En route, I decided to drop in on Chichester .
Readers may well remember the case of George Bell, the heroic wartime Bishop of Chichester, who, though dead for nearly 60 years, was last year pronounced by his own diocese to have abused a young girl at the end of the Forties. It seemed to me – and many others, including those who knew Bell well – that the finding against him was extremely unlikely to be true. When we looked at the process by which he was declared to have been a paedophile, it seemed unjust. Bell’s case had never been put; witnesses, diaries etc, from that distant date had not been examined, and the account of the complainant “Carol” had not been closely tested. The Church had simply rushed to avoid a court case.
Last week, in the House of Lords, when the nation’s attention was on Boris and Gove, powerful speeches were made in defence of Bell. The Church announced a review of the process, but said in advance that this could not change its conclusion. I sense the tide might turn if the pressure is maintained.
In Chichester Cathedral, I inspected the Bell-Arundel Screen, to which Bell’s memorial is attached.
When his alleged abuse was announced, the cathedral authorities stuck up a notice beside the monument publishing his disgrace. This has now disappeared, and members of the congregation leave flowers there in honour of Bell’s memory. Do drop in and leave some.
I also inspected the Bishop’s Palace that Bell inhabited.
“Carol” says that he would stand at the top of the staircase in the kitchen and take her along a corridor to abuse her in a book-lined study. The kitchen at that time belonged to the theological college, not to the bishop, who lived on the other side of the palace. There was no upstairs corridor leading from the college to Bell’s study. I wish that chap from ‘Grantchester’ could sort this one out fairly. The real-life clergy haven’t.
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