Written by Bishop Dr Gavin Ashenden
The facts are on the whole well known. Lord Carlile, having been forbidden by his terms of reference to judge the innocence or guilt of poor Bishop Bell, did allow himself to tell the world that Bell would never have been found guilty in a court of law.
Peter Hitchens was almost apoplectic with surprise and frustration at Welby’s intransgence.
“Mr Welby, in his very thin responses to the Carlile report, has never really addressed this. He has said that the report didn’t rule on Bell’s guilt or innocence, an almost childishly absurd response, since Mr Welby had told Lord Carlile in his terms of reference that he could not rule on this. In any case, Lord Carlile has repeatedly said since, in response to media questions, that no court would have convicted George Bell on the evidence which has been produced against him. It is clear that had Lord Carlile been asked to rule on George Bell’s guilt or innocence, he would have pronounced him ‘not guilty’. So what, precisely is the evidence on which the Archbishop of Canterbury, supposedly spiritual leader of millions, guardian of the foundations of truth and justice, maintains that there is still a ‘cloud ‘over George Bell’s name?”
Sane and sensible commentators are astonished that Justin Welby refuses to apologise, but continues to insist that a cloud of suspicion continued to hang over George Bell’s reputation.
People have been taken aback at what seemed so astonishing, irrational and ungracious response.
Perhaps Justin Welby thought that his refusal to change his and therefore the Church’s official position would be an end of the matter. If so, he underestimated the passion and concern for the truth that so many people felt.
Truth has been one of the casualties of the growth of the influence of the post-modern in our culture. It has been knocked down the hierarchy of values by different narratives, particularly those that have to do with a redistribution of power.
The whole safeguarding culture, which began as a sensible and responsible response to decades of irresponsibility, has become inflated into a tool of power itself; but re-distributive power. The power that intends to dethrone the old agents of influence in society (mainly white, Christian, elderly men) and redistribute it to those perceived as their victims.
There is no doubt at all that people who suffered sexual abuse at the hands of predators are indeed victims. But the whole dynamic of safeguarding culture has exploded into something far beyond taking more sensible protective steps to diminish the opportunities for predators. It has become a tool of control in itself. You only have to adduce ‘safeguarding concerns’ in any context within the Church or society to exercise complete power. No one can challenge you.
And this shift of re-empowerment of the victims which began easily enough with the egalitarian insistence of equality of outcomes between the genders in the Church in the face of both Scripture and tradition, got extended to homosexuality too. Once again, still in the face of Scripture and tradition, gay pride (didn’t the pride give just a clue as to the spiritual flavour of the movement?) and gay rights began to take precedence over the virtues of chastity and continence, enjoined on all people, straight, bi- or homosexual, outside Christian marriage.
Justin Welby himself seemed to take some delight in extending this shift, once more flying in the face of the Bible and tradition, as he took up ‘trans rights’, penning the introduction to a new book on gender identity for Church of England schools.
So many people are stunned in quiescence by the gay/trans propaganda, that they give in, almost immediately, since they don’t know, or haven’t found out the facts that tell very different truths about these developments in human sexuality, than the cosmetic superficial narratives.
But with George Bell, suddenly the campaign to strip old Christian white men in general and Bishop George Bell in particular of their public virtue, hit some rocks.
Because for once, the truth of the matter became accessible. It became clear to any fair-minded person that George Bell was innocent.
Now that the Carlile review had put the facts in the public domain people were, free, enabled, empowered even to make up their own minds in pursuit of the truth.
And thank goodness, it was clear that a great number of people were so attached to the truth that they were prepared to read, think and then protest, in the name of justice.
The shibboleth of safeguarding, inviolate in other circumstances, could at last be challenged; but not by the irresponsible rather in the name of the truth and justice.
Eleven eminent scholars of ecumenism wrote to the Times. The objected forcefully that
“The way in which the allegations against him were dealt with has shocked people well beyond both the Anglican communion and Britain. There has been a miscarriage of justice for one who himself fought so earnestly for the victims of injustice.”
Seven prominent historians also wrote;
“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.”
We cannot understand how such an unsupported, indeed insupportable, allegation can be upheld by a responsible public authority. Quite simply, it is indefensible.
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 a paedophile. We state this after reviewing all that is known about his character and behaviour over many years.”
“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”
A group of former Chichester Cathedral choristers, (including the doughty fighter for liberal causes on General Synod, Tom Sutcliffe) who had some real experience of sexual abused at that time in that place wrote:
“We choristers had a fair sense of George Bell as a man whose fundamental integrity we saw; and throughout our life have continued to value.”
“We, alas, had some real experience of what a paedophile could be: a master was relieved of this post and replaced without police involvement when one of us went with his parents to tell the dean what was happening,” they said.
“We never accepted that ‘Carol’ identified Bishop Bell rightly as her abuser.”
Welby was stung into a 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.”
The only argument he gave was by comparing the Bell case to that of Peter Ball.
“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.”
