Tag Archives: Canterbury Cathedral

May 14 2019 – “George Bell Group issues new statement” – ‘Thinking Anglicans’ – Simon Sarmiento

George Bell House - 4 Canon Lane - Chichester Cathedral

George Bell House – 4 Canon Lane – Chichester Cathedral – before the name change [Picture: Alamy]

George Bell Group issues new statement

George Bell Group issues new statement

The George Bell Group has issued this: Statement May 2019.

Since October 2015 when the Archbishops’ Council announced that they had paid compensation to the woman given the pseudonym ‘Carol’, who alleged that she had been abused by Bishop George Bell, his defenders have criticised the Church authorities for never once affording the Bishop the presumption of innocence.  Now, after the inquiries of Lord Carlile and Timothy Briden, it can be seen that the allegations against Bishop Bell were unfounded in fact.

THE CARLILE REVIEW

The Carlile report, whose conclusions (save as to publicity) the Church accepted, criticised the investigation of Carol’s allegations as a rush to judgment predicated on Bell’s guilt. It concluded that the decision to settle with Carol was indefensibly wrong and that the process completely ignored the Bishop’s reputation and the interests of his surviving family, including his very elderly niece.

The original statement by the Archbishops’ Council in October 2015 claimed that none of the expert independent reports had found reason to doubt Carol’s veracity. But Lord Carlile discovered that the only expert consulted by the Church thought it very likely that Carol’s experience of abuse in her first marriage had affected her recall, and that the possibility of false memories was a real one.

Regrettably Archbishop Welby added his authority to the destruction of Bell’s reputation: on Good Friday 2016, before the Carlile report was completed, he told BBC Radio that the investigation of Carol’s claim had been ‘very thorough’ and the finding of abuse correct on the balance of probabilities. We now know how far from the truth that was.

The Archbishop told Lord Carlile during his inquiry that if there had not been a proper investigation of Carol’s story, the Church would have to apologise. But sadly, when the Carlile report was published in December 2017, he chose not to do so. To the disappointment of Bell’s defenders, he appeared to reject the presumption of innocence; instead he commented that there was still ‘a significant cloud’ left over Bishop Bell’s name without giving any explanation of why he continued to hold that view in the face of Lord Carlile’s conclusions.

THE ‘FRESH INFORMATION’ AND THE BRIDEN PROCESS

The publicity given to the Carlile report appears to have triggered a copy-cat claim by the woman given the name Alison. The Core Safeguarding Group which had been responsible for the shambolic investigation of Carol’s claim now set about trying to substantiate that by Alison. They may well have hoped that the similar facts alleged by Alison would corroborate the discredited Carol. But within weeks the police, to whom the Core Group had reported the matter, closed their enquiries.  Next an investigation by a senior retired police officer commissioned by the Church quickly showed that Alison’s evidence was unreliable and incapable of supporting any adverse finding against the Bishop.

Mr Briden reported that her account not only had internal inconsistencies but was also contaminated by her having read Carol’s story, a contamination revealed by her repeating verbatim some of Carol’s words which had been reported in the press. He ended his report by saying that all the allegations against George Bell remitted to him were unfounded.

Many will have hoped that on reading Mr Briden’s report Archbishop Welby would have publicly acknowledged that the cloud of which he had previously spoken had been dissipated. He did not do so.

THE DUTY OF THE CHURCH NOW

The history of the treatment by the Church of England of the reputation of George Bell has become a scandal. It is now the plain duty of the Church of England, nationally and in the Diocese of Chichester, to make amends by working to restore Bishop Bell’s reputation, not least in institutions which were once proud to adopt his name.

We welcome the decision of Canterbury Cathedral to revive a commission to create a statue of Bell and note the expression of ‘delight’ with which the Archbishop of Canterbury has responded. We acknowledge with gratitude the firmness with which the Dean and Chapter of Christ Church, Oxford have maintained and cherished the chapel there dedicated to Bell’s memory throughout the controversy. We note that the meeting room dedicated to Bishop Bell remains, as before, at the World Council of Churches in Geneva.

It is only in Chichester itself, the place in which Bishop Bell lived and worked for almost thirty years and where his ashes are interred in the cathedral, that any public adoption of his name is now suppressed.

We find the public stance of the Bishop of Chichester, Dr Martin Warner, incomprehensible and indefensible. The Bishop’s ‘Response’ to the Briden Report, published on 24 January 2019 and now promoted on the websites of the diocese and cathedral, only went as far as to acknowledge that ‘Bishop Bell cannot be proven guilty’. He added that it could not be ‘safely claimed that the original complainant [i.e. Carol] had been discredited’. This is a most regrettable insinuation that there was, or likely was, substance to Carol’s allegation and hence that Bell was to be suspected of abuse.

The Bishop emphasised the defamatory innuendo by asking ‘those who hold opposing views on this matter to recognise the strength of each other’s commitment to justice and compassion.’ There is, regrettably, no evidence in this response of the Bishop’s commitment to justice or of any compassion towards those who are wrongly accused. His words have been repeated verbatim by the Bishop at Lambeth in response to a Question at the recent session of the General Synod of the church. Indeed, the Bishop even invoked the authority of the House of Bishops in support of this view. So far as we are aware the House has never even discussed the matter.

