Bishop George Bell was my father’s tutor at Oxford, he married my parents and he buried my father in 1954 when I was aged 20. I remember him well.
This whole matter has been effectively shouldered by you and the Bishop of Chichester and I have written to the Bishop of Chichester to say so. Lord Carlile makes it clear that the impression is left by the Core Group that George Bell was guilty.
Your remarks on the publication of Lord Carlile’s report were disgraceful – and you did not retract them some days later. In my letter to the Bishop of Chichester I suggested that he should seriously consider his position. You have also subjected one of your predecessors, George Carey, to dreadful humiliation.
In view of these two episodes in the Church of England, in which you played a major part, I think that you, too, should very seriously consider your future.
The Archbishop of Canterbury has provoked a furious backlash by accusing supporters of a highly respected bishop of refusing to believe a historic child sex abuse allegation.
The Most Reverend Justin Welby has repeatedly declined to apologise for the shredding of the reputation of Bishop George Bell over a single, uncorroborated claim made by a woman dating back more than 60 years.
But the Archbishop issued a statement on Monday standing by his refusal to apologise and taking a sideswipe at Bishop Bell’s supporters. In it he likened the case of Bishop Bell, the former Bishop of Chichester, to another bishop Peter Ball, a convicted sex offender.
“I cannot with integrity rescind my statement.” he said, referring to an earlier claim that Bishop Bell had a “significant cloud… over his name” and that he had been accused of “great wickedness”.
Lead Safeguarding Bishop supports Carlile recommendations
Archbishop Welby said on Monday: “As in the case of Peter Ball, and others, it is often suggested that what is being alleged could not have been true, because the person writing knew the alleged abuser and is absolutely certain that it was impossible for them to have done what is alleged.
“As with Peter Ball this sometimes turns out to be untrue, not through their own fault or deceit but because abuse is often kept very secret.
“The experience of discovering feet of clay in more than one person I held in profound respect has been personally tragic.”
Bishop Bell’s supporters reacted with fury and dismay, pointing out the claim against him is uncorroborated and made by one woman – known only as carol – decades after the alleged abuse.
Lord Carlile, who wrote an independent report commissioned by the archbishop, concluded that Bishop bell’s reputation was “wrongly and unnecessarily damaged by the Church”. The Church had paid Carol £16,800 damages and issued an apology in 2015.
Richard Symonds, of the Bell Society, said the archbishop should consider resigning, adding: “His stance is unforgivable.”
Martin Sewell, a retired child protection lawyer and a member of the general synod who will demand an apology when it meets next month, said: “This makes me extraordinarily angry. This statement makes your heart sink.”
A well-placed source inside the Church said: “There is widespread belief that he [Welby] has not shown an appropriate Christian approach in this case. There is a head of steam in the Church of England that could end up in his resignation over this.”
Bishop Bell, who died aged 75 in 1958, was one of the towering figure of the Church of England in the 20th century and was revered for his role in rescuing Jews from Nazi Germany before the war.
The allegation was first made by ‘Carol’ in 1995 some 38 years after his death and brought to Archbishop Welby’s attention in 2013.
Professor Tony Maden, a psychiatrist who examined her, said the “delays in reporting in this case are exceptional” and added that “memory is not reliable over such long periods of time”. He said “false memory” could not be ruled out as an explanation for her claim in the absence of any corroboration.
GEORGE BELL, who died in 1958, was long regarded as one of the most brilliant and morally courageous representatives of the Anglican Church in the 20th century. Alone among English bishops, he opposed the indiscriminate bombing of German cities during the second world war. As a member of the House of Lords, he joined a handful of Labour members of the House of Commons in questioning the morality of annihilating German civilians.
Bishop Bell had maintained warm contacts with German Christians since the 1930s, when he supported a movement of Protestants who were standing up to Hitler. He backed his German friends in resisting efforts by Hitler to create a kind of ersatz Nazi-oriented form of Christianity. After the war, he was a strong supporter of nuclear disarmament. When the office of Archbishop of Canterbury fell vacant in 1944, he was a contender for the leadership of the English church. But Winston Churchill disliked the unruly cleric’s stance on aerial bombing and resisted the appointment.
Sixty years after his death, the bishop has once again become an apple of discord. This week seven of Britain’s leading academic historians penned an open letter to the present Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby. Their complaint is that Archbishop Welby is giving undue credence to allegations that Bishop Bell was guilty of sexually abusing children, even though it has been established that the investigation of those allegations was flimsy and deficient.
The current turn of the story goes back to 2015, when the Bishop of Chichester, Martin Warner, issued an apology to a woman known as “Carol” who said that she had been serially abused by the famous prelate during her childhood. She also received around £15,000 ($20,800) in compensation.
“Carol” alleged that she was often brought along to the Bishop’s Palace by someone who worked there, and that the bishop would gain her attention by offering to read her a bed-time story.
