With the new biography of Archbishop Soderblom (“A great archbishop-ecumenist”, Church Times, 2 Sept), we must also remember “George Bell, Bishop of Chichester, Ecumenist, Peacemaker, 1958” (Calendar of Saints, Oct 3):*
The Swedish Archbishop had this to say of our English Bishop: **
“It is my opinion that nobody is more important to the future of the ecumenical revival than this silent Bell. This Bell never rings for nothing. But when it does ring its tune is silver-clear. It often seems to travel from another sphere and make itself heard. It reaches farther than our shouting voices. He never begins to speak without having something to say. The strong spirituality of his nature characterize everything he does”
Both this Archbishop and Bishop Bell need to be well-remembered.
Richard W. Symonds
The Bell Society
** Preface to “And Other Pastors of Thy Flock” by Franz Hildebrandt (Cambridge University Press, 1942) – quoted in “George Bell, Bishop of Chichester” – ‘Church, State, and Resistance in the Age of Dictatorship’ by Andrew Chandler (Eerdmans 2016) – Page 19
I read with amazement the statement regarding the allegations against the late Bishop George Bell by the Rt Revd Paul Butler in today’s Church Times that “It is singularly unattractive to suggest that, because there might be no legal consequences to breaching Carol’s confidence, the Church should simply provide sensitive material to a group of individuals with a keen interest in, but no connection with, the case.” (‘Identification of abuser questioned’, 22 July 2016)
If any statement could be held to be indicative of a rush to judgment and a subsequent cover-up of the facts, this must surely be it. First, it acknowledges that there is indeed ‘sensitive material’ which has not been made public, despite the widespread interest in this case. Second, it makes it clear that the interests of a single individual are more important to the Church than the need to ensure that justice is seen to be done. Finally, in an instance where the accused is long deceased, it is hard to see how individuals who are ‘connected’ with the case could now be found, unless through the endeavours of those very people who ‘have a keen interest’ in it and who have in fact submitted evidence which has not been regarded as admissable, despite the fact that part of the evidence comprises an eyewitness account by a living person who by any definition was very much ‘connected’ with the late Bishop and his household.
There have been many miscarriages of justice in this country, some of which are only revealed by the efforts of those who are ‘interested’ in a given case. Indeed, in the circumstances of this one, it is hard to know how any defence could have been mounted when the defendant has long since died, other than through the efforts of ‘interested’ parties. The greatest living expert on George Bell was not consulted or even informed of the case against him by the church authorities prior to the settlement with the alleged victim. Other supporters of the cause to see justice done are residents of the city which owes so much of its legacy to George Bell, members of the cathedral where he was bishop for many years, legal experts who believe the process by which he was deemed to be guilty may have been flawed, highly experienced journalists who are adept at uncovering the truth, or – like myself – the living relatives of Bell’s close friends. If this does not mean we are ‘connected’ with the case in addition to merely having an ‘interest’ in it, then the Church is carrying out a ‘1984’-style purge of the English language.
Dr Ruth Hildebrandt Grayson
Bell Society Note
Dr Ruth Hildebrandt Grayson is the older daughter of Franz Hildebrandt, a close friend of Dietrich Bonhoeffer – and curate of Martin Niemoller in Berlin – who was befriended and supported by Bishop George Bell when he came to this country as a refugee from Hitler’s Germany in 1937. Franz Hildebrandt continued the contact and friendship with the Bishop for the duration of the war, and until the latter’s death in 1958. Together with Ruth’s parents and her brother, she herself was a guest in the Bishop’s Palace in the early 1950s, at roughly the time ‘Carol’ claims she was experiencing sexual abuse by Bishop Bell.