A retired bishop who has admitted sex offences against young men, should have faced charges 22 years ago, the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) has admitted.
The CPS said a caution given to Peter Ball in 1993 was wrong as there was sufficient evidence to prosecute.
However, it said its approach to sexual abuse has changed and such a decision would not be made today.
On Tuesday, Ball, 83, pleaded guilty to 18 charges of sex abuse involving men between the 1970s and 1990s.
He also pleaded guilty to the offence of misconduct in public office between 1977 and 1992.
Ball, now of Langport in Somerset, was Bishop of Lewes between 1977 and 1992 and Bishop of Gloucester from 1992 until his resignation the following year.
'Avoid bad publicity'
He had originally accepted a caution for one act of gross indecency in 1993.
The full allegations only emerged after a review by the Church of England which subsequently prompted police action.
One of Ball's victims, Phil Johnson, who has waived his right to anonymity, said he believed influential people interfered with the inquiry.
He said it looked as though a deal was done between the church, the director of public prosecutions and the CPS.
"I think there was great effort made to avoid bad publicity and to avoid the embarrassment of trying a bishop in public."
Solicitor David Greenwood, who is representing some of the victims, said: "With more power comes the ability to work in a culture where you feel that you can get away with it.
"It seems Peter Ball has been able to do that."
Times reporter Sean O'Neill was in court when details of the original investigation were divulged.
He said: "We heard evidence of communications between the church and the CPS in which the church was suggesting that his resignation may help with the caution decision because the CPS was hinting to the church that they didn't really want to prosecute."
In a statement, the CPS said: "In order to prosecute this offence today, we have had to conclude that the decision to caution was wrong - there was sufficient evidence and it was in the public interest to prosecute at the time.
"Furthermore, in order for a caution to be given, a suspect must first make full and frank admissions to the alleged offence... such admissions were not made in the appropriate way."
However, it said it was now determined to tackle sexual abuse, no matter how long ago it is alleged to have happened.
The Archbishop of Canterbury at the time, George Carey, now Lord Carey, has strongly denied interfering in either the ongoing criminal investigation or the decision by the CPS not to prosecute.
He said: "I have seen a number of reports which appear to give the misleading impression that I interfered with the process of justice by contacting the Crown Prosecution Service.
"I only did so after Peter Ball had been cautioned. I wanted to make sure justice had been done."
After the guilty plea, the CofE issued an apology to victims and survivors and said it always takes allegations of abuse seriously. It said survivors must feel free to come forward knowing they will be listened to in confidence.
It has declined to make any further comment until Ball's sentencing - due to take place on 7 October - has been carried out.
Sussex Police said it had "not received any criticism or complaint from any victims about their relationship with us or the support we offered".
It added: "The decision not to proceed with the two indecent assault charges was taken by the CPS on the advice of prosecution counsel, and is not a matter for Sussex Police."