Such words simply preserve the impression that there was, and remains, a case against Bell. A not dissimilar state of mind was revealed by the Chichester Diocesan Safeguarding Officer when he told the Child Abuse Inquiry in March 2018 that ‘all the indications we have would suggest that the simplest explanation for why someone comes forward to report abuse – because they were abused – is likely to be the correct one’.

As the High Court Judge Sir Richard Henriques has pointed out in his report to the Metropolitan Police on allegations against prominent individuals, such an assumption results in an investigation which does not challenge the complainant, tends to disbelieve the suspect and shifts onto the suspect the burden of proof, ignoring any presumption of innocence. It becomes a premise for a miscarriage of justice such as can now be seen to have been inflicted on the reputation of George Bell.

It should be sufficient to observe that like Professor Anthony Maden, Lord Carlile did interview this first complainant. We note Lord Carlile’s statement of 1 February 2019, made to the local campaigner Mr Richard Symonds: ‘The Church should now accept that my recommendations should be accepted in full, and that after due process, however delayed, George Bell should be declared by the Church to be innocent of the allegations made against him.’

We are more than conscious that this saga represents a wider pattern in the Church and across society where many other such miscarriages of justice have become notorious. Now it is surely essential that if all the many safeguarding bodies, national and diocesan, are to be retained by the Church of England their work must be placed under real legal discipline and in the hands of officers who observe fully the expectations and rule of law and act without fear or prejudice.

There must never again be any repetition of such a discreditable, indeed disgraceful, performance.

Andrew Chandler, Convenor of George Bell Group, 9 May 2019

COMMENTS
Susannah Clark

“it can be seen that the allegations against Bishop Bell were unfounded in fact.”

What does that precisely mean? If the group is saying that the case is ‘unproven’ then I’d agree, because it is impossible to prove one way or the other whether her allegations against the Bishop are true or untrue. If it is saying that ‘Carol’s allegations about George Bell can be proved to be untrue, then that is a slur on a woman whose narrative they have repeatedly said is false. To say that George Bell *is* innocent (except in legal terms) is a false claim.

What I read in this statement is the use of insinuation.

“The possibility of false memories was a real one.” Yes. But ‘possibility’ means just that. It’s also possible her recall of who abused her was not false. Possibility either way is not the same as fact.

“They may well have hoped that the similar facts alleged by Alison would corroborate the discredited Carol.” Setting Alison aside, why is Carol described as “the discredited Carol”. That is offensive to a woman whose claims remain unproven one way or the other. It is slur.

As Dr Martin Warner correctly acknowledges: “Bishop Bell cannot be proven guilty.” But he is also right to add that it could not be “safely claimed that the original complainant [i.e. Carol] had been discredited.” That is not insinuation. It is fact. The fact remains that Carol may or may not have been abused by George Bell.

Process was faulty, and reform in the Church’s safeguarding procedures is overdue, but at the same time, this campaign group has created an incredibly hostile and partisan environment for an abuse victim herself. ‘Carol’ in all likelihood has indeed suffered abuse. It may have been committed by George Bell. With the passage of time we shall probably never know. However, assertions that – as a matter of fact – Carol’s claims are false… that is a disgraceful shutting down of an abuse victim’s experience and allegation.

Yes, the accused need safeguarding protection too… few deny process needs improvement… but no, it CANNOT “be seen that the allegations against Bishop Bell were unfounded in fact.”

That is a falsehood, a false assertion. If we create a virulent and hostile environment for people with the courage to come forward to accuse abusers – and it takes incredible courage – then we should be ashamed, because what it will do is drive victims back into secrecy and silence.

In addition, we must never lionise powerful men, even good men of known courage, to the extent that hagiography silences those who – in some cases – are nevertheless victims of the very dark side of human character. Great men can be flawed. We cannot simply disbelieve women because of their abuser’s reputation. That cannot wash. What we need is process that is discreet, measured, and factually very precise with its language. And non-partisan.

We do not, factually, know if George Bell was innocent or guilty. I doubt we ever will. Carol may be right.

T Pott
“We do not know, factually, if George Bell was innocent or guilty.” If that were so, it would put him in exactly the same position as everybody else who has ever lived. So, perhaps, we should simply remember people for what we do know about them.
Susannah, if you make an allegation I raped you when you were 5-years-old, the onus is on you to provide evidence that I raped you. The onus is not on me to prove I am innocent.

If you cannot provide that evidence in a court of law, then however convinced you are that it was me who raped you, I am to be presumed innocent. That’s the law.

After two investigations (Carlile & Briden), ‘Carol’ – who has had the benefit of anonymity and been paid nearly £30,000 (?) in compensation – has provided zero evidence that it was Bishop Bell who abused her.

Therefore, Bishop Bell is to be presumed innocent. That’s the law.

But the Church seems to consider itself above the law by presuming Bishop Bell’s guilt and presuming the innocence of ‘Carol’.

