The summary of the report by the Church of England into ‘Christian anti-Semitism dating back centuries’ gives immediate cause for concern on at least two counts. First, it is staggering to read that hymns that ‘convey the teaching of contempt for Jews’ include Charles Wesley’s renowned Advent hymn ‘Lo, He comes with clouds descending’. The reference in that hymn to Christ’s crucifixion cannot be interpreted as in any way anti-Semitic. For one thing, it was the Romans, not the Jews, who crucified Jesus; and for another, it is meant to imply that all of us – who, like the multitudes who heralded His entry into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday – could like them turn against Him at a moment’s notice, especially if being seen to follow Him might place us in any danger ourselves. We are all, especially at this time of year, waiting to see the ‘true Messiah’, who we believe will indeed one day return (as Revelation 1 states) in clouds of glory. Or are we to take from this report that Revelation itself is anti-Semitic?
Secondly, it would appear from this summary that there is no mention in the report of those Church members, including senior clergy, who spoke out in this country against the persecution of Jews under the Third Reich during the 1930s and 1940s. Such individuals rank among their numbers the late Bishop George Bell of Chichester, who personally supported many Jews and non-Aryan Christians to come to this country, including my own father. Bell had a difficult time persuading politicians and Church colleagues alike that not all Germans were Nazis, and it is likely that his stance cost him the most senior post that the Church had to offer. It would be an act of true Christianity if more of the present-day Church of England leaders were to follow his self-sacrificing example.
Dr Ruth Hildebrandt Grayson
Friends and admirers of Bishop George Bell (who died in 1958) were appalled three years ago when a new guidebook to Chichester Cathedral was published.
A paragraph about the Bishop on page 37 accepted his identification (from a single accusation) as probably a paedophile, stating that the allegations, though never tested in a court of law, were ‘nonetheless plausible’.
An extra twist of the knife was the slightly unnecessary contention that ‘as Bell himself recognized, … supporting victims is always the right thing to do’.
The resulting outcry, in view of Bell’s previous blameless reputation, caused the Cathedral to withdraw the guidebook from its shop in the Cloisters, so that until recently the only guidebooks displayed were in French and German.
The 2016 revision could be sold to visitors who specifically requested it, but was kept under the counter as if it contained offensive material – as in a sense it did.
Now a newly revised version has silently appeared in the Cloisters shop. In this the ‘outing’ of Bell has been removed, to be replaced by a longer account of his friendship with the German theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer, executed by the Nazis in 1945.
It’s reassuring to see this evident change of view at the Cathedral over the character of one of Chichester’s greatest bishops.
Is it perhaps time now to commission for a site somewhere in or near the building a statue of this remarkable man?
Hawthorn Close, Chichester
Sad Times in the Church of England
For most of my life I have been an active member of the Church of England, and felt fortunate to be so. Suddenly I no longer feel that way. Since Justin Welby became Archbishop of Canterbury in 2013, the Church has been changing its nature and ceasing to be the organization I used to know.
My chief reason for saying this is the scandal relating to George Bell (1883–1958), who was bishop of Chichester from 1929 to his death. Bell is a man who would have been recognized as a saint, if the Church of England went in for saint-making. In the early 1930s he was active in support of workers harmed by the economic depression of that period. Then from 1934 on he became the leading voice outside Germany publicizing and protesting against Nazi anti-Semitic measures, supporting the section of the German Evangelical Church which opposed the Nazis, and helping Jewish refugees from Nazism. After World War II was under way, Bell was one of the very few public figures who condemned and used his role in Parliament to try to change the Allied policy of area bombing of civilian populations. Since the war it has been widely recognized that the bombing campaign was a barbaric stain on the British historical conscience, but at the time Bell’s stand attracted hostility, including from fellow church leaders. Bell tried to organize help for the anti-Nazi resistance within Germany, but was rebuffed by the British government – Bell believed that our government could have helped the July 1944 Hitler assassination plot to succeed, but instead chose to act in a way which ensured its failure. After the war, Bell was a leading proponent of magnanimity in victory, protesting for instance at the ethnic cleansing of Germans from Eastern European countries.
In 2013, when Bell had been dead more than half a century, one woman, “Carol”, complained to the new Archbishop that between the ages of five and nine she had been sexually abused by Bell. This was a period of public moral panic about sexual abuse of children. A number of appalling cases had come to light, involving people such as a recently-deceased show business personality, a still-living bishop, and a number of men from Muslim immigrant families who treated naive young white girls as meat to be passed round from bed to bed. As a result people, including the police, seemed disposed to take seriously even the flimsiest and most implausibly lurid allegations against public figures.