The church’s apparent acceptance of these allegations triggered a movement in defence of Bishop Bell’s memory. His defenders insisted that the accuser’s account did not correspond with what was known about the layout of the palace or the handful of people who lived and worked there.
To shed light on the matter, the church asked Lord Carlile, one of Britain’s top barristers, to ascertain whether the allegations had been properly investigated. He reported in December that the investigation had been hugely deficient because it did not follow a process that was fair and equitable to both sides and failed to give proper consideration to Bishop Bell’s posthumous rights. But Lord Carlile was not authorised to pronounce on whether the bishop was guilty or innocent.
Archbishop Welby responded by apologising for the sloppy investigation. But he insisted that a cloud still hung over Bishop Bell’s reputation. “No human being is entirely good or bad. Bishop Bell was in many ways a hero. He is also accused of great wickedness.”
That is what prompted the seven eminent historians to re-enter the fray and insist that “there is no credible evidence at all that Bishop Bell was a paedophile.” The professors, who include a leading authority on Nazism, Sir Ian Kershaw, added that
We believe the historical figure of George Bell is safe in the hands of historians even though, very sadly, it would appear to have been impugned from within his own Church of England.
The historians insist that they are not implying that the accuser is speaking deliberate falsehoods: merely that the things that she believes she remembers should be cross-checked against other available evidence.
On one point, at least, Sir Ian and his colleagues deserve a hearing. Bishop Bell’s record as an internationalist and humanitarian is a matter of general historical interest, not just a detail in the history of the church. It follows that the investigation of his life should be conducted outside the confines of the church, as transparently as possible, with a fair hearing for all interested parties. That has still not happened.
The Seven Resolutions for the ‘Rebuilding Bridges’ Morning Conference at Church House Westminster on Thursday February 1
To call for:
1. Archbishop Justin Welby to apologise for his “significant cloud” comment concerning Bishop Bell. Any effective ‘rebuilding of bridges’ is almost impossible without this Apology.
2. Bishop of Chichester Martin Warner to invite Barbara Whitley, Bishop Bell’s niece, for a “face-to-face” meeting [she has already requested such a meeting]. The Bishop of Chichester has already met ‘Carol’.
3. Chichester Cathedral’s Dean and Chapter to restore 4 Canon Lane back to George Bell House – and to invite Lord Rowan Williams to re-dedicate the new plaque at George Bell House.
4. Chichester Cathedral’s Chancellor and Canon Librarian, Revd Dr Anthony Cane, to permit the display of Bishop Bell’s Portrait (in storage within the Cathedral Library) at Church House on Feb 1.
5. Chichester Cathedral’s Dean, The Very Reverend Stephen Waine, to correct Page 37 of the Cathedral Guide “Society and Faith”:
6. General Synod to undertake a Full Debate at the earliest opportunity, regarding the serious implications arising from Lord Carlile’s report.
When the Church published @LordCarlile’s review on 15 December it was accompanied by statements by three prelates, Hancock, the “#LeadSafeguardingBishop”, @Warner (#Chichester) and @Welby, (#Canterbury). All three managed to play down Carlile’s adverse findings and adopted a tone of half-hearted contrition, whilst evading or weakening Carlile’s main points.
Carlile’s findings were often biting, terse and trenchantly expressed. He can hardly be pleased with the gloss that has been put on them.
Carlile found that the Church’s procedures in arriving at its guilty verdict on @BishopBell, and in deciding to publish his name,had been very far from best practice. To the careful reader of his review the Core Group sounds amateurish and verging on the shambolic.
It is clear that a consensus, confirmed by majority vote, grew up within the Group, but the arguments that led its members to commit themselves are not stated. There seems to have been little effort to find facts, beyond the allegations made by the complainant, ‘Carol’, whom the Church’s spokesmen insist on describing as “the survivor”.
Against this background the prelates’ task was not easy. The first apologist, Hancock, did his best:
“At the heart of this case was a judgement, on the balance of probabilities, as to whether, in the event that her claim for compensation reached trial, a court would have concluded that Carol was abused by Bishop Bell. The Church decided to compensate Carol, to apologise and to be open about the case.”
Hancock says nothing about how or why the Church reached these decisions, but went on to admit “It is clear from the report, however, that our processes were deficient in a number of respects, in particular the process for seeking to establish what may have happened. For that we apologise”
Since the whole point of the Core Group was “to establish what may have have happened” this admission is crucial, though Hancock seems not to realise how fundamental it is.
He went on: “The Bishop Bell case is a complex one and it is clear from the report and minutes of Core Group meetings that much professional care and discussion were taken over both agreeing the settlement with Carol and the decision to make this public. As Lord Carlile’s report makes clear, we acted in good faith throughout with no calculated intention to damage George Bell’s reputation.”
The reader of Carlile’s review will not have gained an impression of “much professional care and discussion”. Nor does the case see particularly complex, resting, as it does, on uncorroborated allegations. As for the damage to Bell’s reputation, could the Group have done more damage if it had acted in BAD faith?