May 13 2019 – The George Bell Group Statement – May 2019 – “The history of the treatment by the Church of England of the reputation of George Bell has become a scandal” ~ Dr Andrew Chandler

George Bell House - 4 Canon Lane - Chichester Cathedral

George Bell House – 4 Canon Lane – Chichester Cathedral – before the name change [Picture: Alamy]

Home

The George Bell Group

We are an independent group whose members represent a concentration of experience in public life, in the fields of law, policing, politics, journalism, academic research and church affairs. This group began to meet in response to the 22 October 2015 statement issued by the Church of England about Bishop George Bell. See this BBC report for the original story. On 15 December 2017 the Church of England published the independent review of Lord Carlile and issued three statements made in response by the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Bishop of Chichester and the Bishop of Bath & Wells.

We warmly welcome the Report written by Timothy Briden and congratulate him on his thorough examination of the evidence which led him to the explicit conclusion that the new allegations against Bishop Bell were unfounded. There are no other allegations.

It is time to conclude a matter which has lasted altogether three and a half years. The investigative activities and processes of the church authorities themselves have been devastated by independent legal judgement. The assurances with which these authorities have justified themselves and effectively promoted a case against Bishop Bell in public have been discredited. Bishop Bell’s reputation is today vindicated and affirmed by authoritative opinion. What remains of the story is only a matter of contemporary church politics.

Read the full response of the George Bell Group (May 2019)

Statement May 2019

Since October 2015 when the Archbishops’ Council announced that they had paid compensation to the woman given the pseudonym ‘Carol’, who alleged that she had been abused by Bishop George Bell, his defenders have criticised the Church authorities for never once affording the Bishop the presumption of innocence.  Now, after the inquiries of Lord Carlile and Timothy Briden, it can be seen that the allegations against Bishop Bell were unfounded in fact.

THE CARLILE REVIEW

The Carlile report, whose conclusions (save as to publicity) the Church accepted, criticised the investigation of Carol’s allegations as a rush to judgment predicated on Bell’s guilt. It concluded that the decision to settle with Carol was indefensibly wrong and that the process completely ignored the Bishop’s reputation and the interests of his surviving family, including his very elderly niece.

The original statement by the Archbishops’ Council in October 2015 claimed that none of the expert independent reports had found reason to doubt Carol’s veracity. But Lord Carlile discovered that the only expert consulted by the Church thought it very likely that Carol’s experience of abuse in her first marriage had affected her recall, and that the possibility of false memories was a real one.

Regrettably Archbishop Welby added his authority to the destruction of Bell’s reputation: on Good Friday 2016, before the Carlile report was completed, he told BBC Radio that the investigation of Carol’s claim had been ‘very thorough’ and the finding of abuse correct on the balance of probabilities. We now know how far from the truth that was.

The Archbishop told Lord Carlile during his inquiry that if there had not been a proper investigation of Carol’s story, the Church would have to apologise. But sadly, when the Carlile report was published in December 2017, he chose not to do so. To the disappointment of Bell’s defenders, he appeared to reject the presumption of innocence; instead he commented that there was still ‘a significant cloud’ left over Bishop Bell’s name without giving any explanation of why he continued to hold that view in the face of Lord Carlile’s conclusions.

THE ‘FRESH INFORMATION’ AND THE BRIDEN PROCESS

The publicity given to the Carlile report appears to have triggered a copy-cat claim by the woman given the name Alison. The Core Safeguarding Group which had been responsible for the shambolic investigation of Carol’s claim now set about trying to substantiate that by Alison. They may well have hoped that the similar facts alleged by Alison would corroborate the discredited Carol. But within weeks the police, to whom the Core Group had reported the matter, closed their enquiries.  Next an investigation by a senior retired police officer commissioned by the Church quickly showed that Alison’s evidence was unreliable and incapable of supporting any adverse finding against the Bishop.

Mr Briden reported that her account not only had internal inconsistencies but was also contaminated by her having read Carol’s story, a contamination revealed by her repeating verbatim some of Carol’s words which had been reported in the press. He ended his report by saying that all the allegations against George Bell remitted to him were unfounded.

Many will have hoped that on reading Mr Briden’s report Archbishop Welby would have publicly acknowledged that the cloud of which he had previously spoken had been dissipated. He did not do so.

THE DUTY OF THE CHURCH NOW

The history of the treatment by the Church of England of the reputation of George Bell has become a scandal.

It is now the plain duty of the Church of England, nationally and in the Diocese of Chichester, to make amends by working to restore Bishop Bell’s reputation, not least in institutions which were once proud to adopt his name.

We welcome the decision of Canterbury Cathedral to revive a commission to create a statue of Bell and note the expression of ‘delight’ with which the Archbishop of Canterbury has responded. We acknowledge with gratitude the firmness with which the Dean and Chapter of Christ Church, Oxford have maintained and cherished the chapel there dedicated to Bell’s memory throughout the controversy. We note that the meeting room dedicated to Bishop Bell remains, as before, at the World Council of Churches in Geneva.

It is only in Chichester itself, the place in which Bishop Bell lived and worked for almost thirty years and where his ashes are interred in the cathedral, that any public adoption of his name is now suppressed.

