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.
Jan 24 2019 – “Archbishop admits Bishop Bell investigation has been ‘very painful process’, ahead of report into case” – The Daily Telegraph – Hayley Dixon
The Archbishop of Canterbury has admitted that investigating abuse allegations made against Bishop George Bell has been a “very, very painful process” as the church prepares to publish its findings in the case.
Ahead of what it is hoped will be the end to a long and bitter battle between the Church of England and the family and supporters of one of its most revered bishops, Justin Welby said that the tackling of sex abuse cases has been the churches “greatest failure” since the second world war.
The Archbishop has personally been accused of attempting to smear the former Bishop of Chichester’s name by accusing him of being a paedophile when there was “no credible evidence” against him.
An independent review of the handling of the case by Lord Carlile, which was released in 2017, found that Bishop Bell had been besmirched by the church two years earlier when officials released a statement formally apologising over allegations of abuse made by a woman who is now in her seventies.
On Thursday the church will release the findings of their National Safeguarding Team into “fresh information” which came to light after review was published.
The Archbishop has written to Bishop Bell’s surviving relative ahead of the release of the report, the Telegraph understands.
Sussex Police dropped an investigation into the “fresh information” in March last year, three months after it came to light.
The findings of the review have remained a closely guarded secret, but supporters have said that they are hopeful that it will restore the good name of Bishop Bell, who died in 1958.
Talking about the case to the Spectator ahead of the publication of the report, the Archbishop said: “It has been a very, very painful process. Not least because Bishop Bell was — is — one of my great heroes. Probably the greatest failure of the C of E since the second world war has been our failure to deal adequately with disclosures of abuse. When I came into this role, I didn’t have any idea how bad it was.”
He admitted that “we have not found a way of caring for those who have been accused or complained against — or their families.”
Frank Field, the Labour MP who has been part of the fight to clear the bishop’s name, said: “I hope that the report brings the whole sorry affair to a good-ish end.
“I would hope that they have now decided it is totally proper to restore the man’s great name and I would hope that a statement from the Archbishop will be followed by the reversal of a series of other changes which were made on the basis that the allegations could be true.”
In the wake of the church naming Bishop Bell as an abuser a school in Chichester and rooms in the cathedral were among the places to be stripped of his name.
A statue celebrating his work in helping rescue Jewish children from Germany during the Second World War which has been planned for Canterbury Cathedral was also scrapped.
2015 – October 22
Statement on the Rt. Revd George Bell (1883 -1958)
The Bishop of Chichester has issued a formal apology following the settlement of a legal civil claim regarding sexual abuse against the Right Reverend George Bell, who was Bishop of Chichester from 1929 until his death on 3rd October 1958.
The allegations against Bell date from the late 1940s and early 1950s and concern allegations of sexual offences against an individual who was at the time a young child.
Following settlement of the claim the serving Bishop of Chichester, the Right Reverend Dr. Martin Warner, wrote to the survivor formally apologising and expressing his “deep sorrow” acknowledging that “the abuse of children is a criminal act and a devastating betrayal of trust that should never occur in any situation, particularly the church.”
Bishop Warner paid tribute to the survivor’s courage in coming forward to report the abuse and notes that “along with my colleagues throughout the church, I am committed to ensuring that the past is handled with honesty and transparency.”
Tracey Emmott, the solicitor for the survivor, today issued the following statement on behalf of her client:
“The new culture of openness in the Church of England is genuinely refreshing and seems to represent a proper recognition of the dark secrets of its past, many of which may still not have come to light. While my client is glad this case is over, they remain bitter that their 1995 complaint was not properly listened to or dealt with until my client made contact with Archbishop Justin Welby’s office in 2013. That failure to respond properly was very damaging, and combined with the abuse that was suffered has had a profound effect on my client’s life. For my client, the compensation finally received does not change anything. How could any amount of money possibly compensate for childhood abuse? However, my client recognises that it represents a token of apology. What mattered to my client most and has brought more closure than anything was the personal letter my client has recently received from the Bishop of Chichester.”
The survivor first reported the abuse to the then Bishop of Chichester, Eric Kemp, in August 1995. Bishop Kemp responded to the correspondence offering pastoral support but did not refer the matter to the police or, so far as is known, investigate the matter further. It was not until contact with Lambeth Palace in 2013 that the survivor was put in touch with the safeguarding team at the Diocese of Chichester who referred the matter to the police and offered personal support and counselling to the survivor.
