On Sunday evening I provided a short prologue to a dramatised reading of the final part of T.S. Eliot’s ‘Murder in the Cathedral’ in the Friends’ Meeting House at Chichester, beautifully situated near the lovely old Priory, now the Guildhall, where William Blake was once put on trial. The reading was of very high quality, and I found myself riveted both during the rehearsal and the actual performance, by Eliot’s apposite words, full of power and truth.
There was a good and attentive audience, most of whom stayed for a while afterwards to discuss the case of Bishop bell, in whose cause the reading was held. I always gain a special pleasure from voluntary, civic occasions such as this, when individuals band together for a good purpose. Chichester itself is an intensely civilised corner on England since Roman times, every stone and brick, and every tree, lawn and garden evidence of the long and peaceful existence of a prosperous society of free, independent men and women. But none of this will survive forever if we do not resolve to defend it. I regard the George Bell campaign as part of the battle to keep free civilisation alive, because it is entirely about disinterested justice and truth. I visited Bishop bell’[s memorial in the Cathedral early this morning, and found it surrounded by flowers. This contrasts with the occasion a year ago when I laid a small posy there and wit was swiftly snatched away. At that time the memorial was obscured by a large notice about ‘safeguarding’, which has now gone.
A few feet away lies the lovely ‘Arundel Tomb’ of which Philip Larkin write, moved by the way that the effigies of a knight and his lady are shown holding each other’s hands in death. ‘What will survive of us is love’, he concluded, reluctantly and conditionally. I think he was righter than he knew or wanted to be. I must now go to the special service (to be held at St Michaels’s Church at Cornhill in the City of London)
to remember Bishop Bell, whose life and work are commemorated today (the 58th anniversary of his death) in the Anglican calendar.
After T.S. Eliot’s “Murder in the Cathedral” – abridged and directed by Peter Billingham – Peter Hitchens fielded questions in a packed Friends Meeting House
A lady asked Peter H. about his use of the term “the Church” (eg “allegations against Bishop Bell by the Church”) and asked to whom he was referring exactly.
Peter H wanted to avoid attacks on individuals – this being counter productive – but yes, it was from the Archbishop down.
Hubert Doggart pursued the issue: Chichester’s Dean & Chapter failed to use the word “alleged” when making pronouncements on Bishop Bell’s guilt. Could we not insist on their retracting from this stance?
Peter H replied the word “alleged” was used in the Diocesan statement of October 26 2015.
Mr Doggart doggardly pressed on : Could we not isolate our Dean and Chapter from the Diocese?
Peter H replied that the Diocesan lawyers appeared to him out of their depth, especially unable to respond adequately to the legal minds of the George Bell Group. However, he did not think it appropriate or feasible to attack the Dean and Chapter at this point – reiterating the need to concentrate on Bell’s reputation – and its restoration. That is what he is fighting for.
Peter H advised not to pursue investigation into ‘Carol’. Yes, he thinks she was abused, and needs every bit of sympathy we can give. We should avoid hounding, outing or dishonouring her.
From his experience of reputations and institutions, Peter H believed only persistence will bring results, and in the long-term, it will in this case. He encouraged to keep ‘chipping away’; keep at it, and seize every opportunity.
It was noted that in Chichester, Bishop Bell’s name was to be remembered on October 3rd; but in other Dioceses he has already been erased from the List. There are unconfirmed reports the Episcopal Church USA has already expunged Bishop Bell from their List. Confirmation is being sought
Peter H thought much of the City Council’s rehanging of the Bell portrait: a brave, unusual forthright action.
Church Times – Front Page – Friday, October 7 2016