We find the public stance of the Bishop of Chichester, Dr Martin Warner, incomprehensible and indefensible. The Bishop’s ‘Response’ to the Briden Report, published on 24 January 2019 and now promoted on the websites of the diocese and cathedral, only went as far as to acknowledge that ‘Bishop Bell cannot be proven guilty’. He added that it could not be ‘safely claimed that the original complainant [i.e. Carol] had been discredited’. This is a most regrettable insinuation that there was, or likely was, substance to Carol’s allegation and hence that Bell was to be suspected of abuse.

The Bishop emphasised the defamatory innuendo by asking ‘those who hold opposing views on this matter to recognise the strength of each other’s commitment to justice and compassion.’ There is, regrettably, no evidence in this response of the Bishop’s commitment to justice or of any compassion towards those who are wrongly accused. His words have been repeated verbatim by the Bishop at Lambeth in response to a Question at the recent session of the General Synod of the church. Indeed, the Bishop even invoked the authority of the House of Bishops in support of this view. So far as we are aware the House has never even discussed the matter.

Such words simply preserve the impression that there was, and remains, a case against Bell. A not dissimilar state of mind was revealed by the Chichester Diocesan Safeguarding Officer when he told the Child Abuse Inquiry in March 2018 that ‘all the indications we have would suggest that the simplest explanation for why someone comes forward to report abuse – because they were abused – is likely to be the correct one’.

As the High Court Judge Sir Richard Henriques has pointed out in his report to the Metropolitan Police on allegations against prominent individuals, such an assumption results in an investigation which does not challenge the complainant, tends to disbelieve the suspect and shifts onto the suspect the burden of proof, ignoring any presumption of innocence. It becomes a premise for a miscarriage of justice such as can now be seen to have been inflicted on the reputation of George Bell.

It should be sufficient to observe that like Professor Anthony Maden, Lord Carlile did interview this first complainant. We note Lord Carlile’s statement of 1 February 2019, made to the local campaigner Mr Richard Symonds: ‘The Church should now accept that my recommendations should be accepted in full, and that after due process, however delayed, George Bell should be declared by the Church to be innocent of the allegations made against him.’

We are more than conscious that this saga represents a wider pattern in the Church and across society where many other such miscarriages of justice have become notorious. Now it is surely essential that if all the many safeguarding bodies, national and diocesan, are to be retained by the Church of England their work must be placed under real legal discipline and in the hands of officers who observe fully the expectations and rule of law and act without fear or prejudice.

There must never again be any repetition of such a discreditable, indeed disgraceful, performance.

Andrew Chandler, Convenor of George Bell Group, 9 May 2019

Feb 8 2019 – “George Bell ‘should not have been named’ in Church’s settlement of sex abuse allegation” – Church Times – Madeleine Davies

IMG_2295

https://www.churchtimes.co.uk/articles/2019/8-february/news/uk/george-bell-should-not-have-been-named-in-church-s-settlement-of-sex-abuse-allegation

George Bell ‘should not have been named’ in Church’s settlement of sex abuse allegation

08 FEBRUARY 2019

A confidentiality clause should have governed the payment made to “Carol”, the Bishop of Chichester, Dr Martin Warner, has said

The house at 4 Canon Lane, Chichester, once called Bishop Bell House

 

THE blackening of George Bell’s name would not have happened had there been a confidentiality clause governing the payment made to “Carol”, who accused him of sexual abuse, the Bishop of Chichester, Dr Martin Warner, said on Monday.

Dr Warner was addressing supporters of Bishop Bell at the Rebuilding Bridges conference, held at 4 Canon Lane, Chichester, to which supporters wish to see the name “George Bell House” restored.

The naming was up to the Dean and Chapter, the Bishop reiterated (News, 1 February), but he indicated that the cathedral should make more of the Sisters of the Cross, who had donated the house.

“I don’t think simply renaming it ‘George Bell House’ will just do the job. We cannot rewrite history, but we must do better.”

More generally, he suggested that the Church of England must “speak of the achievements, the good things that Bishop Bell did” to restore his reputation. It was “report that makes a person famous for their good deeds. . . So, it seems that for us in the diocese and the Church of England at large, it is important that we are able to speak of the achievements, the good things that Bishop Bell did.”

This had been done on “a number of occasions”, he said, one of which had been his address at a commemoration of the Reformation, in Coburg in 2017. “I believe history will tell the good deeds of Bishop Bell, and I believe they will stand the test of time.”

Dr Warner resisted calls to pronounce Bishop Bell innocent, prompting one speaker to explain that “most here are troubled because the idea of innocence until proven guilty touches everyone.”

He did, though, indicate his acceptance of a key recommendation by Lord Carlile of Berwick, who conducted a review of the Church’s handling of the accusation against Bishop Bell, that the dealings with Carol should have been confidential. “The fault lies with us as the institution, and it is clearly identified in Lord Carlile’s report, as having gone public. We have to own up to that and face it. I’m very clear about that. I take part of the responsibility.

“If you want to know about justice, it’s not about guilty or innocent, but what is made public. Had we said nothing about a settlement with Carol, had there been a confidentiality clause, none of this would have reached the public domain. . .

“We are clear on how wrong we were on publicising the process.”

A statement by Lord Carlile was read at the conference: “The Church should accept that my recommendations should be accepted in full, and Bishop Bell should be declared by the Church to be innocent of the allegations made against him.”