In his letter to the survivor Bishop Warner acknowledges that the response from the Diocese of Chichester in 1995, when the survivor first came forward, “fell a long way short, not just of what is expected now, but of what we now appreciate you should have had a right to expect then.”
In accordance with the recommendations of the Church Commissaries’ report into the Diocese of Chichester in 2012 the settlement does not impose any form of “confidentiality agreement” restriction regarding public disclosure upon the individual. In this case the survivor has expressed the desire to remain anonymous.
Following a meeting between the survivor and Sussex police in 2013, it was confirmed by the police that the information obtained from their enquiries would have justified, had he still been alive, Bishop Bell’s arrest and interview, on suspicion of serious sexual offences, followed by release on bail, further enquiries and the subsequent submission of a police report to the CPS.
A formal claim for compensation was submitted in April 2014 and was settled in late September of this year. The settlement followed a thorough pre-litigation process during which further investigations into the claim took place including the commissioning of expert independent reports. None of those reports found any reason to doubt the veracity of the claim.
The Church of England takes any allegations of abuse very seriously and is committed to being a safe place for all. Any survivors or those with information about church-related abuse must always feel free to come forward knowing that they will be listened to in confidence.
Should anyone have further information or need to discuss the personal impact of this news the Church has worked with the NSPCC to set up a confidential helpline no. 0800 389 5344.
Notes to Editors
A copy of this statement can be found on the Church of England website and the Diocese of Chichester website.
For further information contact Lisa Williamson at the Diocese of Chichester Communications office on 01273 425791 or The Revd Dr Rob Marshall +44 (0) 7766 952113
The Rt. Revd. Mark Sowerby, Bishop of Horsham in the Diocese of Chichester is available for interview today. Please use the above numbers or contact his office on 01403 211139
The C of E has been caught with its pants down in yet another monumental cock-up with the embarrassing revelation of how bishops were instructed only to give partial apologies—if at all—to victims of sexual abuse to avoid being sued. A survivor of child sexual abuse has issued a damning indictment of the C of E’s hierarchy, naming and shaming it for washing its hands ‘like Pontius Pilate’.
The old-fashioned practice of a heartfelt apology, deeply rooted in the Christian theology of repentance and reconciliation, has now been turned into an episcopal Punch and Judy show with lawyers, bureaucrats and managers on fat cat salaries pulling the strings while their purple-clad puppets dance to their dirges, desperately clutching at mitre and crosier.
Deep in the spin-doctoring factory of episcopaldom, the ecclesiastical equivalents of Sir Humphrey Appleby are teaching their bishops to play the game of Catch Me If You Can while Sir Jeffrey Archer’s techniques on the 11th Commandment Thou Shalt Not Get Caught are being honed to perfection. It is part of the managerial double-speak dominating all forms of damage control discourse in the C of E.
The puppeteers advise their bishops to use ‘careful drafting’ to ‘effectively apologise’ and to ‘express regret’ only using wording approved by lawyers, PR advisers and insurers. ‘Because of the possibility that statements of regret might have the unintended effect of accepting legal liability for the abuse, it is important that they are approved in advance by lawyers, as well as by diocesan communications officers (and, if relevant, insurers),’ warns the Orwellian document from the Ministry of Truth.
When is an apology a genuine apology? When it is neither as slippery as a banana skin or as shallow as the paddling pool of a typical Anglican sermon. In his ground-breaking book, On Apology (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005.) Aaron Lazare, Professor of Psychiatry at the University of Massachusetts Medical School, offers profound insights into the anatomy of an apology. Lazare traces the history of the world’s most humbling act, from Lincoln’s apology for slavery to Arnold Schwarzenegger’s mea culpa after allegations of breast-groping. ‘Why do certain apologies succeed or fail to elicit forgiveness and bring about reconciliation?’ he asks.
‘There’s a right way and a wrong way to apologise. There are several integral elements of any apology and unless they are accounted for, an apology is likely to fail.’ The four components for an effective apology are ‘acknowledgment of the offence; explanation; expressions of remorse, shame, and humility; and reparation. Of these four parts, the one most commonly defective in apologies is the acknowledgment,’ he writes.
