The accusations made against Bishop George Bell of Chichester have now been in the news in England for some time. In a letter published today seven leading academic historians have asserted that the Archbishop of Canterbury has shamed his office with “irresponsible and dangerous” claims that Bishop Bell may have been a paedophile – claims made after an independent review by Lord Carlile of Berriew clearly and in great detail indicated that there is no credible evidence to allow such accusations against Bishop Bell to stand. In spite of this, the Archbishop, the Most Revd. Justin Welby, has said that a “significant cloud is left over his name.”
George Bell, who died in 1958, was one of the most revered Anglican leaders of the twentieth century, a man of outstanding courage in his fight against tyranny in Hitler’s Germany, of whom it was said by one of clergy in his diocese of Chichester, he “loved and cared for his own large diocese with a pastoral zeal which is an inspiration to all his dearly beloved brethren and children in Jesus Christ.” It is now very clear that no case that bears any critical scrutiny has been found against Bishop Bell and yet the Archbishop continues, in his statement of 15th December 2017, to suggest that guilt remains in the “significant cloud” which he insists still hangs over him.
We, as academics and members of the Scottish Episcopal Church within the Anglican Communion of which Bell was such a distinguished light, deplore the failure of Archbishop Welby to withdraw his statements about Bishop Bell and fear for the considerable damage which this failure is inflicting upon the Church of which he is called, by his office, to be the guardian. This is more than simply a matter of misjudgment, but a failure, for whatever reason, to maintain the pastoral duties of the Archbishop’s office, such duties as Bell himself faithfully sustained in the diocese of Chichester.
We therefore ask Archbishop Welby clearly to repudiate what he has said concerning Bishop Bell and restore to his office in Canterbury the respect and dignity which it properly holds in our society.
The Revd Canon Professor David Jasper DD FRSE
Professor Canon Ann Loades CBE
21 Jan ’18
The Most Rev The Lord Justin Welby
Archbishop of Canterbury
I would far rather be writing to support you than attacking you, but sadly your attitude in persisting that there is still ‘a significant cloud’ over Bishop George Bell is so inexplicable that I am persuaded to send you a copy of an unpublished letter I wrote to The Chichester Observer.
At a local level I have made it known to Dean & Chapter that the £50 thousand that I had left to Chichester Cathedral, will not be forthcoming until a building, now known as 4 Canon Lane, has it’s name restored to George Bell House .
It is the hope of many of us, upset by your the denial of natural justice to a highly respected Bishop, who had been dead for half a century & was unrepresented, that you will appreciate how your own position will be in jeopardy if you fail to recognise that in the light of Lord Carlile’s Report, there can be no justification for perpetuating the paedophile myth.
I write about your statement in response to Lord Carlile’s report.
Surely you are wrong to treat transparency as an absolute value that overrides all other considerations. ‘Innocent until proven guilty’ is a higher value and in this case transparency caused great harm to the reputation an innocent person. That is wrong.
To refer implicitly as you do to evil actions by Bishop George Bell, when an objective investigation has concluded that there is no dependable evidence of the evil, was in my view a wicked act of defamation.
Member of General Synod 1990 – 2015
I am extremely disappointed by your statement following Lord Carlile’s report. Your words have left a cloud over the reputation of Bishop George Bell which Lord Carlile shows to be completely unjustified. I urge you to withdraw those remarks in order to restore Bishop Bell’s reputation.
The Revd Dr Alan Gadd
Lambeth Palace, London, SE1 7JU
16th January 2018
I am writing to you to earnestly consider the negative impact of your statement dated 15.12.2017 in response to the Independent Review by Lord Carlile of Berriew, regarding allegations against Bishop George Bell.
My concern is that the conclusion implied in your statement appears that Bishop Bell was a paedophile. The purpose of Lord Carlile’s report was to review procedures without prejudice. However, the message received by the public appears to be condemnation of Bishop Bell. Implying the guilt of Bishop Bell should have been left out of your statement.
You chose to use your statement to announce publicly that ‘a significant cloud is left over Bishop Bell’s name’ I respectfully urge you to reflect on the following,
- The claimant’s own recollections as appearing in Lord Carlile’s Review.