His review had not been asked to determine whether Bishop Bell was innocent, but he had concluded that the case was not strong enough even to be brought to court (News, 22 December 2017).

Among the resolutions carried at the conference was one calling for an apology by the Archbishop of Canterbury, and another asking for a debate in the General Synod.

 

 

Feb 1 2019 – “Welby welcomes plan for George Bell statue, hours after apologising for Church’s handling of the case” – Church Times – Hattie Williams

Welby welcomes plan for George Bell statue hours after apologising for Church’s handling of the case

https://www.churchtimes.co.uk/articles/2019/1-february/news/uk/welby-welcomes-plan-for-george-bell-statue-hours-after-apologising-for-church-s-handling-of-the-case

 

01 FEBRUARY 2019

The commission was halted in 2015, after an allegation of sexual abuse against Bell

A sketch of George Bell by David Goodman

 

THE Archbishop of Canterbury has welcomed plans for a statue of the late Bishop of Chichester, George Bell, to be completed and installed in Canterbury Cathedral, hours after apologising for the Church’s botched handling of an allegation of sexual abuse against the Bishop.

Plans for the statue were halted in 2015, after a woman known as “Carol” alleged that Bishop Bell, a former Dean of Canterbury Cathedral, had sexually abused her in the 1940s, when she was nine. The diocese of Chichester apologised and reached a settlement with Carol within the year (News, 23 October 2015).

An independent investigation by Lord Carlile later concluded, however, that the Church had rushed to judgement in the case, which, Lord Carlile said, should not have been made public (News, 22 December 2017). He wrote that, had the Church seen the evidence that his review had managed to uncover without great difficulty, the case would not have been thought strong enough even to be tested in court.

The news sparked fresh allegations against Bell, which were dismissed in a report on Thursday of last week by an ecclesiastical lawyer, Chancellor Timothy Briden, Vicar-General of the Province of Canterbury.

The report was the conclusion of a second investigation, commissioned and made public by the Bishop of Chichester, Dr Martin Warner, in January of last year. Both Dr Warner and the Archbishop issued statements apologising.

The next day, the Friends of Canterbury Cathedral, which was founded by Bell when he was the Dean of Canterbury (1924 to 1929), announced that a statue of him which had first been commissioned in 2015, would be completed and installed at the cathedral, paid for by the Friends.

“To commemorate his work whilst in Canterbury, the statue will be placed in one of the exterior niches at the west end of the cathedral, joining those of other influential figures.”

The Friends have declined to comment further or provide pictures of the statue, but a newsletter sent to the Friends of Canterbury Cathedral in the United States, in February 2014, gives details of three new commissions for the west front of the cathedral: one of Dean Bell, and two others of the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh.

It reads: “The statue of Dean Bell has been commissioned and carving has begun out at Broad Oak [in Kent].

“The maquettes for the royal statues of Her Majesty the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh have been approved by Chapter and the Cathedrals Fabric Commission and work will begin on their manufacture later in the year. Some of our own masons are involved helping the sculptor, Miss Nina Bilbey, and it is hoped that all the statues will be ready for installation towards the end of the year.”

The statues of the Queen and Prince Philip were unveiled on the west front in March 2015. When approached this week, Ms Bilbey said that she was unable to comment at present.

Archbishop Welby posted a link to the announcement on Twitter, last Friday. He wrote: “I warmly welcome the announcement today that the statue of Bishop George Bell will in due course be completed and installed at Canterbury Cathedral, as a permanent reminder of his unique contribution to international peace and to the Church of England.”

His comment echoed his apology for the “mistakes” made in handling the original allegation, which he previously said had left a “significant cloud” over the name of Bishop Bell, despite protests from historians that Bell’s name should never have been implicated (News, 22 January 2018).

Bishop Bell’s biographer, Professor Andrew Chandler, has been campaigning with the Bell Society to clear Bell’s name. “To invest the authority of high public office, and the name and the resources of the Church itself, in a sustained denigration of an innocent, dead man, is profoundly disturbing,” he said this week.

“To maintain that denigration in public, even in the face of the most authoritative, experienced, and principled criticism, for over three years, is something very serious indeed. It does represent, in a fundamental way, an abuse of moral power.”

A spokesman for Church House suggested last week that Chichester Cathedral might “review” its decision to remove Bishop Bell’s name from its grant scheme. It was up to individual institutions, however, to decide whether to reinstate his name on buildings, he said.

Several buildings dedicated to Bell have been renamed in the past three years, including George Bell House, a conference centre in Chichester Cathedral close, which was dedicated in October 2008, on the 50th anniversary of his death (Features, 3 October 2008). The building was renamed 4 Canon Lane in 2016.

An event — “Rebuilding Bridges” — is being hosted there next week by the Bell Society. It will ask whether the Dean and Chapter will restore the name of Bell to the building, and whether Bishop Bell be “cleared of abuse” by the Archbishop.

 

Nov 2016 – “In Defense Of George Bell” – Peter Hitchens – ‘First Things’

https://www.firstthings.com/article/2016/11/in-defense-of-george-bell

 

George Bell, Bishop of Chichester: Church, State, and Resistance in the Age of Dictatorship
by andrew chandler
eerdmans, 224 pages, $35

The best way to get a belly laugh from a Roman Catholic is to mention the words “Anglican” and “principle” in the same breath. It is easy to see why.

