October 18 2017 – “Act promptly” – Bishop George Bell – ‘The Caution List’ – January 1939

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“Act promptly” – Bishop Bell – Page 197

“He belonged to his age and still has the power to belong to another” – Andrew Chandler on Bishop Bell – Page 166

‘In 1946 the bishops of the Church of England received on “absolutely confidential” terms a compendium of the codes and practices of episcopacy. Drawn from the official minutes of the Bishops’ Meetings, this presented a selection of decisions on a variety of matters agreed by the bishops across the first half of the twentieth century, and it allows the historian to understand more clearly how the episcopacy understood itself, not in public but behind closed doors.

‘Here, for example, among the sections listed in the table of contents is one on “Clergy: Discipline and Disability.” Over this it is worth pausing, not least because perhaps the only official, printed acknowledgement that there existed in the Church of England a Caution List.

‘[The Archbishop of Canterbury: ‘To the outside world there is no such thing as the Caution List.”] This named priests known to have been guilty of criminal or moral offenses or viewed with “grave suspicion.”

‘In fact, there were national and diocesan caution lists, and each diocesan bishop was advised to keep his own up-to-date, to consult it before making any appointment, and to pass any new name directly to Lambeth Palace. 

‘This significant, secret manual of episcopal practice was no ordinary labor, and it required no ordinary editor. A prefatory note by Archbishop Fisher announced, “We owe the revision of a record first compiled in 1912 to the industry of the Bishop of Chichester.” [Note 2: Private Memoranda of certain matters discussed at the Bishops’ Meetings of Bishops of the Three Provinces of Canterbury, York and Wales held at Lambeth Palace (1902-1945), together with certain Resolutions adopted by the Convocations of Canterbury and York (1946), Bell Papers, vol. 306. Bell was clearly proud of this publication, writing his name and the exact date of issue (10 January 1946) on the flyleaf]

‘When Bell became chaplain to Archbishop Davidson he would have taken the minutes of these important, but private, meetings of bishops. After he became a bishop himself he never rested content merely to accept the official minutes now provided by his successors . He made his own.

‘It is interesting to compare his notes with the official record from which the 1946 compendium was drawn. Discussion of clergy discipline seldom occurred, for they were regarded as diocesan matters.

‘But when the revision of the Caution List was raised in January 1939 Bell’s notes, though abbreviated, become strikingly firm.

‘”Act promptly,” he writes in bold handwriting, underlining the words not once but twice.

‘This stands out on the page because Bell seldom drew a single line under a word in these meetings , and in all the notes that he made across almost thirty years it is indeed one of the very few times that any phrase or word was emphasized not once, but twice. The word “proofs” follows clearly, though further words are obscure. [Note 3: Bell Papers, vol. 301, p. 5]

‘By the late 1940s and early 1950s Bell was in age and experience a very senior bishop indeed, one whose authority was called upon by both archbishops if they were poorly placed, or unable, to execute a confidential duty themselves. The author knows of one case of clergy discipline in which Bell was asked to intervene. Indeed, by now a working relationship with the Caution List had been a part of almost Bell’s entire career…

‘The allegation of 2015 is anomalous. Indeed, it seems to exist in its own world, evidently uncorroborated by any other independent source. It also remains unique, for apparently no other such accusation has arisen.

‘In sum, we are asked to invest an entire authority in one testimony, and to dismiss all the materials by which we have come to know the historical George Bell as mere figments of reputation.

‘The corollary of such a method may now be witnessed in the hasty removal of his name or image from public institutions and commemorations.

‘It may simply be observed here that such iconoclastic activities are not unknown to historians of other, far darker, times and contexts’. 

 

[Source: “George Bell, Bishop of Chichester – Church, State, and Resistance in the Age of Dictatorship” by Andrew Chandler – Eerdmans 2016 – ‘Postlude: History and Allegation’ – Pages 196 to 199]

 

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