But this is of course ludicrous. The argument works against him. It’s true that what both bishops had in common was an accusation of sexual abuse. But what distinguished them from one another was that in Ball’s case, the several victims were living; the police took the matter to court; the victims testified in court; Ball was found guilty.
In Bell’s case the ingredients are exactly the opposite; there was one person; she was elderly; her accusation was entirely uncorroborated; the evidence was never tested. And the only point where an expert opinion was brought in was in the form of Professor Tony Maden, a psychiatrist who examined her, said the
“delays in reporting in this case are exceptional…..memory is not reliable over such long periods of time”. He added “false memory” could not be ruled out as an explanation for her claim in the absence of any corroboration.”
So, what does it mean when the Archbishop says “I cannot with integrity rescind my statement”?
He has at best muddled himself. He is in the grip of what appears to be both a serious sin and a psychological distortion.
At some point, he has conflated what he thinks is right with the notion of his integrity. He has convinced himself, having fallen victim to pride, that since what he thinks is right must be right, it is his ‘integrity’ that is at stake when he is challenged.
But what the challenge to his opinion has done in fact is to expose his soul.
One might argue in his defence that all that has been exposed is stupidity, because one would have to be dull in mind not to weigh up the evidence and come to the conclusion along with the choristers and the historians and the ecumenists that Bell was innocent. But Welby is not stupid. In which case one has to ask if he has become proud and obdurate.
And the trouble with pride and obduracy is that if it bites sufficiently deeply, one’s cognitive reasoning can become impaired.
What might flow from this?
The great danger he is in is that he loses all spiritual and moral authority. He becomes a hollow figure of religion, rather than an authentic spiritual leader and inspiration.
He appears to have set his pride and ego against the truth, and is losing. The forces of truth, integrity and fairness will not give up in the face of such badly graced egocentricity, but will continue to hold him to account for his denial of the truth, repudiation of justice, and his bullying of Bell; a bullying made no less real because the man is dead and has only his reputation left- but rather more real and unkinder.
As Archbishop Cranmer (aka Adrian Hilton) in his blog astutely observed
“How does Lambeth Palace think this will end? The issue isn’t just going to hang around like a bad smell: it’s going to hinder and detract from Archbishop Justin’s entire episcopal ministry; it’s going to bind and frustrate every utterance he makes on the themes of integrity, truth and justice.”
Tragically the ingredients of this story of corruption aren’t restricted to pride and obduracy. There may something more sinister underlying the narrative.
The paradox is that the whole of the safeguarding initiative was born out of a desire to rightly restrain the abuse of power.
The use and abuse of power among Christians within the Church has been the cause of the deepest and worst forms of spiritual septicaemia down the ages. Power and the concomitant pride stand at the opposite axis to love and humility.
But the abuse of power can be found beyond the circles of sexual predators. It can pervert institutions, committees, administrators, and even bishops.
That’s the problem with power. It is addictive. As Jesus Himself observed about the sword, the same is true about power in the spiritual struggle, as in- “those who live by the exercise of power, will die by the exercise of power (pace Matthew 26.52).
It seems that sometimes not only have the proponents of progressive culture adopted the neo-Marxist propensity for worshipping power and then = redistributing it according to the dictates of the new hierarchy of victims, but they have become corrupted themselves by association with power.
It may be that Justin Welby’s evident anger and frustration at being challenged by so many people, flows not only from the pique of personal wounded pride, but appears also to be connected to his own use and in this case abuse of power as CEO of C of E Inc.
When Marlowe’s Doctor Faustus made a pact with the devil, he knew what he was doing. But the disaster that befell him as the devil came to claim his soul in return for the exercise of power that Faustus has enjoyed, undid him.
“The stars move still, time runs, the clock will strike,
The devil will come, and Faustus must be damned.
O I’ll leap up to my God! Who pulls me down?
See, see where Christ’s blood streams in the firmament!
One drop would save my soul, half a drop: ah my Christ—
Ah, rend not my heart for naming of my Christ;
Yet will I call on him—O spare me, Lucifer!”
The tragedy for Faustus was that although he had once served Christ, he had consciously changed masters. He knew what he was doing, which is why having called on Christ as a reflex, his final fruitless beseeching is to Lucifer – his real master.
Faustus knew what he was doing. But perhaps Archbishop Welby genuinely doesn’t?
It seems that his privileging of his pride and his commitment to the exercise of his power, are still wrapped up in in a presenting Christian culture, albeit one steeped in socialism and the preoccupation with secular victimhood. He has convinced himself that he is doing good, even though he is in fact, doing bad.
There is one way out, but he has so far consistently refused to take it.
It is to admit what is so obvious to so many other people:
that he has after all made a mistake; that he is sorry and that he craves forgiveness from the soul of George Bell, his family, and all those whose devotion to truth and justice, along with the ecumenists, historians, judges, choristers and commentators have been so profoundly offended by his intransigence.
Perhaps he might be firstly warned by the words of Jesus,:
“Whoever wants to save his life, will lose it.” (Matt 16.25)
but then encouraged:
“For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.” Luke 14.11.