The current leaders of the American Episcopalians and their English mother church are wedded firmly to the spirit of the age. And as William Inge, dean of St. Paul’s Cathedral in London warned long ago, “Whoever marries the spirit of this age will find himself a widower in the next.” So it has proved, and so it will continue to prove. The leaders of this rather interesting version of Christianity mistook its breadth and openness for a benevolent, politicized vagueness. They adopted social democratic politics and economics in England, and 1960s liberationism in the U.S. They then waited for the kingdom of heaven to arrive as their churches grew emptier and their voices fainter and shriller.

And yet there were exceptions. The British radical politician Tony Benn was fond of saying that there were two types of public figure: weathervanes that revolved, squeaking, in the prevailing wind, and signposts that grimly continued to point the way, often to an oblivious multitude, which missed the straight and narrow and surged instead on to the winding primrose path. George Bell, bishop of Chichester in the middle part of the twentieth century, was one such signpost. By a single action he asserted the primacy of the Christian conscience above all considerations of power, popularity, and convenience. Yet by this same action he gravely damaged himself. I have a slight suspicion that the merciless attacks being made on his reputation today are part of the reaction to this singular act, an attempt to tear down an example to which we cannot rise.

After much study of his life, I am convinced that I would not have liked George Bell if I had met him, and that he would not have thought much of me. This is surely a good thing. Bishops are not supposed to be likeable. They are supposed to be stern, set apart from the world, and ready to put up with some unpopularity. In the seventeenth-century consecration service which Bell would have undergone, he had to assent to the following question: “Will you deny all ungodliness and worldly lusts, and live soberly, righteously, and godly in this present world; that you may show yourself in all things an example of good works unto others, that the adversary may be ashamed, having nothing to say against you?”

One of several sons of a parson (two of his three brothers died in the last bitter months of the First World War), Bell was academically bright, but not brilliant. He had, it is necessary to say, a poor speaking voice. He had an unlikely early friendship with Oliver St. John Gogarty, a bohemian Irish republican whom he defeated in the battle for an Oxford poetry prize. He had little in the way of social life outside his work. He was identified early in life as one destined for high position, and spent several years as an aide-de-camp to Randall Davidson, the archbishop of Canterbury. He loved poetry, wrote it competently, and was one of the earliest to recognize the genius of Gerard Manley Hopkins. Without his encouragement, T. S. Eliot’s play Murder in the Cathedral might never have been written, or performed in the Chapter House of Canterbury Cathedral. He showed similar friendship and encouragement to the composer Gustav Holst. He was austere and painfully honest in personal dealings, traveling third-class by train and pursuing the railway company with offers of payment (often for tiny fares) if by any chance he had failed to buy a ticket for some rural journey. But his own trusting nature meant he was sometimes embarrassingly wrong, continuing (for instance) to harbor hopes of peace with Hitler’s Germany after the outbreak of war in 1939, and intervening mistakenly on behalf of some Germans who were later shown beyond doubt to have been war criminals.

state the case against him because I am currently being told (by Bell’s modern accusers) that I refuse to accept that he had faults because of my admiration for his good deeds. On the contrary, I have long believed that there are no great men, only great deeds. And yet it takes exceptional men and women to do such deeds, and Bell was exceptional. What were his great deeds? Many of them are easy to admire. He strove to comfort and rescue those persecuted by Hitler, recognizing the wickedness of the National Socialist state earlier than most. Several owed their lives to his efforts. He was a constant support to that giant, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who sent a last message of gratitude and comradeship to him from his cell. He intervened (this took some courage) to secure the release of undoubted anti-Nazis interned alongside actual Nazis thanks to a Churchillian invasion panic, just when Britain needed their skills and commitment to fight Germany more effectively. He supported the resistance to Hitler, and in 1942 tried to interest the British Foreign Office in early German plans for the overthrow of Hitler, of which he had been told in a meeting in Stockholm. Anthony Eden, the foreign secretary, would not get involved. He probably knew that any talk of peace with Germany, even one cleansed of Hitler, was impossible once we were allied with Stalin. Bell, still clinging to ideals of just war and hoping to save Europe from a prolonged fight to the end, could not see this. Was he wrong? Probably. Britain had by then lost control of the war and was a helpless, bankrupt client of Moscow and Washington. And it seemed possible then that he was being used, though in fact this was not so.

But this is just a preliminary to the one thing about which Bell was wholly right, the thing which marks him out from his generation of English Christians, and the thing for which we all owe him a great debt till the end of time. One righteous man can save a city and cancel out the unrighteousness of millions. And this is what he did.

