The Archbishop of Canterbury will be under renewed pressure at the Church of England’s ruling General Synod this week to renounce his claim that a ‘significant cloud’ remains over George Bell, a highly-respected bishop accused of sex abuse.
Members of synod, which acts as the church’s parliament, are today being asked to back a motion expressing ‘regret’ over Justin Welby’s handling of the case and calling for Bishop Bell’s ‘reputation as one of the great bishops of the Church of England is restored untarnished’.
The motion, seen by Christian Today, will be published as synod opens on Thursday after being approved by the church’s lawyers. It will not be debated at this week’s sessions but could be discussed at the next synod in July, if it receives enough support.
It comes after Welby said he could not retract his assessment that a ‘significant cloud’ hung over Bell’s reputation and the Church announced ‘fresh information’ had emerged about the case. Christian Today understands this involves a new complaint against Bishop Bell.
David Lamming, a lay member of synod and proposer of the motion, told Christian Today: ‘Regardless of this new information, the conclusions made in the damning Review by Lord Carlile QC into how the Church handled the case are important. General Synod must be given the opportunity to debate them.’
He added: ‘I initially considered putting the motion on ice while the investigation into these latest allegations unfolded but on second thoughts I think it important that synod has the opportunity to hold the Church to account for its processes and a debate on this motion would do just that. It will not be debated this week in any event, but if sufficient synod members sign it, that will be a clear indication that it should be on the agenda at York in July.’
The controversy over the George Bell case is likely to dominate this week’s synod with several questions tabled to the Archbishop of Canterbury on the issue.
It comes after an independent review into how the Church dealt with the allegation made by ‘Carol’ found officials ‘rushed to judgment’ and smeared Bell in its desperation to avoid being seen as soft on clerical sex abuse. The inquiry by Lord Carlile QC found ‘serious errors were made’ as a result of an ‘oversteer’ that presumed his guilt without fully looking at the evidence.
Despite the highly critical report Welby refused to apologise to Bell’s relatives and supporters and instead issued a statement that appeared to leave open the possibility of his guilt.
Two groups of Bell’s supporters, alongside a number of historians and academics, have criticised Welby’s statement after Carlile’s review judged there would not have been sufficient evidence for a guilty verdict in a criminal court.
A question from Mr Lamming is thought to have prompted the Church’s admission of ‘fresh information’ after he tabled a question asking if there is ‘considered to be any evidence or other information that would support or corroborate the claim by “Carol” that she was sexually abused as a child by Bishop Bell?’