Monthly Archives: December 2020


Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby

“A Prize Charlie” – A. N. Wilson on the Archbishop of Canterbury [Hat-Tip: AG]

Anglican Way Magazine [US]

December 31, 2020 By sinetortus 


The Crisis in the Episcopate

“I do not suppose there is a single person in the country who finds Justin Welby an inspiring figure. Whether we think of his egotistical gesture of celebrating the Easter liturgy from the kitchen of a dismal flat in Lambeth Palace, or his recent suggestion that centuries-old church monuments, many of great beauty, should be gouged out in order to satisfy his judgmental reading of history, the Archbishop of Canterbury seems like a prize Charlie.”

So wrote the author and historian A. N. Wilson, in an article entitled “Church shepherds have lost their flocks: in  the Times of London on Christmas Day (details below). His acerbic comments were certainly harsh but,  unfortunately, they capture an all too common sense of dismay in the United Kingdom about the lamentable performance of the Bishops of the Church of England, through recent times and the COVID crisis in particular. The negligible impact of the Archbishops of Canterbury and York through the course of the greatest crisis since the Second World War has not gone unnoticed and it has been thrown into sharp relief by the way in which Her Majesty the Queen has stepped in to fill the void.

It is hard indeed to see how the Bishops can recover from the collapse in their public standing. This will also further weaken the place of the Church of England in the nation as a whole. However wrong, in terms of the practical role of churches on the ground, the popular perception is of a Church which simply went away in a time of crisis.

As Wilson goes on to write: “It was scandalous that the Archbishop of Canterbury acquiesced in the closure of all the churches for Easter, and pure vanity that he considered a video of himself at his kitchen table would be an adequate substitute for the Sung Eucharist in the Mother Church of the nation.” While his, “perceptions of what  constitutes the Christian faith are indistinguishable from those of the fictional Rev JC Flannel in old copies of Private Eye.” as when he was quoted in a Times interview as responding to the Covid crisis by observing  “These are the things Jesus talked about— well, not PPE supply, but inequality, treatment of the poor, housing, care.”

It is unlikely to console Archbishop Welby that the Roman Catholic Hierarchy is not judged to be any better:

“it is impossible to think of any period when the country had two such utter chumps in charge of the rival churches. Vincent Nichols, Archbishop of Westminster, is a man who this year has faced calls from many Catholics to resign.  …. Cardinal Nichols would appear to share the Archbishop of Canterbury’s distaste for church buildings and church worship. Both men went further than the government guidelines for lockdown in March, actually forbidding the clergy to enter their own church buildings.

In an interview for The Times last week, Welby acknowledged this was a “mistake” even though, at the time, he was adamant that it was the right thing to do.”

Quoting Stephen Bullivant, a Catholic sociologist of religion, who has forecast in his book Mass Exodus that the decline in church attendance is probably irreversible and that after this year, in which churches have been closed, regular attendance “will nosedive”. Wilson notes that, Welby’s response to the challenge has been to spend an eye-watering £12 million and rising on a scheme called “Renewal and Reform” based on the idea that “if they can’t persuade people to go to church, they should themselves go to the people.” through such innovations as  “five “sports ministers” who are hoping, while playing footy with the lads, to insert some God-bothering into the instructions on the offside rule.”

After asking rhetorically, “Where on earth did those responsible for appointing bishops find these duds?” Welby and Nichols are unlikely to be consoled by Wilson’s closing observation that , despite the commemoration in December of Thomas A Becket  “I am not calling for them to be murdered in their cathedrals but some Becket-like display of loyalty to what the church historically stands for would be valued, even by those who no longer go to church.”

Unfortunately, this is all fits into a wider sense of missing leadership across many sectors from business to politics. This surely reflects a long growing cult of mediocrity which rapidly purges those who might have the dangerous potential to think differently and break from the ever more stultifying bonds of consensus.

After years of appointing managerial bishops who project neither spirituality nor learning,  and who could all too easily pass for local bank managers, it should be no surprise that when a true crisis hit,  requiring strong leadership  deeply rooted in the millennia of Christian faith and witness,  the bishops of today were simply lost to sight.

