What good is a church without justice?
As Mrs Merton might have asked: ‘So, Archbishop Welby, why have you now sat for 50 whole days on a report which says the Church of England did a wrong and unjust thing?’
I am repeatedly disgusted by the way in which our country has forgotten the basic rules of English justice. And I have written before here about the case of George Bell, the saintly and brave Bishop of Chichester who repeatedly risked unpopularity rather than remain silent about wrongdoing. If only there were more like him. He died in 1958, much mourned. Yet two years ago, on the basis of a single uncorroborated accusation made many decades after the alleged crime, the Church of England publicly denounced him as a child abuser.
Somehow, the allegation became a conviction and was blazed abroad on the BBC and in several newspapers which should have known better. Despite huge publicity nationally and locally, no other accusation has been made in the years since.
I had long revered Bell’s memory, and, with several allies, sought to get justice for him. We found that he had been convicted by a slapdash and inconsiderate kangaroo court.
They made no serious effort to consult Bell’s huge archive (or his biographer, who knew his way around it) to check the claims against it. They never found or warned Bell’s living niece, Barbara Whitley, who was astonished and appalled to see her uncle suddenly smeared in public, and is still livid.
They never looked for or consulted Adrian Carey, Bell’s personal chaplain, who lived in the Bishop’s Palace at the time of the supposed crimes. We did. Until the day he died, Canon Carey rejected the charges as baseless and impossible.
The Church’s main response was to accuse us, quite falsely, of attacking the complainant, which we never did. Then, very grudgingly, it announced a review. Then, with glacial slowness, it appointed a QC, Lord Carlile, to undertake it. Lord Carlile delivered his report on October 7. You can imagine what it says. The C of E is still making excuses for not publishing it. How quick they were to condemn another. How slow they are to admit their own fault.
Publish it now.