Hancock concludes with proper genuflection to Bell’s wartime record, but adds: “ At the same time, we have a duty and commitment to listen to those reporting abuse, to guard their confidentiality, and to protect their interests.
“We recognise that Carol has suffered pain, as have surviving relatives of Bishop Bell. We are sorry that the Church has added to that pain through its handling of this case.”
It is fair to comment that the Church did not ADD TO Bell’s relations’ pain: it created it.
Hancock’s statement is well drafted, but is unlikely it to satisfy anyone, for the overall impression that it leaves is of studied reluctance to say anything that would tend to exonerate Bishop Bell, whatever the evidence, or lack of it.
The Bishop of Chichester is under fire over his claim, made after the Carlile report into the Church of England’s handling of an allegation of sexual abuse against Bishop George Bell, that the Church did not proclaim the late Bishop Bell’s guilt.
The Mail on Sunday journalist Peter Hitchens, who has vigorously campaigned on behalf of the late bishop since the Church made public the claims against Bell in 2015, penned a hard-hitting letter to Martin Warner this week.
In his letter, Hitchens focused on the impression that was left in the press after the Church issued a formal public apology and announced that it had paid £16,800 to the woman in question, known as ‘Carol’.
Hitchens wrote: ‘You said on Friday [the day the Carlile report was published], and yet again in your Radio 4 interview on Sunday that you had never proclaimed George Bell’s guilt. On Radio 4, you said ‘What we did not do and have not ever done is to make a clear statement which says “We have found George Bell guilty”. We have never done that’.
‘I must ask, in that case, why you did not write to The Times, the Guardian, the Daily Telegraph, the BBC, the Argus of Brighton or the Chichester Observer, correcting their reports of your statement, reports which proclaimed that George Bell was guilty? Is it possible that you did so and they ignored your letters? Or did you choose to leave the impression of guilt which your statement had created, which you now insist you had not intended to create? Had you written to complain, it would have been very helpful to my own unending efforts to get these media to change their tune.’
The Church of England was criticised in the Carlile report for a ‘rush to judgment’ in its handling of the allegations against Bishop Bell, who died in 1958.
The report by Lord Carlile said that although the Church acted in good faith, its processes were deficient and it failed to give proper consideration to the rights of the accused.
Hitchens dramatically clashed with Bishop Warner and Peter Hancock, the Church of England’s lead safeguarding bishop, at the press conference for the release of the report on Friday, accusing the Church of behaving in a ‘Stalinoid’ fashion towards the memory of the late Bishop Bell.
The columnist also raised the removal of Bishop Bell’s name from buildings, institutions and guide books in Chichester including from the former George Bell House. He said that ‘many mentions of George Bell have been excised from the Cathedral guide book, his name has been removed from the House which used to bear it at Bishop Luffa school where I should think you might have some influence, and also from a hall of residence at the University of Chichester.
‘I pointed out to you last Friday that even the Soviet Union had eventually rehabilitated those whom it had unjustly condemned in unfair show trials (whose memories, names and pictures were likewise removed from buildings, streets, photographs, encyclopaedias and so forth).’
Hitchens concluded: ‘The Church of England is surely judged by (and should regulate itself by) a higher standard than an atheist secret police state.’
A spokesperson for the Bishop of Chichester said: ‘We have received a copy of the letter and as it is a long, detailed document Bishop Martin will be responding in the New Year. There is no actual time to do it properly between now and Christmas as this is obviously a hugely busy week.’
Bishop Warner said on Friday: ‘Lord Carlile’s Independent Review is a demonstration of the Church of England’s commitment to equality of justice and transparency in our safeguarding practice. The diocese of Chichester requested this “lessons learned” Review.
‘We welcome Lord Carlile’s assessment of our processes, and apologise for failures in the work of the Core Group of national and diocesan officers and its inadequate attention to the rights of those who are dead. We also accept the Report’s recognition that we acted in good faith, and improvements to Core Group protocols are already in place. Further work on them is in hand.
‘The Report demands further consideration of the complexities of this case, such as what boundaries can be set to the principle of transparency. Lord Carlile rightly draws our attention to public perception. The emotive principle of innocent until proven guilty is a standard by which our actions are judged and we have to ensure as best we can that justice is seen to be done. Irrespective of whether she is technically a complainant, survivor, or victim, ‘Carol’ emerges from this report as a person of dignity and integrity. It is essential that her right to privacy continues to be fully respected.
‘The good deeds that Bishop George Bell did were recognised internationally. They will stand the test of time. In every other respect, we have all been diminished by the case that Lord Carlile has reviewed.’
Bell’s niece Barbara Whitley, 93, has said she wants the reputation of her uncle restored and has asked for a face-to-face apology from the Church of England.
‘I’m determined to clear his name before I die,’ she told the BBC.