‘The offender (or the one speaking on behalf of the offender) must clearly and completely acknowledge the offence. People fail the acknowledgment phase of the apology when they make vague and incomplete apologies (“for whatever I did”); use the passive voice (“mistakes were made”); make the apology conditional (“if mistakes have been made”); question whether the victim was damaged or minimise the offence (“to the degree you were hurt”); use the empathic “sorry” instead of acknowledging responsibility; apologise to the wrong party; or apologise for the wrong offence,’ says Lazare.
The psychologist and pastoral counsellor Carl Schneider defines apology as ‘the acknowledgement of injury with the acceptance of responsibility, affect (felt regret or shame—the person must mean it), and vulnerability—the risking of an acknowledgement without excuses.’
There is a double irony here. All this, of course, is firmly grounded in the biblical tradition of repentance and in the Book of Common Prayer’s injunction that we should ‘acknowledge and confess our manifold sins and wickedness; and that we should not dissemble nor cloke them’ ‘but confess them with an humble, lowly, penitent, and obedient heart.’
But all this business of confession and contrition is intensely counter-intuitive to the managerial culture in the C of E. This is reflected in the dumbing down of its modern prayers of repentance to ‘politically correct prayers which sound as if they were written by a committee made up of Tony Blair, Karl Marx, and Noddy.’ What can you expect when the Archbishop’s Council produces an idiots’ Guide to Common Worship, which re-titles “Confession” as “Doing the dirt on ourselves”?
The other ironical twist is that apologies actually prevent lawsuits altogether and increase the likelihood and speed of settlement for those that do arise. This is evident from recent research both in the UK and the US. For example, one British study found that many plaintiffs who sued their doctors said they would not have done so had they received an apology and an explanation for their injury (Jeffrey S. Helmreich, ‘Does “Sorry” incriminate? Evidence, harm and the protection of apology,’ Cornell Journal of Law and Public Policy 21 (2012) 574).
Consistent with this view, legislatures in American states have enacted statutes that make certain apologies inadmissible in court thus encouraging more people to offer genuine apologies. Contrary to the recommendations of the C of E mandarins, a new secular culture of confession and contrition is seeking to encourage apologies by explicitly denying their admissibility as evidence.
In some instances the bishops have refused even to tender a doctored apology. Earlier this month Sussex police apologised to the living relatives of the late Bishop George Bell and the BBC admitted that some of its reporting on the allegations against Bishop Bell was wrong. However, the C of E is still refusing to apologise for smearing Bell’s reputation and for the way it handled the case.
The comparison of the bishops with Pontius Pilate made by the survivor of abuse is apt, not just for its powerful metaphor of Pilate ‘washing his hands’ but also for its portrayal of Pilate as the puppet in the pantomime. Pilate is weak-minded, spineless, gutless, easily led and irresolute. The cleverly crafted literature of John’s gospel portrays him as constantly vacillating back and forth as he listens to the crowd. Perhaps it is time the panjandrums in purple stopped listening to the men in pinstriped suits and learned how to say the two most humbling words in the English language: ‘I’m sorry.’ It would be even better if they learned to say the three greatest words in the biblical language of forgiveness and reconciliation: ‘I have sinned.’
It was the best of times; it was the worst of times. It produced the best of bishops; it produced the worst of bishops. One was a saint; the other a scoundrel. One was the spring of hope; the other was the winter of despair. One was going direct to heaven; the other was going direct the other way.
How would Dickens end this tale of two bishops? He would glorify the saint and vilify the scoundrel. How does the Church of England end this tale of two bishops? It smears the saint and shields the scoundrel. It requires a miracle to turn a Dickensian narrative into a Kafkaesque nightmare. The hierarchy of the C of E is used to performing such miracles on a smaller scale—its autocracy, bureaucracy and mediocracy regularly turns wine into water. Just type “Church of England” into that omniscient oracle “Google” and read the results.
This is the tale of two bishops: Bishop Bell and Bishop Ball. Bishop George Bell was the Bishop of Chichester and a great friend and supporter of my hero Dietrich Bonhöffer in his resistance to Adolf Hitler. Were it not for his principled opposition to the blanket-bombing of Dresden, Bell would have been elevated to the See of Canterbury. ‘To despair of being able to do anything, or refuse to do anything, is to be guilty of infidelity,’ he wrote. His words have pricked my calloused conscience when I have been tempted to cower before power. I got to know Bell a great deal more when I read Eric Metaxas’ biography of the German pastor who dared to defy the Nazis—Bonhöffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy.