In the case of Bishop Bell, the Church rushed to accept “Carol’s” story with no apparent willingness to consider that the allegations might be false (although everyone by then could see that there was money to be made from false accusations). After holding an enquiry at which George Bell’s living relatives were not allowed to appoint a lawyer to defend Bell, the Church declared that it accepted the allegations, and paid “Carol” a substantial sum in compensation. A church school named after Bishop Bell was given a new name, and other similar moves were made to blot out the memory of Bell as a great man.
Many individual voices within the Church protested at this travesty of normal standards of justice and due process, but they were ignored, until in 2016 the Church asked the senior lawyer Lord Carlile to review the way it had dealt with “Carol’s” allegations. His conclusion was that the Church had “rushed to judgement” and “failed to follow a process that was fair and equitable to both sides”; but this led to no change of heart on the part of the Church authorities. In January 2018 they claimed that they had “fresh evidence” against Bell (a statement which Lord Carlile said ought not to have been made public when the details were not revealed and so could not be tested).
Obviously the worry, for those of us who feel shocked by all this, has been that if we were privy to whatever confidential information the Archbishop has, perhaps we would realize that the allegations were well-founded. But in March 2018 the man who had been “safeguarding officer” for Chichester diocese when the Church accepted the allegations made a statement which appeared to imply that the real reason for that acceptance had been, not conviction of their probable truth, but a desire to mitigate an uninsured financial risk in case of further similar allegations. (See p. 9 of The Spectator for 24 Mar 2018 – and see also a hard-hitting letter to the editor of the Daily Telegraph on the same date from Dr Ruth Grayson.)
This is not what we expect from the Church. What authority can it have to preach to us that care for other people should take precedence over our selfish financial interests, if it throws one of its great men to the wolves as soon as its own finances are threatened?
Justin Welby came to ministry unusually late, after an early career in the oil industry. The behaviour of the Church in the Bell case seems to reflect norms of the commercial world, where a firm will routinely trim its sails to shifts in public opinion so as to avoid any conflict which might threaten profits. From the Church we expect higher standards, and before the tenure of the current archbishop we got them.
A second episode which has reinforced my doubts about the Church today also relates to the current panic about “safeguarding children and vulnerable adults”. Our Deanery encouraged us to attend a training session on this subject, organized by our Diocese, at which most of the talking was by a woman who used to be in the police but has now been appointed by the diocese to improve safeguarding standards. The tiny congregation in our parish doesn’t really have children or vulnerable adults, but I dutifully went along. After a chunk of bureaucratic guff of interest only to administrators, the bulk of the session revolved round a series of hypothetical scenarios which we were invited to consider and decide whether they warranted reporting to the police. We were told “Say what you think – there are no right or wrong answers.” But when a couple of us ventured to put an alternative to the speaker’s point of view (in one case in particular, relating to money rather than sex, it seemed very easy to imagine that rushing to the police could do more harm than good), the shutters immediately came down. The speaker’s view was right, we were wrong, no discussion. From comments in the national press it appeared that churchgoers all over the country were having similar experiences.
Again this is not the Church of England I thought I knew. One of the strong points of our national church has been that (in contrast to the Roman Catholic church) it is not intellectually authoritarian. It has not, in recent centuries, presumed to impose a single correct point of view in areas where in reality truth is grey and debatable. For a policewoman it is natural to see the world in crudely legalistic black and white terms, that is their déformation professionelle. But one looks to the Church for a more nuanced and tentative (and hence more morally realistic) attitude.
On the other hand it is clearly true that in the current climate of public opinion, informing on one’s neighbour whenever one thinks one might have detected any vague hint of impropriety is the “safe” thing to do, never mind whether it might be a recipe for an unhealthy society.
What does an ordinary man in the pew do in this situation? Living where I do it would be difficult to transfer allegiance to one of the nonconformist churches, even supposing their current standards were better, and at the parish level I am very happy with my church. Furthermore Welby will not be Archbishop for ever. So I suppose I will struggle on in the Church of England for the immediate future at least. But my enthusiasm is severely dimmed. If I were not a member already, I would not feel tempted to join.
