SIR – The proposition put forward by a parish officer that the maxim of “innocent until proven guilty” should be reversed in matters of church safeguarding (Letters, March 27) is utterly pernicious.
How is anyone to defend themselves against charges to an action that is alleged to have occurred decades before, and is based on no more than the word of one person?
To place the onus of proving innocence on the accused, as opposed to the need for the accuser to prove guilt, is contrary to our most basic freedoms and undermines the rule of law.
Sir – I think I may be able to enlighten Ruth Hildebrandt Grayson (Letters, March 24) who writes about the case of Bishop Bell, as to the Church of England’s thinking on safeguarding.
At a recent parochial church council meeting in the Chichester diocese, a parish safeguarding officer gave a briefing on the introduction of a programme being trialled in the diocese. Bishop Bell and others were mentioned, along with the stance taken by Archbishop Justin Welby.
The meeting was told that a change of mindset is needed. The old idea that one is “innocent until proven guilty” does not apply when dealing with a safeguarding complaint; the view has to be that there is a case to answer, and the defendant must prove his innocence.
Clearly Lord Carlile was operating under the old rules and Bishop Bell can never comply with the new rules.
In this way, church leaders are able to accept almost all of Lord Carlile’s report but still maintain there is a shadow over Bishop Bell.
Storrington, West Sussex
Case for Bishop Bell
Sir – The Archbishop of Canterbury, the Most Rev Justin Welby, is not alone in being ashamed of the Church in its handling of child abuse cases in the Diocese of Chichester (report, March 22). So are quite a few others. And some of us would add that we are ashamed of Archbishop Welby too.
At the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse hearing on Wednesday, the Archbishop was questioned about his continuing attack on the late Bishop George Bell, whose reputation has been besmirched by what Lord Carlile, the Church’s own eminent appointee to examine its legal processes, has described as a very misguided rush to judgement on a single accusation of historic child sexual abuse.
The continued anger that the case has aroused has nothing to do with Bishop Bell’s eminent reputation. It has everything to do with the fact that no one has ever been allowed to present a case in his defence.
The recent effort by the family to appoint its own lawyer in a new investigation has been turned down by the Chichester authorities. And once again, the Archbishop missed a chance to affirm his belief in Bishop Bell’s innocence as presumed by the law.
When will the Archbishop have the grace to admit that the Church leaders responsible for handling the George Bell case – including himself – have made the most colossal error of judgement in this instance?
Dr Ruth Hildebrandt Grayson
Sheffield, South Yorkshire