The state church “concealed” evidence of child abuse by a former bishop stretching over two decades, according to a new major independent review.

The Church’s report, Abuse of Faith, shed light on how it handled the case of Peter Ball, the former Bishop of Lewes who was jailed for 32 months in 2015, having pleaded guilty to offences, including two counts of indecent assault.

The court was told Ball hand-picked 18 vulnerable victims to commit acts of "debasement" in the name of religion, including praying naked at the altar and encouraging them to submit to beatings.

The review stated: "The Church at its most senior levels and over many years supported [Ball] unwisely and displayed little care for his victims.

"Much of what we have described took place in different times and should be viewed from that perspective.

"But such perverse and sustained abuse by a senior figure in the Church and the Church's failure to safeguard so many boys and young men still casts a long shadow."

Lord Carey has voluntarily stepped down from his role as an assistant bishop in Oxford after Mr Welby asked him to "review his position".

Richard Scorer, a specialist abuse lawyer at Slater and Gordon, who represents a number of Ball's victims, said: “It’s clear that senior figures concealed very serious allegations against Ball - the institution colluded with an abuser.

“Evidence that Lord Carey turned a blind eye to reports of Ball’s offending is damning, but the report highlights that failure to safeguard vulnerable boys and young men continued under Carey’s successor Rowan Williams.

“This appalling abdication of responsibility, from the most senior figures in the church, is unforgivable. One of Ball’s victims went on to kill himself.”

One of Ball’s victims said: “This report confirms what we had suspected; that senior figures knew what Ball was up to but decided against taking any action. It is disgraceful that they thought having a quiet word with Ball and dealing with the matter internally was the best way to proceed when they knew about what was going on.

“In light this report, the police should examine the evidence to see if Carey’s actions constitute misconduct in a public office.

“How badly do people in positions of authority have miss or ignore the signs before they are held criminally responsible?”

“We urgently need a mandatory reporting law, making it a legal duty for people in positions of responsibility to alert the authorities if they suspect abuse has taken place, and providing for criminal penalties against those who collude or conceal these crimes.”