- The psychology in defence of Bishop Bell. Either he was a most devious paedophile, who negated all that he believed in whilst abusing a child, or he was a man whose Christian values were evidenced throughout his life by all who encountered him.
First, I wish to refer to the claimant’s reported words of Bishop Bell. I work in primary school, with children the same age as the claimant at the time of the alleged abuse. In my experience as a child therapist, the accurate recall of words spoken to children of 5 to 9 years is unreliable. As Professor Maden points out in his report, memory is not fixed and shifts over time. The memory substitutes words that fulfil the emotional recall, rather than the actual words. There were forty plus years between the alleged words spoken and the words reported. I feel there is reason to be cautious over the alleged words. The words themselves are lost over many decades. The emotional trauma is what is recalled. In processing trauma, memories subconsciously adjust to fit the adult interpretation of experience. This does not mean that the claimant is intentionally lying, but neither does it mean it is accurate.
Again with reference to Professor’s Maden’s report, his expert opinion is that. ’Nevertheless it remains my view that the possibility of false memories in this case cannot be excluded.’
It is important to distinguish between believing the claimant was abused and also having memory distortion. Professor Maden’s professional opinion does not attribute the alleged abuse to Bishop Bell. This opens up the possibility that there was some other unknown perpetrator, who has been wrongly identified as the Bishop.
In defence of George Bell, there is plenty of historical evidence of his actions and behaviour in his role as Bishop of Chichester, recorded at the time, without lapse of decades before it was examined. I believe Bishop Bell’s exceptional character evolved from his involvement in the events unfolding in Europe in the 1930’s and 40s as regards the rise of the Nazi regime and the Holocaust. His personality is so vastly at odds with that of child abuser, that from a psychological point of view, it must be called into question.
It seems vastly problematic that Bishop Bell would risk acting in such a self-destructive way, which would totally annihilate the authenticity of his life work. I would ask you to reflect on the likelihood that Bishop Bell was a child abuser, whilst simultaneously engaging in post war reconciliation. Do you really believe that behaviour displaying moral disintegration, whilst acting with absolute spiritual integrity is possible, without mental breakdown?
If you agree this, then Bishop Bell was the most ‘accomplished’ child abuser in history.
The Core Group were unable to employ Professor Maden’s forensic skill to examine Bishop Bell’s state of mind, so there is no parity of process. However the Core Group failed to research historical sources, as well as failing to contact those still living, who knew Bishop Bell personally, but were not approached before the financial settlement.
Finally I refer to point 282 of Lord Carlile’s Review. The world at large would not have recognised that the Church had not found Bishop Bell guilty.
Point 282 refers to the explanation given to the claimant that the Church did not find Bishop Bell guilty. If it was said clearly to the claimant, it is now all the more your responsibility to explain to ‘the world at large’ the Church has not found Bishop Bell guilty.
I therefore respectfully and urgently request you to reconsider the words of your statement, in particular:
“We realise that a significant cloud is left over his name. No human being is entirely good or bad. Bishop Bell was in many ways a hero. He is also accused of great wickedness. Good acts do not diminish evil ones, nor do evil ones make it right to forget the good”
I also attach a copy of my letter published in the Chichester Observer. I acknowledge my tone is shock and real distress caused by the words of your statement. I pray for a way forward to reconcile all parties and make restoration for damage caused to the reputation of Bishop Bell, so he regains his legacy as an inspirational figure of Christian courage for the current and future generations
Anne A Dawson
School Pastoral Worker, Brent
It is a great shame that you were not present at the talk that an old and frail Bishop Peter Walker gave in Chichester cathedral some years ago as part of the commemorative celebrations of the late Bishop Bell’s life and work.
He spoke with such genuine warmth and admiration for his guide and mentor and his joy at being ordained by Bishop Bell that it made an indelible impression on me.
When Archbishop Rowan Williams came down to preach the closing sermon of these celebrations I had the opportunity to mention the deep impression this talk had made on me and particularly the mention of his ordination by Bishop Bell. In reply the Archbishop gave me the most wonderful smile and said: “And I was ordained by Peter Walker.” We both seemed to sense this link was something very special.
