a holy, high, humble voice, as if speaking with God.

“But he was abusing young men under the guise of ascetic monastic Christianity.

“Peter’s reasoning was that we had to be like Christ. He said that because Christ suffered, we had to be like him.

“He said that Western society had become very soft and that God didn’t want us to be weak. His particular phrase was that he wanted us to go ‘hammer and tongs to the kingdom of heaven’.

“The abuse was sexual, mental and physical. He got pleasure from inflicting physical pain on others.”

Mr James said he had been left traumatised by the experience.

“Neil Todd was the last youth on the scheme. He killed himself because of the stress and the pressure when the police investigation reopened a few years ago.

“It has affected me. It did at the time. But I was lucky. I had the opportunity to stand up to him towards the end. I was able to get some measure of empowerment because I confronted him. He backed away and apologised. He said everything he was doing was for God.

“It helped that I turned my back on the Church and became an atheist after that. And part of my ability to deal with it throughout my life has been talking about it. It’s a therapeutic process, a way of managing the experience.

“It’s strange now because I feel closure. I’m able to put him in a category. He was manipulative and psycho-sexually twisted.

“I can put him in a box and compartmentalise what happened. But I find it harder to understand why the Church acted the way it did.

“Why did they shield him? What pleasure did they take, criticising his victims for 20 years? The story is not just about abuse. It’s about the cover-up afterwards.

“And I think this still goes on in the Church. They don’t want critics. We’re only just beginning to scratch the surface.

“It took a long time for the truth to come out. The documentary reveals the attitude not just of the bishops involved, including George carey, then Archbishop of Canterbury, but how the establishment seemed to just cluster together to protect Peter rather than showing any concern or care for his victims.

“The establishment works like a cold machine. The instinct of the establishment is to protect itself against criticism, even when its members commit terrible crimes.”

“This is the first time that the whole story has been joined up and told in one complete form.

“We don’t know the full extent of this. I doubt we will ever know. The survivors that come forwards are just the tip of the iceberg. There are many more who don’t speak. But it’s a story that needs to be told.

Mr James said he had been given a £24,000 compensation payout from the Church and has been using to money to travel and write a book, Life As A Kite, about leaving the abuse behind him.

He said: “It was more money than I’d ever seen. But you can’t put a price on those experiences. Any sum will always be insufficient. I hope that people will start questioning the deference and respect they give to those in positions of authority.

“That’s especially true in the Church. Bishops hold an almost magical role. They’re unquestionable.

“The Church’s dark secret is that such a high member of the Church of England was able to abuse young people with impunity.

“But this was really a secret to do with the Church itself. It made a co-ordinated effort to hide the truth. It’s not just one dark secret. It’s thousands of dark secrets.”