This can only be especially damaging when the Church’s place in society as a whole is so very much under attack

“Church shepherds have lost their flocks: The Archbishop of Wokeness, Welby and the equally inept Nichols are not leaders that the faithful deserve”, A.N. Wilson  Friday December 25 2020, 6.00pm GMT, The Times of London

Filed Under: History & TheologyPBS News & Events


Barbara Whitley [nee Barbara Wood]

Church Times – December 31 2020

Dr Andrew Chandler writes:

BARBARA WHITLEY was born on 5 February 1924 in Witnesham Rectory, in east Suffolk. Her father, Cecil Wood, had been Bishop of Melanesia; her mother was Margorie Allen Bell (1886-1972), also a vicarage daughter, whose brother, George, in that year became Dean of Canterbury. Cecil Wood was 50 when Barbara was born, and she remembered him to be very much a Victorian. The family travelled with his ministry: assistant bishop in Newcastle diocese and Rector of West Grinstead in West Sussex.

Barbara worked for the Horsham local paper and became a secretary for the Home Guard, before joining the WRNS at the age of 17. Her conspicuous qualities were clearly identified as an asset by someone: by 1942, she was employed at Bletchley Park, work about which she remained, to the end, silent.

Barbara Wood (left) and Doris Tuffin (Aaron Chown/PA)

The war defined much for her: she lost her fiancé, Oliver Kirby Johnson, who was killed by a mine in Italy in May 1944. Afterwards, she was posted to Chatham and then to a succession of government departments. In these post-war years, she met Ted Whitley, a rising star in the world of advertising. Her father officiated at their wedding in September 1951.

Living first in north London, and later in Bromley, in Kent, she enjoyed a busy life, hosting parties, starting a catering business, and bringing up her two children, Nicholas and Georgina, with the help of a succession of Austrian au pairs. Conventionally devout, she attended St Luke’s, Bromley Common, and later St Mary’s, Shortlands. Her daughter had come to know her as a “strong, hard-working and sociable woman who got the most out of life on her own terms”.

The Whitleys celebrated their diamond wedding anniversary with a dinner for more than 65 friends at the Savile Club, in London. After her husband died, Barbara’s church-going ceased, but, far from turning inwards, she adapted to a new age of technology with determination, maintaining a vast screen in her bedroom at her care home and dispatching vigorous emails. She also kept an eye on the world.

It was an astonishing turn of events which, in her nineties, suddenly brought her into public life. In October 2015, the authorities of the Church of England announced that they had settled a claim with a woman who had accused George Bell of sexual abuse.

Barbara was determined to see her uncle’s name cleared of an accusation that she regarded as preposterous. It was to prove a very long haul indeed: this discreditable affair would dominate her four final years, and she played her part in a long campaign with great courage and tenacity.

She once remarked to me that those who now led the Church of England simply had no understanding at all of the kind of man her uncle was, the standards by which he had lived, or the world that had formed him. “George Bell would never ever contemplate such sexual behaviour,” she wrote. “He was far too high-minded.”

She died on 9 October, aged 96.

Barbara Whitley [1924-2020]





Statement on the Rt. Revd George Bell, 1883 -1958


The Bishop of Chichester has issued a formal apology following the settlement of a legal civil claim regarding sexual abuse against the Right Reverend George Bell, who was Bishop of Chichester from 1929 until his death on 3rd October 1958.

The allegations against Bell date from the late 1940s and early 1950s and concern allegations of sexual offences against an individual who was at the time a young child.

Following settlement of the claim the serving Bishop of Chichester, the Right Reverend Dr. Martin Warner, wrote to the survivor formally apologising and expressing his “deep sorrow” acknowledging that “the abuse of children is a criminal act and a devastating betrayal of trust that should never occur in any situation, particularly the church.”

Bishop Warner paid tribute to the survivor’s courage in coming forward to report the abuse and notes that “along with my colleagues throughout the church, I am committed to ensuring that the past is handled with honesty and transparency.”