Bishop Peter Ball? Bishop who? I had never even heard the name until newspaper headlines screamed it out in 2015. Only then I learned that Ball was suffragan Bishop of Lewes and diocesan Bishop of Gloucester.
That’s when the story takes a Kafkaesque twist. In the case of George Bell, an unidentified woman, known only as ‘Carol’ first complained in 1995 that Bell had sexually abused her when she was five. Carol is now 70. But it was only when she wrote to Archbishop Justin Welby in 2013 that the C of E went into safeguarding overdrive and its sainted bishop was pronounced a paedophile overnight. Carol received £15,000 as compensation. The Child Protection Gestapo went on a cleansing spree and adopted a scorched earth policy to buildings, schools and other institutions named after Bell.
In the case of Bishop Ball, an identified individual, Neil Todd, first complained in 1993, about the horrific sexual and sadistic abuse he had suffered at the hands of Peter Ball. The C of E went into cover-up overdrive. Leading establishment figures, including senior clergy, colluded to protect Bishop Ball. A BBC report said that ‘another person in the church who helped one of Ball’s victims tried to raise concerns with 13 different bishops who appeared to take no action.’ It was only through the heroic persistence of priests like the Revd Graham Sawyer, one of Ball’s victims, that Ball was sentenced in October 2015 to 32 months in prison for the grooming, sexual exploitation and abuse of 18 vulnerable young men between 1977 and 1992.
If there is one institution that ought to be a beacon of justice it ought to be the church. This is because its foundational text, the Bible, has justice at its very heart. It is the Bible that was instrumental in giving birth to many of the principles of Western jurisprudence.
Most prominent is the principle of equal justice under the law. ‘You shall not be partial in judgment. You shall hear the small and the great alike. You shall not be intimidated by anyone, for the judgment is God’s,’ declares Deuteronomy. Exodus backs this up. ‘You shall not fall in with the many to do evil, nor shall you bear witness in a lawsuit, siding with the many, so as to pervert justice’. Leviticus echoes this. ‘You shall do no injustice in court. You shall not be partial to the poor or defer to the great, but in righteousness shall you judge your neighbour’.
Equally important is the principle of evidence. Rabbinic exegesis on the Tower of Babel story in Genesis points to the verse where ‘the Lord came down to see the city and the tower’ which the citizens of Babel had built. Rashi, the great eleventh-century rabbi, used this as a basis for evidence in a trial: ‘And the Lord came down to see—He really did not need to do this, but Scripture intends to teach the judges that they should not proclaim a defendant guilty before they have seen the case and thoroughly understood the matter in question.’
Other legal texts in the Bible take this further when discussing the role of witnesses. ‘A single witness shall not suffice against a person for any crime or for any wrong in connection with any offense that he has committed. Only on the evidence of two witnesses or of three witnesses shall a charge be established,’ states Deuteronomy. ‘Do not admit a charge against a presbyter except on the evidence of two or three witnesses,’ writes the apostle Paul to Timothy.
So why did at least one archbishop and a number of bishops allegedly close ranks and collude in an act of partiality to protect Ball when there were so many witnesses against him? On the other hand, why did the C of E pronounce Bell guilty when a single uncorroborated witness testified against him? Why has the evidence not been made public? Bell could not defend himself from the grave. Has the politics of expediency replaced biblical principles and the ethics of a fair trial in the way the church conducts its legal and disciplinary procedures?
After much pressure from a cadre of eminent lawyers, commentators, writers, and members of the House of Lords, the C of E finally agreed to an independent review of the Bell case at the end of June 2016. A gaggle of incompetent and frightened bishops who have tarnished Bell’s reputation now have to contend with historian Andrew Chandler’s meticulously researched and recently published biographyGeorge Bell, Bishop of Chichester: Church, State, and Resistance in the Age of Dictatorship. Chandler ends on a note that any historian, judge or journalist would be wise to heed when judging Bishop Bell.
‘The allegation of 2015 is anomalous. Indeed, it seems to exist in its own world, evidently uncorroborated by any other independent source. It also remains unique, for apparently no other such accusation has arisen. In sum, we are asked to invest an entire authority in one testimony and to dismiss all the materials by which we have come to know the historical George Bell as mere figments of reputation. The corollary of such a method may now be witnessed in the hasty removal of his name or image from public institutions and commemorations. It may simply be observed here that such iconoclastic activities are not unknown to historians of other, far darker, times and contexts.’
For the Church of England, it is indeed, the worst of times.