The Archbishop of Canterbury has been criticised for refusing to clear the bishop besmirched by the Church of England and saying instead that a “significant cloud” hangs over him.
A damning report published today by Lord Carlile of Berriew found that the reputation of Bishop George Bell, who was posthumously accused of sexually abusing a child, was “wrongfully and unnecessarily damaged” by the Church, who publicly named him in an apology made in 2015.
But in a statement following the report, Justin Welby said Bell was “accused of great wickedness” and apologises only “for the failures of the process”.
“We have to differ from Lord Carlile’s point that ‘where as in this case the settlement is without admission of liability, the settlement generally should be with a confidentiality provision’.
“The C of E is committed to transparency and therefore we would take a different approach,” he adds.
Lord Carlile said the Archbishop’s comments were “very disappointing”.
“The implication of what he said is everybody accused should have their name made public, and that is just not acceptable,” he told the Daily Telegraph.
Lord Carlile earlier said that he judged the prospect of a successful criminal prosecution, had the bishop been alive, as “low”.
Bell’s supporters also criticised the Archbishop’s response.
Dr Ruth Hildebrandt Grayson, the daughter of Bishop Bell’s friend Franz Hildebrandt, said Bishop Bell’s family deserved a personal apology from the Archbishop and the Bishop of Chichester.
“The Church can’t have its cake and eat it. Either he is innocent, in which case they must apologise, or he is guilty, which they can’t prove, and the report makes clear that they have not proved,” she told this newspaper.
Professor Andrew Chandler, Bell’s biographer, said the Archbishop’s statement was “wrong” and “illogical”.
“It fails a basic test of rational justice,”he said. “It lacks an understanding of all kinds of dimensions which require compassion, not least in Chichester, where people feel deeply upset by this.”
The review found that the Church was wrong to publicly name Bell, who was accused by a woman known as Carol of sexually abusing her when she was a young child.
It also failed to thoroughly investigate the allegations, failed to find and inform Bell’s surviving family members of the investigation, and did not properly consider the impact on the bishop’s reputation when deciding what to do, Lord Carlile said.
The alleged abuse took place more than 60 years ago but the allegations were first made to the Church in 1995.
It paid compensation of £16,800 and £15,000 legal costs to “Carol” in 2015.
Before the allegations were made public Bishop Bell was a highly respected theologian who was widely regarded as a hero for his work helping victims of Nazi persecution.
The report includes the findings of psychiatrist Professor Anthony Maden, which were given to Church officials in 2015, several months before the public apology was made.
He found that there were “enormous problems” because of the time elapsed, and said the “possibility of false memories in this case cannot be excluded”.
The alleged victim had been abused by her first husband, and Maden added that her unhappy early life meant there was “an obvious temptation to seek to (consciously or unconsciously) allocate the blame for that unhappiness to the actions of others in the distant past”.
In a statement Peter Hancock, the Church’s lead safeguarding bishop, said: “We recognise that Carol has suffered pain, as have surviving relatives of Bishop Bell. We are sorry that the Church has added to that pain through its handling of this case.”