Tracey Emmott, the solicitor for the survivor, today issued the following statement on behalf of her client:

“The new culture of openness in the Church of England is genuinely refreshing and seems to represent a proper recognition of the dark secrets of its past, many of which may still not have come to light.  While my client is glad this case is over, they remain bitter that their 1995 complaint was not properly listened to or dealt with until my client made contact with Archbishop Justin Welby’s office in 2013.  That failure to respond properly was very damaging, and combined with the abuse that was suffered has had a profound effect on my client’s life.  For my client, the compensation finally received does not change anything.  How could any amount of money possibly compensate for childhood abuse?  However, my client recognises that it represents a token of apology.  What mattered to my client most and has brought more closure than anything was the personal letter my client has recently received from the Bishop of Chichester.”

The survivor first reported the abuse to the then Bishop of Chichester, Eric Kemp, in August 1995. Bishop Kemp responded to the correspondence offering pastoral support but did not refer the matter to the police or, so far as is known, investigate the matter further. It was not until contact with Lambeth Palace in 2013 that the survivor was put in touch with the safeguarding team at the Diocese of Chichester who referred the matter to the police and offered personal support and counselling to the survivor.

In his letter to the survivor Bishop Warner acknowledges that the response from the Diocese of Chichester in 1995, when the survivor first came forward, “fell a long way short, not just of what is expected now, but of what we now appreciate you should have had a right to expect then.”

In accordance with the recommendations of the Church Commissaries’ report into the Diocese of Chichester in 2012 the settlement does not impose any form of “confidentiality agreement” restriction regarding public disclosure upon the individual. In this case the survivor has expressed the desire to remain anonymous.

Following a meeting between the survivor and Sussex police in 2013, it was confirmed by the police that the information obtained from their enquiries would have justified, had he still been alive, Bishop Bell’s arrest and interview, on suspicion of serious sexual offences, followed by release on bail, further enquiries and the subsequent submission of a police report to the CPS.

A formal claim for compensation was submitted in April 2014 and was settled in late September of this year. The settlement followed a thorough pre-litigation process during which further investigations into the claim took place including the commissioning of expert independent reports. None of those reports found any reason to doubt the veracity of the claim.

The Church of England takes any allegations of abuse very seriously and is committed to being a safe place for all. Any survivors or those with information about church-related abuse must always feel free to come forward knowing that they will be listened to in confidence.

Should anyone have further information or need to discuss the personal impact of this news the Church has worked with the NSPCC to set up a confidential helpline no. 0800 389 5344.


Notes to Editors

A copy of this statement can be found on the Church of England website and the Diocese of Chichester website.

For further information contact Lisa Williamson at the Diocese of Chichester Communications office on 01273 425791 or The Revd Dr Rob Marshall +44 (0) 7766 952113

The Rt. Revd. Mark Sowerby, Bishop of Horsham in the Diocese of Chichester is available for interview today. Please use the above numbers or contact his office on 01403 211139


Oct 22 2015 – Church of England Statement on the Rt. Revd George Bell (1883-1958)

“Moral, legal and common sense appears to have deserted the Church of England. The Presumption of Innocence has been described as ‘the golden thread that runs through British justice’. That thread was broken by the October Statement, and replaced with the Presumption of Guilt. The Media – including the BBC – assumed Bishop Bell’s guilt on the basis of the Church’s Statement, and their subsequent headlines reflected that assumption. No attempt was made by the Church, immediately after the headlines, to correct the media interpretation of the Statement. This would strongly suggest a Presumption of Guilt on the Church’s part towards Bishop Bell” – Richard W. Symonds

Oct 22 2015 – Bishop of Chichester (Martin Warner) Statement on the Rt. Revd George Bell [1883-1958] 

“In this case, the scrutiny of the allegation has been thorough, objective, and undertaken by people who command the respect of all parties….” – Bishop of Chichester Martin Warner

Oct 22 2015 – “I would be grateful…if you could refrain from including George Bell in your guided tours and external presentations” – Dean of Chichester Cathedral, The Very Reverend Stephen Waine [to Cathedral Guides]


Oct 22 2015 – Statement on the Rt Revd George Bell (1883-1958)” – ‘Thinking Anglicans’

