The Church of England has been accused of disclosing evidence of a fresh allegation against Bishop George Bell in order to preserve the Archbishop of Canterbury from embarrassment at Synod.
The Church announced it had received “fresh information” about alleged sexual abuse by the highly-respected bishop, who died more than 70 years ago, on Wednesday, just over a week before the issue was due to be debated at a meeting of the Church of England’s governing body.
Synod members who had planned to propose a motion aimed at beginning the process of rehabilitating Bell’s reputation have decided to shelve it as a result.
The motion, which is currently being assessed by Church of England lawyers, would not have been discussed at this month’s meeting but would have been added to the agenda for later meetings had it received enough support.
But its proposer David Lamming, a lay member from the diocese of St Edmundsbury & Ipswich said he had decided to “put it on ice” following the disclosure of the new allegation.
Motions must receive 100 signatures in order to be added to the potential agenda for future events.
Mr Lamming told the Daily Telegraph: “I don’t think I can ask Synod to sign something that they are uncomfortable with in the light of this recent development.”
Dr Ruth Hildebrandt Grayson, the daughter of Bishop Bell’s friend Franz Hildebrandt, said the development made her “question [Welby’s] leadership”.
“I’m quite sure it was to distract attention away from the pressure that was building on Justin Welby to apologise for his earlier statement,” she said.
“An Archbishop has to be able to take a bit of embarrassment, he has got to be able to say that he’s got it wrong.”
Professor Andrew Chandler, Bell’s biographer, said: “People will assume that there is some manipulation at work in all this, and whether that is true or not I don’t know.
“In the intensely political context in which all of this has emerged, it’s natural for people to have these suspicions, but it’s the Church that has created this context.”
In a statement released on Wednesday, Bishop Peter Hancock, the Church of England’s lead Safeguarding bishop said the announcement was made “in light of General Synod questions that need to be responded to and the reference to the case in the IICSA hearing yesterday”.