I felt this exchange from the latest George Bell thread deserved a post of its own, and some emphases that cannot be given in the text of comments:
Mr Bunker writes:’ No need to re-read the Archbishop of Canterbury’s statement to know that he did not “compare opinions held mistakenly before a fair trial and conviction showed them to be wrong” with current opinions on the Bishop Bell case. Far from it.
The Archbishop merely pointed out the following: That what is “alleged could not have been true” (because someone is “absolutely certain that it was impossible”) “sometimes turns out to be untrue” as it did, for example, in the case of Bishop Ball.
And that is a simple statement of fact. Not a comparison. – I can’t put it more plainly than that.
****PH responds: here is the Archbishop’s statement in full :
‘Following a letter sent to Lambeth Palace and also to the Telegraph newspaper by a group of academics, I felt it important to send a considered, personal response and this statement reflects the essence of my reply.
I cannot with integrity rescind my statement made after the publication of Lord Carlile’s review into how the Church handled the Bishop Bell case. I affirmed the extraordinary courage and achievement of Bishop Bell both before the war and during its course, while noting the Church has a duty to take seriously the allegation made against him.
Our history over the last 70 years has revealed that the Church covered up, ignored or denied the reality of abuse on major occasions. I need only refer to the issues relating to Peter Ball to show an example. As a result, the Church is rightly facing intense and concentrated scrutiny (focussed in part on the Diocese of Chichester) through the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA). Our first hearing is in March.
The Diocese of Chichester was given legal advice to make a settlement based on the civil standard of proof, the balance of probability. It was not alleged that Bishop Bell was found to have abused on the criminal standard of proof, beyond reasonable doubt. The two standards should not be confused. It should be remembered that Carol, who brought the allegation, was sent away in 1995, and we have since apologised for this lamentable failure; a failure highlighted by Lord Carlile.
I wrote my response with the support of both Bishop Peter Hancock, the lead bishop for safeguarding, and Bishop Martin Warner, the Bishop of Chichester. We are clear that we accept all but part of one of the recommendations Lord Carlile makes and we are extremely grateful to him for what he has done and the help he has given the Church.
He indicates that in his judgement, a better way to have handled the allegation would have been for the Church to offer money on condition of confidentiality. We disagree with this suggestion. The confidentiality would have been exposed through the IICSA process, and the first question we would have faced, both about Bishop Bell and more widely, would have been ‘so what else are you concealing?’. The letter from the historians does not take into account any of these realities, nor the past failures of the Church. But we will go on considering how we can make our processes better and more robust, as pointed out by Lord Carlile.
As in the case of Peter Ball, and others, it is often suggested that what is being alleged could not have been true, because the person writing knew the alleged abuser and is absolutely certain that it was impossible for them to have done what is alleged. As with Peter Ball this sometimes turns out to be untrue, not through their own fault or deceit but because abuse is often kept very secret. The experience of discovering feet of clay in more than one person I held in profound respect has been personally tragic. But as I said strongly in my original statement the complaint about Bishop Bell does not diminish the importance of his great achievements and he is one of the great Anglican heroes of the 20th Century.’
** PH continues :He will note the operative section ‘As in the case of Peter Ball, and others, it is often suggested that what is being alleged could not have been true, because the person writing knew the alleged abuser and is absolutely certain that it was impossible for them to have done what is alleged. As with Peter Ball this sometimes turns out to be untrue, not through their own fault or deceit but because abuse is often kept very secret.’
This is a direct response to the historians, when they said: (First) : ‘We regard George Bell as a significant historical figure and *our assessment of his life and career has been an important aspect of our academic work. On this basis we suggest that our collective view on these matters constitutes a genuine and very pertinent authority.*
In this matter they are saying, with astonishing bluntness just this side of scorn, that they know better than the Archbishop, and are better qualified to judge the matter than the Archbishop.
They continue : ‘In your public statement of 15 December 2017, the authority of your position was used to perpetuate a single allegation made against Bishop Bell, and you did so in face of the independent review which the Church itself commissioned. We believe that your statement offends the most basic values and principles of historical understanding, ones which should be maintained firmly by those in positions of public authority across society. They must never be ignored or abused.’
**This further passage elaborates the same point***
‘In the past you have insisted that the Church’s view was based on an investigation that was ‘very thorough’. But Lord Carlile has plainly, and utterly, devastated this claim. Historians and lawyers both attach great importance to the presumption of innocence. Your comment seems to imply that a case against Bell has actually been established. It has not.