Oct 22 2015 – “Church of England bishop George Bell abused young child” – The Guardian – Reporter: Harriet Sherwood

Oct 22 2015 – “Revered Bishop George Bell was a paedophile – Church of England” – Daily Telegraph – John Bingham [Religious Affairs Editor]

Oct 22 2015 – “Bishop of Chichester George Bell sex abuse victim gets compensation” – BBC News – Sussex

Oct 22 2015 – “Former Chichester bishop George Bell abused young child” – Chichester Observer

Oct 22 2015 – “Bishop Luffa urged to rename house after George Bell revelation” – Chichester Observer

“The grandson was asked the reason why his school building, dedicated to Bishop George Bell, had been re-named. The answer came straight back, ‘Because he was a paedophile’” ~ Richard W. Symonds

Oct 23 2015 – “Bishop revealed to have sexually abused child” / “The dark secret of a respected peacemaker” – The Argus – Reporter: Rachel Millard

Oct 23 2015 – “Conservative Government Threatened By Sex Scandals” – Aangirfan

Oct 24 2015 – “Former bishop’s despicable fall from grace will prompt much soul-searching from the Church” / “Abuse victim hits out over ‘systematic behaviour’” – The Argus – Reporter: Joel Adams

Oct 27 2015 – Vickery House found guilty of historic sex offences – BBC News

Oct 28 2015 – “The rule of the lynch mob” – Church of England Newspaper

“Beware of throwing someone under the bus. Remember: the bus can shift into reverse” ~ Janette McGowen

“The professional approach is to neither believe nor disbelieve the complainant and their allegation. There is no right or entitlement for a complainant to be believed, but there is a right and entitlement for a complainant to be treated with respect, to take their allegation seriously, to listen with compassion, and to record the facts clearly. It would appear the Church regarded ‘Carol’ as a victim to be believed at all costs. There seems to have been a panicked rush to judgement in which an astonishing lack of judgement was made manifest. Bishop Bell was an easy target, disposable and dispensable…’thrown under the bus’ for reasons unknown” ~ Richard W. Symonds

Oct 28 2015 – “Church in third sex abuse scandal as ex-vicar is convicted” / “Where did it go wrong for the Diocese of Chichester?” – The Argus – Reporter: Joel Adams

Oct 29 2015 – “Vickery House: Priest jailed over sex attacks” – BBC News

Nov 4 2015 – “Sussex school named after disgraced clergyman Bishop Bell may change its name” – Crawley Observer

Nov 7 2015 – “The Church of England’s shameful betrayal of bishop George Bell” – The Spectator – Peter Hitchens

Nov 9 2015 – “The tragedy of former bishop who committed terrible acts” – Tony Greenstein – Opinion – The Argus

Nov 9 2015 – “Bishop George Bell and the tyranny of paedomania” – ‘Archbishop Cranmer’

Nov 13 2015 – “The Church of England media statement about Bishop George Bell” – The Church Times – Letter – Alan Pardoe QC

Nov 20 2015 – “Church of England media statement on Bishop Bell – further comment” – The Church Times – Letter – Dr Brian Hanson

Nov 22 2015 – “My defence of former Bishop of Chichester George Bell” – Chichester Observer – Letter – Peter Hitchens

Dec 5 2015 – A Background to “The Jersey Way” – Photopol

Dec 11 2015 – “An abuse survivors tale” – Julie Macfarlane

Dec 31 2015 – “Peter Ball: letters of support released” – ‘Thinking Anglicans’

Winter 2015 – Chichester Cathedral Newsletter – Stephen Waine, Dean on Bishop Bell

Excerpt from the IPSO complaint against the Argus newspaper – October 2020

‘…Indeed, the subsequent report (published in December 2017) by Lord Carlile of Berriew QC, who was commissioned by the Church of England to “conduct a Review into the way the Church of England dealt with a complaint of sexual abuse made by a woman known as ‘Carol’ against the late Bishop Bell,” said (critically) of the press statement of 22 October 2015, announcing the settlement and apology, that “it provided the following conclusions:

(i) The allegations had been investigated, and a proper process followed.

