Peter Halliday continued to work with children until his arrest
Campaigners have called the Church of England's failure to tell police about an ex-choirmaster who sexually abused children "totally irresponsible".
Peter Halliday, 61, from Farnborough, Hants, was jailed for 30 months after admitting sex offences from the 1980s.
BBC News has learned he admitted the abuse 17 years ago, but left the Church quietly on condition he had no further contact with children.
Church officials say they now have "robust" child protection policies.
Halliday, who is married, was ordered to pay all three victims £2,000 each, after admitting to 10 counts of abuse at an earlier hearing at Winchester Crown Court.
He abused the boys who were in his church choir between 1985 and 1990.
Judge Ian Pearson banned Halliday from working with children and said he would be put on the Sex Offenders Register, both for life.
'Duty of care'
Bishop David Wilcox, who was among those to make the decision not to inform police of Halliday's behaviour, said it was a common way of dealing with such cases at the time.
"I believe that we sought to act in the best interests - not only of the Church, but of the family and of everybody concerned at that time," he said.
"Things were very different then. I think that we make the mistake of trying to read back what we now know and how we now do things."
But the Churches' Child Protection Advisory Service said the bishop's argument was a "red herring" and it was "well known even then" that such cases had to be reported to police.
Anti-abuse campaigner Margaret Kennedy, of the Minister and Clergy Sexual Abuse Survivors group, said the Church had a "duty of care" towards children.
"You might have wanted to be pastorally caring for the individual victim - but that meant that this guy was out there for 16 years and it's totally irresponsible."
Det Sgt Alison Heydari, of Hampshire Police, said Halliday's actions had had a "devastating impact on his victims and their families".
In 1990 a young chorister at St Peter's Church in Farnborough told his parents his choirmaster had abused him repeatedly during a period of several years, and he was not the only victim.
His parents told the vicar, who consulted the bishop - but rather than call the police the churchmen advised Halliday he should leave quietly and agree to have no more contact with young children.
One of his victims, who was 10 years old at the time, told BBC News how Halliday abused him during individual tuition and also on choir trips.
"It even happened when I was in dormitories with other boys," he said.
"I was horrified. When your first sexual experience is a 40-year-old man forcing himself on you it's pretty horrific."
Halliday continued to work with young boys, as a singer with the Royal School of Church Music, which said the child abuse was "entirely unconnected" with the school.
It was only when Halliday was charged last year with indecently assaulting children that he gave up his work with the school.
Church of England national safeguarding adviser, the Reverend Pearl Luxon, who is responsible for child protection issues, said the Church had "robust policies in place" to deal with child abuse.
Child abuse lawyer Richard Scorer said the Church had not dealt very well with child protection until recent times, but that things were improving.
In a statement, the Church of England said it was committed to the safeguarding, care and nurture of the children within the Church community.