The accusations made against Bishop George Bell of Chichester have now been in the news in England for some time. In a letter published today seven leading academic historians have asserted that the Archbishop of Canterbury has shamed his office with “irresponsible and dangerous” claims that Bishop Bell may have been a paedophile – claims made after an independent review by Lord Carlile of Berriew clearly and in great detail indicated that there is no credible evidence to allow such accusations against Bishop Bell to stand. In spite of this, the Archbishop, the Most Revd. Justin Welby, has said that a “significant cloud is left over his name.”
George Bell, who died in 1958, was one of the most revered Anglican leaders of the twentieth century, a man of outstanding courage in his fight against tyranny in Hitler’s Germany, of whom it was said by one of clergy in his diocese of Chichester, he “loved and cared for his own large diocese with a pastoral zeal which is an inspiration to all his dearly beloved brethren and children in Jesus Christ.” It is now very clear that no case that bears any critical scrutiny has been found against Bishop Bell and yet the Archbishop continues, in his statement of 15th December 2017, to suggest that guilt remains in the “significant cloud” which he insists still hangs over him.
We, as academics and members of the Scottish Episcopal Church within the Anglican Communion of which Bell was such a distinguished light, deplore the failure of Archbishop Welby to withdraw his statements about Bishop Bell and fear for the considerable damage which this failure is inflicting upon the Church of which he is called, by his office, to be the guardian. This is more than simply a matter of misjudgment, but a failure, for whatever reason, to maintain the pastoral duties of the Archbishop’s office, such duties as Bell himself faithfully sustained in the diocese of Chichester.
We therefore ask Archbishop Welby clearly to repudiate what he has said concerning Bishop Bell and restore to his office in Canterbury the respect and dignity which it properly holds in our society.
The Revd Canon Professor David Jasper DD FRSE
Professor Canon Ann Loades CBE