After long preparation and study, Bell publicly condemned the deliberate bombing of German civilians in their homes, which had by then become Britain’s main contribution to the war in Europe. For this purpose he used the House of Lords, in which a small number of senior bishops sit by right. They must always speak there clad in their priestly robes of plain and puritan black and white, to remind everyone that they are not politicians or their placemen. The privilege has never been used better. To this day, few really understand the issue. Many still believe that Britain accidentally killed German civilians while aiming at oil refineries and munitions factories. Or they think that Bishop Bell was protesting against the notorious bombing of the city of Dresden in 1945, so frightful that even supporters of the policy had their doubts about it. In fact, his speech, delivered on February 9, 1944, was a protest against years of deliberate warfare against defenseless women and children. Few now realize that British forces did this, and even to this day, debates about it in Britain can degenerate into fury and abuse, combined with simple refusal to acknowledge recorded fact. Those interested in the full, grisly story should read Richard Overy’s The Bombing War, Max Hastings’s Bomber Command, and A. C. Grayling’s Among the Dead Cities.

These are the facts: In November 1941, Sir Richard Peirse, then commander in chief of RAF Bomber Command, declared in a semi-public speech that his planes had for nearly a year been attacking “the people themselves,” intentionally. He said, “I mention this because for a long time the Government for excellent reasons has preferred the world to think that we still held some scruples and attacked only what the humanitarians are pleased to call Military Targets. . . . I can assure you, gentlemen, that we tolerate no scruples.” Senior government officials knew of the policy but preferred the truth of it not to be widely known in case “false and misleading deductions” were made. An Air Staff memorandum stated that towns should be made “physically uninhabitable” and the people in them must be “conscious of constant personal danger.” The aim was to produce “destruction” and “the fear of death.” This is not chivalry.

Supported by the military historian Basil Liddell Hart and his own long-standing anti-Nazi credentials, Bell challenged this. These words of his speech echo right down to our own time: “It is common experience in the history of warfare that not only wars, but actions taken in war as military necessities, are often supported at the time by a class of arguments which, after the war is over, people find are arguments to which they never should have listened.”

The speech, which infuriated Winston Churchill and his friends, probably ensured that George Bell did not become archbishop of Canterbury. And yet the speech showed that the broad, reasonable church of Cranmer, Hooker, and Andrewes still possessed a backbone of righteousness, such as it had not shown since it defied the despotic King James II in 1688, and so helped save liberty for posterity. It was the culmination of a life of thought, prayer, love, dedication, and Edwardian high seriousness, just as notable in its way as all the other thousands of stories of physical heroism in the same generation. Bell’s example ought not to be forgotten, and Andrew Chandler’s new biography will help ensure that it will not be. This is a very different book from Ronald Jasper’s rather flat earlier biography, which gave the facts but lacked the personal sympathy with Bell’s intense seriousness of purpose and self-discipline, and also lacked the deep knowledge of Bell’s archive that Chandler demonstrates—especially in his account of Bell’s work with the German resistance.

Yet it is a sad story, and its ending—if such stories ever end—is sadder still. Bell himself, writing of a dead colleague, once adapted Richard Hooker’s words to say, “Ministers of good things are like torches, a light to others, waste and destruction to themselves.” Bell’s life did not really end very happily or completely, perhaps because he was kept from the high position he deserved. He was confined to a second-rank bishopric when his mind, distinction, and experience should have taken him to the Archbishoprics of York or Canterbury, or to the almost-as-significant See of London. His great energy had less and less of an outlet. He had been consumed by his work during his life, and so had little to fall back on as retirement approached. Like so many of his generation, he began to be forgotten by a modern age that regards the past as a storehouse of mistakes, best left locked. And then he was remembered, because of a solitary, ancient, uncorroborated anonymous accusation that he had long ago sexually abused a little girl.

What was his church to do about this charge? Reasonably and understandably, it offered sympathy and money to the unnamed accuser. Given the length of time (more than sixty years ago) and the shortage of witnesses—though it failed to look for at least one such witness, who worked closely with George Bell at the time and says the allegation is absurd—this was a kind and decent thing to do. Less reasonably, it publicized the allegation in such a way as to allow several major London newspapers and the BBC to behave as if the charge were proven. Yet it bears, as Chandler says, no relation to anything else in his well-documented life. Indeed, it contradicts the personal testimony of Canon Adrian Carey, a decorated naval veteran now in his nineties but absolutely lucid, who was Bell’s personal chaplain during the years covered by the accusations, and who has said the events described by the accuser are impossible to match with his own close experience of Bell’s daily life. Yet Canon Carey, who actually lived and shared meals with Bell and his wife during this era, was neither contacted nor consulted by the church authorities, who claimed to have “found no reason to doubt” the accusations.

Why were his successors so willing to toss his reputation into this stinking pit of ultimate shame? Was it because they did not value it, and had forgotten who he was, if they had ever known? Or was it because, when they did understand the great thing he had done, they did not much like it, not being men of his sort? As I think I may have said at the beginning, principle and the Church of England do not always mix very well, and it is not only Roman Catholics who think this. And yet, whatever they do, there is still the collect for the twentieth Sunday after Trinity: “O Almighty and most merciful God, of thy bountiful goodness keep us, we beseech thee, from all things that may hurt us; that we, being ready both in body and soul, may cheerfully accomplish those things that thou wouldest have done.” George Bell would have known those words, said them many times, and, I believe, meant them.

Peter Hitchens is a columnist for the Mail on Sunday.