— I wrote the above in April 2018. Two months later, Welby did it again! That June he made a public speech in which he described the European Union as “the greatest dream realized for human beings” since the fall of the Western Roman Empire in the fifth century. I am not sure how dreamy the Roman Empire was, but more to the point: in terms of political wisdom shown by different people co-operating to create lasting structures which succeed in reconciling the conflicting interests and ideals of numerous individual inhabitants, both the gradual evolution of the Swiss Confederation since the thirteenth century, and the creation of the USA in the eighteenth, knock spots off the EU. Quite a lot even of those who voted Remain in our referendum would agree, I believe. I didn’t get the impression that they mostly voted in a spirit of “Isn’t the EU great!” Some may have, and Welby was evidently one of them, but there was a great deal of “Safer to stick with what we’ve got, getting out might prove even worse”.
Is Welby on a one-man campaign to ensure that thinking people want nothing to do with the Anglican Communion in future? In August 2019 he announced that he was chairing a group whose aim is apparently to frustrate our current Prime Minister’s attempts finally to get Britain out of the EU. It astonishes me that the head (under the Queen) of the national Church can think it appropriate to act as a partisan in a matter of political controversy in this way. (Does he think that those of us who warmly support Boris Johnson’s approach are for that reason bad Christians?) A view which seems much more appropriate for a man of God was expressed in early 2019 by Jonathan Sacks, until 2013 the Chief Rabbi of the UK, who said in effect (I haven’t got his words in front of me) that the principle of government in a democracy being subordinate to the wishes of the population is so important that, even if our rulers were thoroughly convinced that Britain leaving the EU would be a serious mistake, once the referendum was held in 2016 and the majority was for Leave, they must ensure that we leave.
Early in 2019, the Bell story took a new turn. A further official report by Timothy Briden, an ecclesiastical lawyer and the Vicar General of Canterbury, found that the accusations against Bishop Bell were “inconsistent” and “unreliable”. One 80-year-old witness had said that his mother had told him that she had seen Bishop Bell “carrying out a sexual act with a man over his Rolls-Royce” back in 1967. Bishop Bell never had a Rolls. It was obvious that this and the rest of the salacious tittle-tattle was the product of warped, attention-seeking imaginations. Yet the Archbishop still refused publicly to exonerate Bell. He accepted that the original inquiry was mishandled, but said “It is still the case that there is a woman who came forward with a serious allegation … and this cannot be ignored” (Daily Telegraph, 25 Jan 2019). Bell’s successor as current Bishop of Chichester took the same line. The Bell family’s barrister, Desmond Browne QC, commented: “the investigations by two experienced lawyers [have established] George Bell’s innocence. But not once [has] the Archbishop of Canterbury offered Bell the presumption of innocence.”
The authorities in charge of the Archbishop’s own cathedral, Canterbury, announced that they plan to install a statue of Bishop Bell in one of the niches in the west wall, which typically contain figures of saints. Remarkably, the Archbishop responded that this would be a fine idea. I think that is called running with the hare and hunting with the hounds. It seems obvious that the Archbishop knows perfectly well that Bishop Bell was innocent of the charges against him, but he won’t come out and say so, because he is terrified that there might be some legal or financial come-back for the institution he is running.
This is the man whose job it is to inspire the population to be soldiers for Christ?
Also in 2019, other unwelcome features of the new-look Church of England emerged. In January it appointed a new national adviser for income generation, Jonathan de Bernhardt Wood, who had published a book on the subject (promoted on several Church websites) recommending the “target[ing of] those most vulnerable to our fundraising message”, namely “single, elderly, poor females”, and advocating signing church members up to bank standing orders, which he saw as “God’s special gift to fundraisers” partly because people often forget to stop them. “Fundraising through forgetfulness may not seem particularly noble or principled, but it is pragmatic, and in fundraising pragmatism is king … In my book … the ends justify the means.” (Reported in the Daily Telegraph, 25 March 2019.)
Then in August we heard that the beautiful 11th–12th century cathedral at Norwich had installed a large helter-skelter in its nave, with rides costing £2 a time. Some of us who see churches as important buildings think of them as places for contemplating serious, sometimes grim topics – ones that adults must sometimes face, and where better than in a church? They are not intended as indoor funfairs.
Why is it that when organizations like churches – or universities, in which I made my own career – decide that they ought to act like businesses, they always seem to choose the shabbiest, fly-by-night type of businesses as models?
last changed 2 Sep 2019
Letters to the Editor
How should a line be drawn under the Bell affair?
From the Revd Alan Fraser
Sir, — It is clear that some people have been angered by the Archbishop of Canterbury’s statement last week concerning the allegations against the late George Bell (News, 26 January). I must confess myself simply confused.