History cannot be made out of allegations. It is the study of sources. Lord Carlile’s review sets out the material of the allegation for everyone to assess for themselves, and he invites them to do so. There is nothing in it that connects in any way with what is firmly known about Bishop Bell. The allegation is not only wholly uncorroborated but is contradicted by all the considerable, and available, circumstantial material which any historian would consider credible. (****PH: This argument is what Mr Welby refers to, and seeks vainly to rebut, when he says lots of people thought Peter Ball was innocent, before he pleaded guilty to his undoubted crimes****)
The historians continued: ‘ Furthermore, even on its own terms we find it to depend wholly on scenarios which simply could not have occurred, given what is firmly known and authoritatively establishend
There is no credible representation of personalities, relationships, patterns or locations which is remotely recognisable (***PH notes, this passage is also plainly the object of Mr Welby’s reference to those who doubted the guilt of Peter Ball)**. Far from enhancing the allegation, the insistence on vivid quotations undermines critically a testimony in which the experiences of infancy are ‘recollected’, not immediately but at a distance of many decades. Even a modest historical sensitivity would have established the basic implausibility of such a testimony.
The material supporting this allegation does not in our view constitute a credible basis for the writing of history and it flies in the face of our customary critical method. It represents something quite different, an unhistorical, indeed anti-historical, testimony, explicable, perhaps, but in different terms. We cannot understand how such an unsupported, indeed insupportable, allegation can be upheld by a responsible public authority. Quite simply, it is indefensible.’
***PH notes: The reference to the Ball case is clearly a riposte to this (Mr Welby’s statement is a direct response to the letter. To which parts of that letter could it possibly be a response, if not those I cite?), though as I have explained it is a pathetically, pitiably inadequate and misplaced one.
As it happens, nobody in the Bell campaign, to my knowledge , has said that he or she *knows* him to be innocent. I certainly have not. In fact, from the very start, I have conceded explicitly that the allegations against him *might* be true. I specifically said so in my original article on the subject in the Spectator. No honest inquiry or trial could proceed unless our minds were open to this possibility. (You might say that the Church could not have honestly inquired into the matter unless their minds were open to the possibility that George Bell was innocent. And you could reasonably say that they did nothing which suggests that their minds were open to this – not least, the appalling fact that Bishop Bell had no advocate or defender during this procedure, let alone a presumption of innocence).
I several times said privately to my allies in this that we must not be afraid of the truth. If persuasive evidence emerged that Bell was indeed a child molester, then we must concede it immediately, and withdraw. This was the explicit price of engaging in such a campaign, and if we lacked the courage to face it, we should keep quiet. As it happens, in the two years of this campaign, not one solitary further accusation of this kind has emerged, despite local, national and now international publicity given to the accusation. On the contrary, two persuasive witnesses have emerged, who recall the time and place at which the crimes are supposed to have taken place and who (from very different perspectives) offer evidence which fails to confirm, and casts doubt upon, the accusation.
I acted accordingly. Without knowing the answer to my question, I contacted both Sussex police and the NSPCC (who set up a helpline freephone after the allegation was publicised) to ask if there had been any further complaints against George Bell. I waited some months to do so. There were precisely none. For the same reason, I sought a meeting with the accuser, so that I could hear her side. This request was denied, though she had been willing to speak to other media and i was willing to abide by all necessary conditions to preserve her anonymity.
If Mr ‘Bunker’ has actually read the Carlile report and its annexes, he will know the great cloud of circumstantial evidence undermining Carol’s claim, and the total lack of hard corroboration of it, just as he will know that Professor Maden, engaged by the Church to examine the accusation, warned specifically and voluntarily of the possibility of false memory (though not all members of the investigating team were told of this) . No court, civil or criminal, would have found against George Bell on the basis of what we actually know. Thus, by any civilised measure, as well as in law, he remains innocent of the charge made (just as Peter Ball, by comparison a trivial figure, remains by any civilised measure guilty of the crimes of which he was accused). Those who insist there is a ‘cloud’ over George Bell’s reputation are no better than gossipers, rumour-mongers and purveyors of tittle tattle. I really do not know why Mr Bunker clings to his position, except to draw attention to himself.