Jan 29 2019 – “Bishop Bell Vindicated” – Peter Hitchens -‘First Things’ (US)

th (7)

Peter Hitchens

 

https://www.firstthings.com/web-exclusives/2019/01/bishop-bell-vindicated

had not thought that victory in a good cause after a long campaign would make me so angry. And yet I was angry. It is only at such moments that we can test the real currency of conscience and eternity against the counterfeit of everyday.

For I and my allies have just undoubtedly won a protracted struggle to restore the good name of Bishop George Bell of Chichester, outrageously condemned as a child abuser by the Church of England he once adorned.

The headlines and the bulletins have all described it as a victory. We will probably get much of what we have always wanted—for instance the restoration of Bell’s name to the buildings and institutions from which it was Stalinistically stripped after the accusations were first made. Indeed, a statue of him, intended for the west front of Canterbury Cathedral, but left incomplete when the charges were made, is now to be finished and put in its intended place. This is a vindication, if ever there was one.

Yet confronted with the poor, sad burbling thing which is a modern Anglican bishop, refusing even now to withdraw doubts about Bell’s innocence (absolutely presumed in English law), refusing to retract insinuations against his defenders, and in general lacking what I regard as proper contrition—it is this failure to confess and seek absolution which predominates in my mind. I did not just want justice or restitution for George Bell (though I did want them). I wanted his accusers to accept that a man’s good name, after he is dead, cannot lightly be trifled with.  If you damage it, and you are wrong, you have a far greater duty to make restitution than if your victim is alive to refute and forgive you.

And I genuinely could not understand their view, which seems to be that, while George Bell may in fact be guilty of the filthy crimes alleged against him, his wider activities in the great world are still somehow valid and worth “celebrating” or whatever the word is. This is such rubbish. The cruel violation of a trusting child, concealed by abuse of power, and unconfessed, as is suggested, would completely cancel out any public virtue and turn it into slime and ashes. One’s hands reach for a millstone.

But I have had to put away my rage, and my growing fear for those who will not admit to what they have done. This is because the political victory cannot properly be exploited unless we, George Bell’s defenders, assert it.

And so I do, and it is quite clearly such a victory. After a struggle lasting nearly as long as the First World War, we have plainly won.

For the second time, allegations against him have proved on inquiry to be weak beyond belief, nowhere near the standard of proof of any court—and in the case of some of the latest ones actually laughable. In one of these accusations, the bishop is supposed to have engaged in homosexual congress, nine years after he was dead, with a man whose body was spread over some part (presumably the hood) of a Rolls Royce automobile which Bishop Bell did not ever possess. It is just possible to be charitable about whoever put this fantasy forward. This is plainly a troubled mind. It is impossible to be charitable to those who took it seriously and spent a ponderous year pretending to assess its worth, while Bishop Bell’s 93-year-old niece was kept in suspense about the outcome. You may study the embarrassing details here.

I have written about this case for First Things and will not dwell on the details. George Bell was for many a pattern of courage when he spoke out, almost alone, against what is now increasingly recognized as having been the mistaken deliberate bombing of German civilians during the 1939-45 war. He knew it would damage him to say this, yet he still said it, which is what his Lord and Master would have wished, even though it was very much not what Winston Churchill would have wished.

Today’s Anglican Church, a poor shivering thing these days, first smeared George Bell in October 2015. It was very worldly in its actions. It had issued a rather coy and ambiguous written statement on allegations against him which had emerged decades after his death in 1958. It was in fact so nebulous that there was later a quarrel about whether it had actually said he was guilty.

It did not really matter by then, as several major newspapers, national and local, and the BBC had somehow or other gained the confidence to state beyond doubt and without qualification that Bishop Bell had been a child abuser. As a journalist myself, who knows how such things happen, I have always believed that somebody must have encouraged them to take this bold step. News organizations are wary of publicly condemning people even when they are dead.  But I have never been able to find out who it was.

What I am sure of is that their confident condemnations served the purpose of a Church trying hard to look decisive and stern about priestly abuse—a problem it has in fact handled very badly. For the Church, it was a free lunch. They could hurl a dead man’s reputation onto the rubbish-heap. Nobody would care, and they would appear to be showing resolve. Because they are new men, from a new era, they had no idea of the power and importance of the reputation they were destroying. Another generation on, and I suppose they would have got away with it. But they didn’t, and for that we can give thanks to the God of Justice and Mercy. You can expect to do a lot of praying if ever you get involved in such a case, because very often, despite your confidence in the rightness of your cause, you will be overpowered by the world’s willingness to tolerate and indeed defend naked injustice.

Peter Hitchens is a columnist for the Mail on Sunday.

COMMENTS

  • In fact, nobody cares. That’s as disgraceful as anything. No one will be held to account for this. The press won’t cover it. The false accusations will continue to be repeated.

  • “You can expect to do a lot of praying if ever you get involved in such a case, because very often, despite your confidence in the rightness of your cause, you will be overpowered by the world’s willingness to tolerate and indeed defend naked injustice”

    But that’s the standard now, isn’t it? An accusation equals guilt? Think of the legal standards of the French Revolution, or the Salem Witch Trials. Or more recently, the Tawana Brawley accusations, the Virginia fraternity accusations, or the Duke lacrosse case.

    “Innocent until proven guilty” is so, so 19th century..