I feel sure that Bishop Bell was a man great enough to find forgiveness for the church’s clumsy handling of this whole affair and their continuing refusal to admit the mistakes they made. Whether lesser mortals like myself and the congregation of the cathedral are able to forgive and forget is a different matter, I regret to say. I would urge you to build bridges as soon as possible.
Dear Archbishop Justin,
I am appalled to read that, despite the findings of the Carlile report that there is no evidence to corroborate ‘Carol’s’ claim of sexual abuse by the late Bishop George Bell and that on the contrary there is overwhelming evidence of his innocence, you continue to refuse to rescind your statement that there is still a ‘significant cloud’ over his name.
I believe that the ‘significant cloud’ hangs over your own name, not his. You are in contravention of the law of this land, that states there is a presumption of innocence in all cases until guilt is proven – which Lord Carlile has demonstrated has not happened and cannot happen here. And as the senior member of the House of Bishops, your continued attempt to smear the name of the late Bishop Bell is doubly hypocritical, since the adoption of the policy of that House in May 2017 with reference to abuse cases specifically states that those accused shall be regarded as innocent until proven guilty.
You are also breaking God’s commandment against bearing false witness. This means more than spreading malicious gossip or telling falsehoods. It means doing nothing to counter false rumours or to protect those who may be damaged by them.
The fact that you have not responded personally to any of the many letters so far sent by individuals, groups, professional organisations or those in positions of authority within the Church itself indicates that you are fully aware that your accusations are groundless. You have no case to present to the world against George Bell.
I pray that you will immediately see fit to rescind your statement, made on 15 December 2017 on the publication of the Carlile report, that you will apologise in person to the family of George Bell, and that you will take steps toward the restoration of Bishop Bell’s good name at the earliest opportunity. Failure to do so can only result in further damage to the Church and to your own reputation.
Dr Ruth Hildebrandt Grayson
Dear Mr Symonds
Thank you for this. I can assure you that we are working towards publication of the review by Lord Carlile as swiftly as we can.
We received the draft of Lord Carlile’s report in October and now, according to the Terms of Reference of the review, are at the stage of responding with feedback from those who contributed. This is quite an intensive process and includes issues over factual accuracy and identification of ‘Carol’. As the review website notes, the final version of the report will then be presented to the National Safeguarding Steering Group before publication. This is the process with all independent reviews.
Dear Mr Nye
From Dr Ruth Hildebrandt Grayson
Sir, – I was appalled to read the Revd Tom Brazier’s assertion that we “do no further harm” to anyone, if we happen to ruin the reputation of a deceased person against whom allegations of abuse have been made by apologising to the complainant (Letters, 10 November).
I am the daughter of one of the late Bishop Bell’s closest friends. I have been privileged to work over the last two years with many people who are seeking justice for George Bell: as relatives, friends, biographer, clergy, lawyers, journalists, and other supporters.
We have been deeply dismayed by the possibility of a miscarriage of justice in this case, and I am sure none of us would endorse the statement that “no further harm” has been done to the reputation and legacy of one of the country’s greatest Bishops.
I would suggest that Mr Brazier visit Chichester and find out for himself just how much harm has been done.
While we await the publication of the Carlile report on the procedures followed in this instance, the House of Bishops has produced two policy statements in 2017 which are relevant to it.
One [policy] notes that when investigating a complaint against an accused church officer, “a legal presumption of innocence will be maintained during the statutory and Church enquiry processes.” As the Revd Clifford Hall pointed out (Letters, 3 November), this did not happen in the case of the late Bishop Bell, who was presumed guilty on the basis of a single unchallenged accusation, without the production even a shred of hard evidence against him; and it may indicate that correct procedures – as required by the law of the land – were not followed here.
The other policy was published on 13 October, immediately after the Church’s receipt of Lord Carlile’s report. It states that those receiving safeguarding allegations against a church officer must “ensure that [the complainants] feel heard and taken seriously”.
