Finally… one brave bishop says sorry
Is the panic over? Are we beginning to realise that child abuse allegations – just like all other crimes – must be fairly investigated?
The resignation-prone Child Abuse Inquiry is in trouble precisely because it was based on a crowd-pleasing frenzy. The police are in difficulty because they forgot their job is open-minded investigation – assume nothing, believe nobody, check everything.
Now there is a flicker of good news from the Church of England too.
Trying to look tough on priestly child abuse when it had been feeble, the Church shamefully smeared one of its greatest figures – the late Bishop Bell of Chichester – as a paedophile. This was on the basis of a single, ancient uncorroborated allegation.
Since then, they have angrily refused to consider powerful expert evidence in his defence, or to admit that the secret kangaroo court which condemned Bishop Bell without hearing his side was at fault. Instead, they have attacked their critics, including me.
But there are at last signs that they too are recovering a sense of justice.
Yesterday, after months of shilly-shallying, the Bishop of Chelmsford apologised to me for falsely claiming that I and others had made hurtful comments about George Bell’s accuser, now an elderly lady.
The Bishop had made this baseless claim in the House of Lords, while trying to defend the Church’s behaviour.
It was typical of their refusal to recognise that they might be mistaken. They had a rigid groupthink which led them to believe the worst about their critics.
But the Bishop has now written to me to say ‘I am sorry that I said an untruth about you. I am seeking to make amends.’ And I have in turn forgiven him for what he said. I hope his courageous and Christian decision to break ranks with his rigid-minded colleagues will help to get a fair hearing for George Bell.
For I also learn that the Church is about to name the head of an independent review of these unproven allegations. About time. I took on this case more than a year ago because I fear that the old safeguards of English law are being destroyed. Without them, this country would be a tyranny.
Much of the damage was being done with public support, because of a mass panic about paedophilia. We all go on about how 17th Century witch-hunts and 20th Century McCarthyism were wrong. And so they were.
But would we recognise such things if they happened in our own time? Or stop them? Let’s see.