Having looked through the Carlile review, I suppose I had expected the half-apology to the relatives of Bishop Bell for the distress the Church’s investigative failures caused to them. I then expected a grudging acknowledgement that, without casting doubt on “Carol’s” testimony, the presumption of innocence would have to be applied to Bishop Bell unless and until any corroborating evidence came to light.
But no. With admirable clarity, the Archbishop said that he could not “with integrity” clear Bishop Bell’s name, and further, that the substance of “Carol’s” complaint was probably true. Given that the rest of us are not able to review the evidence against Bishop Bell, I think we are obliged to take at face value the Archbishop’s statements, and have reluctantly to conclude that Bishop Bell sexually abused a young girl.
But the Archbishop then goes on to say that this “does not diminish the importance of his [Bell’s] great achievements, and he is one of the great Anglican heroes of the 20th century”. With respect, I don’t see how these two statements can possibly both be true at the same time. If Bishop Bell sexually abused “Carol” repeatedly over a period of four years, it emphatically does diminish his achievements.
At the very least, the Church of England should suspend forthwith Bishop Bell’s commemoration on 3 October (as the Episcopal Church in the United States has already done) with a view to removing it from the liturgical calendar entirely. It would also seem advisable that Bishop Bell’s name be removed from any church institution or building in order to send the clearest of messages that paedophiles are not to be celebrated. And, if the Archbishop genuinely believes Bell to be an abuser, he should stop describing him as a “hero”, as it is clearly wholly inappropriate.
But it seems unlikely that any of these things will ever happen, because almost no one else who has reviewed the case against Bishop Bell appears to believe him guilty, even on the balance of probabilities. And, indeed, many of them loudly continue to declare him innocent. Meanwhile, the liturgical calendar ticks slowly on and clergy are left wondering “What should we do on 3 October? Whom are we to believe?”
It seems to me that the only possible way to break this unfortunate impasse is for the Church to commission the one thing that Archbishop Welby seems keen, inexplicably, to avoid at all costs: an independent review of the evidence against Bishop Bell which declares authoritatively on his guilt, or otherwise. I am at a loss to understand why this was not included within the remit of the Carlile review, as it would have avoided the current confusion. But we cannot continue to be asked to believe both that Bell was a paedophile and that he continues to be an Anglican hero, as though sexual abuse of a five-year old is no more than an unfortunate character flaw that can be discreetly overlooked in the face of ecclesial achievements. It most definitely is not.
41 Hobhouse Close
Birmingham B42 1HB
From the Revd Dr Barry Orford
Sir, — Amid the widespread dismay and anger at Archbishop Justin Welby’s statements concerning Bishop George Bell, a disturbing fact must not be overlooked. But for the concerned individuals who banded together to demand justice for Bishop Bell, the official presumption of his guilt would have been generally accepted, and his reputation wrecked at the hands of a now discredited committee for which the Bishop of Chichester must accept final responsibility. This is shocking in itself, and in what it suggests about the Church of England’s approach to questions of truth.
I have NEVER said I will give aural or documentary evidence to the church’s proposed ‘reviewer’, in fact I have categorically said I will not (as the ‘review’ is currently proposed). The reviewer will not get sight of all documents cos she wont get mine until a genuine independent review is agreed. The statement is misleading and contains untruths.
My position remains the same as it always has. This review is a review into how the church handled my disclosures both before and during the police investigation plus events after Devamanikkam’s death. It is wrong, therefore, that the church appoint the person who is going to investigate their actions, write a terms of reference into the investigation (no terms of reference have yet been drawn up anyway) and control the whole investigation into themselves. We have repeatedly asked the church to work with us to have a totally independent review, which they have refused.
The church have appointed their proposed ‘reviewer’ on their own terms and I was told only yesterday by Melissa Caslake that no one from the church has contacted Mr Devamanikkam’s family or representatives to ask if they would like to be involved.
The church are steamrollering ahead, trying to control an investigation into themselves. This is open to corruption.
I would work 100% with a genuinely independent review. This is not it and while the church still try to ride roughshod over victims of abuse like myself (as they have with the publication of this statement) I will not be cooperating and have never agreed to.
Why is the church afraid of a truly independent review?
If, for example, a policeman was facing an investigation into his conduct he would not be the one interviewing and appointing the investigator nor would he be writing the terms of reference. So why should the church in this case?
And what does the proposed ‘reviewer’ actually think she is going to be doing as no terms of reference have yet been drawn up? Who would agree to such a job without knowing what they will be doing?
This is a sham. It is open to corruption. It is bullying again.