This is not the same as saying that only their account of the matter should be considered. Indeed, it may well mean that it is not appropriate to apologise to a complainant without a complete and impartial investigation of both sides of the case, even when the accused is dead. The defendant may no longer be able to speak for himself, but other sources are often available.
Many of us are concerned that there appears to be a delay in publishing Lord Carlile’s findings in the George Bell case. I trust that the church authorities will see fit to release the report in its entirety soon.
Otherwise, rumours about the rights and wrongs of the case will continue to circulate that can only further damage the Church’s reputation over the handling of this matter.
To support a potential miscarriage of justice in this or any other case, on the grounds that the accused is already “entrusted to the Father”, beggars belief.
I was appalled to read the Revd Tom Brazier’s assertion that we ‘do no further harm’ to anyone if we happen to ruin the reputation of a deceased person against whom allegations of abuse have been made by apologising to the complainant (Letters, Church Times, 10 November 2017). His comment was made in response to the Revd Clifford Hall’s question of the previous week regarding apologies made by senior clergy in the case of another deceased bishop: ‘Have they learned nothing from Bishop Bell’s case? When will the persecution of those conclusively presumed innocent until the contrary is proven cease?’ (Letters, Church Times, 3 November 2017)
For the Revd Brazier’s information, I am the daughter of one of the late Bishop Bell’s closest friends. I have been privileged to work over the past two years with many people who are seeking justice for George Bell: as relatives, friends, biographer, clergy, lawyers, journalists, and other supporters. We have been deeply dismayed by the possibility of a miscarriage of justice in this case; and I am sure none of us would endorse the statement that ‘no further harm’ has been done to the reputation and legacy of one of the country’s greatest bishops. I would suggest that Revd Brazier visit Chichester and find out for himself just how much harm has been done.
While we await the publication of the Carlile report into the procedures followed in this instance, the House of Bishops has produced two policy statements in 2017 that are relevant to it. One notes that when investigating a complaint against an accused Church officer, ‘a legal presumption of innocence will be maintained during the statutory and Church enquiry processes’. As Revd Hall points out, this did not happen in the case of the late Bishop Bell, who was presumed guilty on the basis of a single unchallenged accusation without a shred of hard evidence ever being produced against him; and it may indicate that correct procedures – as required by the law of the land – were not followed here. It is unbelievable that a member of the clergy could publicly advocate ignoring such a fundamental precept of English law. Moreover, it is simply not correct to claim that because an alleged perpetrator is dead, the truth may never be discovered.
The other policy was published on 13 October 2017, immediately after the Church’s receipt of Lord Carlile’s report. It states that those receiving safeguarding allegations against a church officer must ‘ensure that [the complainants] feel heard and taken seriously’. This is not the same as saying that only their account of the matter should be considered. Indeed, it may well mean that it is not appropriate to apologise to a complainant without a complete and impartial investigation of both sides of the case, even when the accused is dead. The defendant may no longer be able to speak for himself, but other sources – including family members and other witnesses – are often available.
Many of us are concerned that there appears to be some delay in publishing Lord Carlile’s findings in the George Bell case. I trust that the Church authorities will see fit to release the report in its entirety in the very near future. Otherwise, rumours as to the rights and wrongs of the case will continue to circulate that can only further damage the Church’s reputation over its handling of this matter. To support a potential miscarriage of justice in this or any other case on the grounds that the accused is already ‘entrusted to the Father’ beggars belief.
Dr Ruth Hildebrandt Grayson
I have now become deeply uncomfortable when the word “allegations” is read – especially in relation to “inappropriate behaviour” of a sexual nature (“Weinstein allegations look like start of a shift in the way we treat others forever”, WSG, Nov 1).
It’s not just Chomsky’s warning which brings discomfort when front page news is dominated by allegations about people’s sex lives: “Reach for your pocket and see whose pulling out your wallet”.
It’s the frenzied hysteria – a kind of ‘paedomania’ – which can grip the public’s imagination. Allegations can get out of control – a ‘storm’ is created in which injustices emerge and lives and reputations of innocent people are destroyed.
We need to be so careful when ‘pointing fingers’ at the alleged guilty. Three are pointing back.
Richard W. Symonds
The Bell Society