(ii) The allegations had been proved; therefore

(iii) There was no doubt that Bishop Bell had abused Carol.”  (Carlile Review, para 237.)

Lord Carlile’s report, which condemned that statement, is not even mentioned in the Argus article.  By contrast, even though Lord Carlile’s terms of reference did not ask him “to determine the truthfulness of Carol, nor the guilt or innocence of Bishop Bell” he stated clearly (para 171) “Had the evidence my review has obtained without any particular difficulty… been available to the Church and the CPS, I doubt that the test for a prosecution would have been passed.”



Post relating to Christ Church Oxford taken down

Stephen’s Blog Stephen Parsons

The post relating to Christ Church Oxford has been taken down as some of the material has not been substantiated.

I hope to publish a revised version of this piece in due course when I am able to get a clearer picture.

About Stephen Parsons

Stephen is a retired Anglican priest living at present in Cumbria. He has taken a special interest in the issues around health and healing in the Church but also when the Church is a place of harm and abuse. He has published books on both these issues and is at present particularly interested in understanding how power works at every level in the Church. He is always interested in making contact with others who are concerned with these issues.

  1. John Wallace Thank you Stephen for this comment. When I read it, there seemed to be a lot of ‘thin ice’ that you were bravely treading on. As a great admirer of Martyn, the truth does need to come out and the Augean stables of Christ Church cleansed.
  2. Angela Tilby Thank you, Stephen. Please continue and do not be disheartened.
  3. EnglishAthena Good. Don’t be downhearted. You’re one of the people who’ve kept me sane.
  4. Stephen Parsons I am hoping to republish soon!


When you have checked Stephen, please publish the facts you can prove. When I am in position to, I hope to do the same. Those who are in sympathy with your blog know and often can prove misconduct and/or disreputable actions by those deputised to deal appropriately with safeguarding issues. This, of course includes persecuting the innocent as well as protecting the guilty. It is with great sadness that I too can report that those at the highest levels are knowingly and deliberately allowing misconduct to continue even now. This gives me no hope that Meg Munn will be able to say that churches are safe places any time soon. The Church hierarchy are forcing us to use whatever legitimate tactics we can to remove this egregious sin. Thank you for your bravery. Those in the know respect your moderation and just dealings. From the reaction to your blog people are taking note. If those at the higher levels redirected their efforts and time to dealing justly with those clearly guilty of misconduct of whatever kind in relation to safeguarding, we would be closer to Meg Munn being able to say parishioners are as safe in their churches as they are in secular organisations.


Alyson Peberdy

What you are concerned about re Christchurch needs to be said and listened to. Thank you so much Stephen.


“So many of the clerics that I’ve met, particularly the Church of England clerics, are people of such extraordinary smugness and arrogance and conceitedness who are extraordinarily presumptuous about the significance of their position in society”

  • Guerilla Surgeon

“Self-preserving cowardice by spineless, virtue-signalling, moral pygmies”

  • Richard W. Symonds
  • “The Church thinks in centuries, Mr Rezendes”
  • Mitchell Garabedian – ‘Spotlight’

“Serially incompetent”

“We have a story of a bunch of lawyers playing ‘fast and loose’ with legal ethics – along with unprincipled out-of-control bullies – turning safeguarding and abuse into a cottage-industry”


Christ Church Oxford


A significant cloud?

From Dr Ruth Hildebrandt Grayson

Sir, — Many people will be bemused that the National Safeguarding Team (NST) has cleared Archbishop Welby over allegations that he failed to act correctly in the John Smyth affair (News, 20 November).

For one thing, the NST is hardly the independent organisation that the Archbishop himself plans to set up to investigate safeguarding allegations within the Church of England in response to the recent IICSA report. For another, this leaves the Archbishop’s own status unclear.

The NST states that the claim against him has not been substantiated. Does this mean that the Archbishop is innocent? Or does it mean, as in the case of a certain illustrious late Bishop of Chichester, that, in Archbishop Welby’s own words, “a significant cloud” remains over his reputation?

