Church leaders failed to give police incriminating evidence about disgraced former Bishop Peter Ball in 1993, according to Sussex police documents.
Ball, 84, was jailed last year for sex assaults on 18 teenagers and young men in the 1970s, 80s and 90s.
Files obtained by the BBC indicate Lambeth Palace received six letters detailing indecency allegations shortly after an arrest in 1992.
Ball was cautioned but worked in churches and schools for 15 more years.
Richard Scorer, a lawyer at Slater and Gordon, said: "It's an absolute scandal. It is wrong and unacceptable that the Church of England sat on the information and didn't pass it to the police.
"There is no question Peter Ball would have been prosecuted, convicted and jailed for child abuse at that time."
The Church of England has declined to comment.
Former Archbishop of Canterbury Lord Carey told the BBC last year that he had placed Peter Ball on a list of priests banned from the ministry.
But Sussex police documents, released under an Freedom of Information (FOI) request, suggest Ball's name was not included.
The documents also indicate Ball associated with other sex offenders in the clergy and that he was investigated in 2008 for being part of a suspected paedophile ring.
The police files also suggest Ball covered for and helped other priests accused of sex abuse, including:
- In 1978, Ball failed to take appropriate action against a priest who abused a child and went on to abuse others.
- In 1985, Ball let a priest who had abused a 14-year-old boy stay in his home after his release from prison, and provided the abuser with a positive report enabling him to return to work.
- In 2009, Ball tried to persuade a teenage boy to apologise to a priest who had allegedly abused him.
Analysis by BBC South East Special Correspondent Colin Campbell:
These files give a further insight into how the church handled Ball's case. It seems the Diocese of Chichester did not share documents which could have jailed Ball earlier.
There is no explanation about how he was able to gain a clear Criminal Records Bureau (CRB) check, so he could continue working in the church.
The documents reveal Bishop Peter Ball considered asking the home secretary to overturn his caution in the 1990s.
They also detail the "limited disciplinary action" taken by the-then Archbishop of Canterbury Lord Carey in relation to Ball and "his return to ministry".
In February, it was announced Dame Moira Gibb was chairing an independent review of the Ball case to consider what information was available to the Church of England, who had it and when.
A month later, Justice Lowell Goddard's inquiry into historical child sex abuse announced it would consider whether there was interference by the Church in the Peter Ball case.
Lord Carey's spokesman, his son Andrew, declined to comment on the new claims but said: "Lord Carey is working with and cooperating fully with two ongoing enquiries - Dame Moira Gibb's review and the Goddard Enquiry".