Nov 22 2019 – “Does Archbishop Welby’s pride matter more than an elderly lady’s pain?” – Peter Hitchens at Christmas

George-Bell-niece-Barbara-Whitley-2

Archbishop Justin Welby and Mrs Barbara Whitley

PETER HITCHENS: Does Archbishop Welby‘s pride matter more than an elderly lady‘s pain? 

Peter Hitchens: Does Archbishop Welby‘s pride matter more than an elderly lady‘s pain?

This Christmas I would like you to think of the plight of a 94-year-old woman, who has been atrociously mistreated by the Archbishop of Canterbury 

This I would like you to think of the plight of a 94-year-old woman, who has been atrociously mistreated by the Archbishop of Canterbury.

Her name is Mrs Barbara Whitley. More than three years ago, the Church of England publicly accused her beloved long-dead uncle of the filthy crime of child sex abuse.

The charge was based on the word of a single accuser, more than half a century after the supposed offence. The Church had presumed his guilt and made no serious effort to discover the truth. Key living witnesses were neither sought, found nor interviewed. A senior bishop admitted soon afterwards that they were actually not convinced the claim was true. Yet by some mysterious process, a number of newspapers and stations, all on the same day, felt safe in confidently pronouncing that Barbara’s uncle had been a disgusting paedophile. No ifs or buts. Who told them?

A later inquiry would show that this miserable episode was based on nothing more than a chaotic, sloppy kangaroo court. One of this country’s most distinguished lawyers, Lord Carlile, tore the case against Barbara’s uncle to shreds. He said there would have been no chance of a conviction on the evidence available, and made mincemeat of the shambolic committee that had published the original allegation.

After delaying the release of this inquiry for weeks, Justin Welby’s church eventually published it. But did it admit its mistake and restore the reputation of Barbara Whitley’s wrongly defamed uncle?

Nope. Mr Welby, in defiance of all the rules of British justice, sulkily insisted that a ‘significant cloud’ still hung over the name of Barbara’s uncle. Thus, just as she might have been able to rejoice that her relative’s name had at last been cleared, the Head of the Established Church made it his personal business to prevent this.

And then, a few weeks later, another supposed allegation against her uncle was said to have been made. Why then? What was it? Who had made it? Nobody would say, but it served to stifle potential criticism of Mr Welby at the General Synod of the Church of England, which was about to begin. Details of the second allegation remain a secret. After nearly a year, Mr Welby’s church (which has a bad record of sitting on reports that it doesn’t like) still hasn’t come up with its conclusions [See Briden Report for conclusions – Ed]. Yet Sussex Police, given the same information, dropped their investigations into the matter after a few short weeks.

It all looks a bit as if someone is trying to save someone’s face. But the cruelty to Barbara Whitley, who was 91 when this horrible saga began, is appalling. Who cares about some prelate’s pride (a sin in any case) when Mrs Whitley could be spared any more pain?

Because the cruelty to Mrs Whitley seems to me to be so shocking in a supposedly Christian organisation, I have deliberately left till last that the object of these accusations is the late Bishop of Chichester, George Bell. Bell was, as people who knew him have told me, a kind, scrupulously honest, courageous man. He was, most notably, a beloved friend of the German Christians who fought against Hitler and a brave critic of the cruelty of war. I sometimes wonder if modern bishops and archbishops are afraid of being compared with him. They have reason to be. In the meantime, Mr Welby’s church should end Mrs Whitley’s agony.

Does anyone really doubt that, if the archbishop wanted to, he could end the whole business today?

 

[This article previously appeared in the Mail on Sunday – December 16 2018]

 

COMMENTS AND RESPONSES

“Of course it does!” – Rev Peter Mullen

“Nothing, as we all know, is more important than a person’s reputation, for good or ill. it is astonishing to me that it is still necessary to fight to preserve the reputation of George Bell, Bishop of Chichester, 1929-1958.
I am surprised to think that in 2019 we need to teach an Archbishop of Canterbury (Eton and Trinity College, Cambridge) the vital place of the presumption of innocence in our English system of justice.
Has he not heard of the cases of the Birmingham Six and the Guildford Four?  They did as much damage to Anglo-Irish relations as the wickedness of the bombers themselves.
Indeed George Bell still has much to teach us about our resistance to the tyranny of Nazi Germany in a world in which so-called civilised nations are still trying to bomb the Middle East into the Stone Age” – Gerald Morgan, FTCD (Leader: English Parliamentary Party, 2001)
“There should be no need for compromise, but there is a possible face-saver for the archbishop. That George Bell should be exonerated there is no doubt. It does not follow, however, that Carol must have been lying. The most probable outcome is that this was a case of mistaken identity, and in Chichester two possible offenders have been identified, though nothing can ever be proved” – Noel Osborne

2 thoughts on “Nov 22 2019 – “Does Archbishop Welby’s pride matter more than an elderly lady’s pain?” – Peter Hitchens at Christmas

  1. Noel Osborne

    There should be no need for compromise, but there is a possible face-saver for the archbishop. That George Bell should be exonerated there is no doubt. It does not follow, however, that Carol must have been lying. The most probable outcome is that this was a case of mistaken identity, and in Chichester two possible offenders have been identified, though nothing can ever be proved.

    Reply

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