If a presumption of guilt is the basis on which safeguarding issues are currently being investigated by local and national safeguarding officers in the Church, then Archbishop Welby’s own words will continue to haunt him — unless, of course, he honours the law of this country as it currently stands and publicly declares that bishop to be innocent.



Police inquiry into Dean Percy dropped

Church Times – Dec 11 2020

Police cleared Oxford dean after probe into cathedral ‘sex assault’: Officers interviewed Professor Martyn Percy and decided no further action should be taken… but he still faces college inquiry into ‘hair stroking’




An incisive article, and one that leaves the reader in little doubt that the CofE is at a major fork in the road here. Trying to replace Melissa is going to be hard. I’d go further and say it’s not what is needed. NST 3 would make a decent PR coup for CofE comms for about a day, but the trouble is that all the systemic problems Stephen’s article so elegantly sketches remain in place. The trinity is: a concentration of ecclesiastical civil service power; comms, PR and a prioritisation of reputational management; episcopal power that retains command and control, who in turn are dominated by only a very tiny number of law firms and legal advisors. The system cannot avoid its inherent and consistent conflicts of interest, and to be frank, they are so multiple it is hard to find a single case the NST deals with that successfully surfaces, let alone manages, such COI.

It does not really matter where you drill in to the NST. Once you get through the thin veneer, it’s cheap chipboard. Take Core Groups. Nobody has any mandatory training to be on one. You might be lucky and have someone on it with legal expertise. Odds on, alas, it will be a church lawyer, with more of an eye for any reputational damage limitation. The predictable Comms person from the diocese or NCI will just be doing their jobs, and you can hardly blame for that. But why PR gets priority over victims or the accused is a question no one answers. There is no training in confirmation bias. No training on sifting evidence, or on distinguishing between facts and interpretation.

Survivors and those falsely accused – who have had their lives wrecked and their own reputations trashed – wait patiently in the wings for signs of justice and pastoral hope. I no longer believe the CofE can deliver either.

The cost of running a proper in-house scheme would be eye watering for the CofE. It does not have the imagination, intelligence or financial resources to manage this. The honourable, honest, decent and humble thing to do now is to admit its failures, make some attempt to confess its egregious sins in this arena, and set money aside for an independently run body that has the same kind of clout as the GMC for doctors, or the SRA for Solicitors. The CofE could set aside money to compensate victims.

The CofE is a small, dwindling sect, in which nearly everyone employed or in ministry will have some kind if connection to an alleged victim, alleged perpetrator, or even a member or two on a Core Group. The law firms that trade in this market all know each other, and can be numbered on the fingers of one hand. Under such conditions, its not possible to find a neutral jury or judge.

That’s why independence is the way forward. Melissa Caslake was the CofEs first full time Director of Safeguarding. She made a good fist of it. But after 18 months, I hope and pray she is also the last full-time Director of Safeguarding. Archbishops’ Council: get a grip, and do the right thing.


Ampleforth has been put on death row, just as Cromwell did to the monasteries

The spectre of past child abuse is being used to prevent the renewal of a great Christian school

“Our age – especially our officialdom – is obsessed with the importance of process. It is forever adding new mechanisms and gabbling about “best practice”, yet these often create further wrongs. This is glaringly noticeable in relation to child abuse. In other columns, I have noted how, in cases such as Lords Brittan and Bramall, the late Sir Edward Heath, the very late (died 1958) George Bell, Bishop of Chichester, the late Lord Janner, Sir Cliff Richard, Paul Gambaccini and many others, accusation is taken as fact, evidence (or lack of it) is hidden from scrutiny, the case for those accused is not heard, and action is taken secretly by invoking the interests of children”

New allegations have rightly been thrown out, but justice has yet to be done for Bishop Bell

28 JANUARY 2019 • 6:00AM

The late Bishop Bell in his study at Chichester Place
The late Bishop Bell in his study at Chichester Place

Bishop George Bell of Chichester was one of the greatest Anglicans of the 20th century. He was particularly notable for his part in helping German Christians resist Hitler and in helping German Jews escape. Many will have given thanks for his example yesterday, Holocaust Memorial Day.

