Welby is urged to withdraw George Bell ‘cloud’ statement after Carlile report
19 JANUARY 2018
Portrait: George Bell, painted in 1955
THE Archbishop of Canterbury faces gathering international opposition and criticism over his response to the Carlile review of the Bishop Bell affair.
Two letters — one from seven academic historians, and another from 11 correspondents associated with the wider Church internationally and ecumenically — have been sent to the Archbishop. A third, from a group of theologians, is understood to be in preparation.
The historians’ letter expresses “profound dismay” at the Archbishop’s public statement after the publication of the Carlile report, and is scathing in its criticisms. It declares that the office of Archbishop gives him “no authority to pronounce on the reputation of Bishop Bell in the manner you have done. We are prepared, in this letter, to claim that authority. We state our position bluntly. There is no credible evidence at all that Bishop Bell was paedophile.”
The Carlile report concluded that Church of England officials had “rushed to judgement” when they concluded that Bishop Bell had sexually abused a young girl in the 1950s.
The historians — Professors Charmian Brinson, Andrew Chandler, John Charmley, Michael J. Hughes, Sir Ian Kershaw, Jeremy Noakes, and Keith Robbins — call on Archbishop Welby to withdraw comments that he made after the publication of the report, when he said that a “significant cloud is left over his [Bishop Bell’s] name” (News, 22 December).
They write: “None of us may be considered natural critics of an Archbishop of Canterbury, but we must also draw a firm line. The statement of 15 December 2017 seems to us both irresponsible and dangerous.
“We therefore urge you, in all sincerity, to repudiate what you have said before more damage is done and thus to restore the esteem in which the high, historic office to which you have been called has been held.”
The Revd Dr Keith Clements, a veteran Baptist ecumenist and former general secretary of the Conference of European Churches, is the lead signatory of the ecumenical letter, which urges that the wider community’s interests not be subordinated to the reputational interests of the C of E.
Dr Clement’s co-signatories include Professor John Briggs, a former member of the World Council of Churches’ executive committee; Bob Fyffe, secretary of Churches Together in Britain and Ireland (CTBI); and David Carter, former secretary of CTBI’s Theology and Unity Group. Others are Dr Guy Carter, Professor John W. de Gruchy, the Revd John W. Matthews, Dr Jacob Phillips, Dr Jaakko Rusama, Dr Ferdinand Schlingensiepen, and Canon Professor David Thompson.
They call on Archbishop Welby to do justice to Bishop Bell. “He is central to the ecumenical story of Christianity in the twentieth century, and as an inspiring leader he belongs to the ecumenical movement no less than to his own Church. The way in which the allegations against him were dealt with, and the slur allowed to fall on his character, has been deeply hurtful to all such,” they write.
“The ecumenical fellowship which regards George Bell as belonging to its own communion of saints will therefore expect that the Church of England will acknowledge its responsibility not just to its own interests and public reputation but to that wider community of which it is a part, and restore George Bell to his proper place of esteem.”