Last week, Bell was exonerated, in the Briden report commissioned by the Church of England, of allegations of child sex abuse. Ever since the Church first announced in 2015 that it believed a claim that Bell had sexually abused a young girl in the late 1940s, I have been one of those campaigning against its decision. It had no evidential back-up. Bell was condemned without any attempt to hear the case for him. (He died in 1958.)

So when the Briden news broke, several people kindly sent emails congratulating me on helping clear Bell’s name.  The trouble is that Bell has not been cleared – though he most certainly should have been. Last week’s report investigated only what the Church called “fresh information”, which was not really information, but mere accusations made against Bell by others.

None reached the threshold of probability, Briden decided; some were blatantly crazy: one accused him of a sexual act committed on top of a Rolls-Royce nine years after he died. 

Archbishop Justin Welby
Archbishop Justin Welby has made mistakes but deserves sympathy

Briden did not investigate the original accusation, by a woman known as “Carol”. Last week – even though an earlier report by Lord Carlile had showed that all the processes used against Bell in the Carol case had been deeply flawed – the Archbishop of Canterbury stuck to the guns that he had unwisely fired in 2017 when he said that a “significant cloud” continued to hang over Bell. He again defended the Church’s original condemnation. 

The Church does feel uneasy. It admits its processes were wrong. Its tone has changed. It recognises Bell’s greatness, which it previously ignored: Archbishop Welby has personally tweeted to support the building of a statue to Bell in Canterbury, a project frozen by Carol’s original allegation. But it still cannot face the obvious point that if it had applied the Carlile processes it admits it should have used it would never have found against Bell in the first place.

Trying to make some amends, the present Bishop of Chichester, Martin Warner, wrote to Bell’s niece last week, expressing his sorrow for having ignored the rights of the family. He added in a separate statement, however: “Bishop Bell cannot be proven guilty, nor can it be safely claimed that the original complainant has been discredited.” It reminds one of Pontius Pilate, who found no fault in Jesus, but condemned him all the same.

In our law and culture, if guilt cannot be proved, innocence must be presumed. To do this is not to “discredit” a complainant, who might not be lying, but might be mistaken about identity or confused in other ways. Memory plays strange tricks, especially about events alleged to have occurred 70 years ago.

In recent times, shock at child sex abuse and its inadequate investigation has rightly made people more vigilant. But some people have exploited this to try to look good at the expense of truth. Take the appalling case of Mike Veale, then Chief Constable of Wiltshire, who tried to stage a posthumous show trial of Sir Edward Heath, implying that he had a host of reliable witnesses, when he did not.

George Bell pictured in the 1950s
George Bell pictured in the 1950s

Veale failed to interview people who worked closely with the former prime minister, notably his personal protection officers with whom he had passed virtually every day for 36 years. He said that Heath was “120 per cent guilty”, thereby showing an inadequate grasp both of mathematics and justice. Eventually, he had to leave his job amid controversy over his conflicting stories about why he had destroyed his police-issue mobile phone. Now he has had to resign from his next job, as he faces sexual abuse allegations himself. It is a cautionary tale for those who rush to judgment.

The Bell case is not so extreme, though Bell is just as innocent as Heath. But the same rush was there, and so is the continuing refusal to admit the primary error.  

Unlike Mr Veale, Archbishop Welby deserves sympathy. Before he ran it, his Church had often been sluggish, amateurish, and sometimes worse, about investigating child sexual abuse by clergy. He is a decisive, concerned and active man, and he wanted this to change. He can now clearly see that the Bell case went awry, and he sincerely wants to do better.

He feels caught, however, because the Church is frightened of being accused all over again of ignoring victims. Nowadays it has a National Safeguarding Team whose alleged expertise in recognising child abuse bishops dare not challenge. It was the influence of safeguarding dogma in the “core group” that condemned Bell which allowed justice to be thrown out of the window.

Safeguarders are the new priesthood and, like old priesthoods, too readily revered.  Justin Welby is much braver and more iconoclastic than most modern bishops. It would be wonderful if he could take on this new injustice of trashing the accused that has replaced the old one of trashing the victim.