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.
Bishop Bell – Complete justice denied after second inquiry
For three years Alistair Lexden has been part of a campaign to establish the truth about allegations of child sex abuse made, long after his death over sixty years ago, against the great Anglican Bishop, George Bell.
He spoke at length about the Church of England’s deeply unsatisfactory handling of the allegations in a Lords debate on 20 December (see below). The Church was gravely at fault in paying compensation of some £15,000 in 2015 to a complainant on the basis of her uncorroborated testimony after a deeply flawed internal inquiry, on which Lord Carlile of Berriew QC produced a damning report, published in December 2017.
A second inquiry by a senior ecclesiastical lawyer, Timothy Briden, was established at the beginning of 2018, after a further allegation had been made. His report, which was published on 24 January, stated that this allegation, and one other which also surfaced in 2018, were “ unfounded”. Here justice has been done.
The Archbishop of Canterbury welcomed the Briden report and praised Bishop Bell as “ a remarkable role model”. He also “ apologised unreservedly for the mistakes” made during the investigation of the first allegation, but he nevertheless stood by the decision to accept the wholly uncorroborated complaint despite the damning Carlile report—as a result of which Bishop Bell’s towering reputation has been traduced.
The overall interests of justice required the Archbishop to admit that the first allegation was not proved and Bishop Bell is therefore innocent. He refuses to do this. Desmond Browne QC, a former Chairman of the Bar Council, has followed everything that has happened since 2015. He said on 24 January: “ What is now clear is that the investigations by two experienced lawyers have established George Bell’s innocence. But not once has the Archbishop of Canterbury offered Bell the presumption of innocence.” Justin Welby has failed in his clear duty.
The #ChurchofEngland has been purposefully dithering for the best part of a year over its reaction to the second batch of “information” about #BishopGeorgeBell, and has throughout withheld with great determination any hint of what that information may be.
Several months were spent finding former @SuperintendentRayGalloway to assess whatever it was that the church had received and to make such further enquiries as he saw fit. His name, too, was closely guarded, (no one knows why) but found out by private enterprise and first published in this column on 29th May 2018.
After quite some time, but exactly when is another church secret, Galloway presented his report. It was then announced that his assessment was itself to be assessed by #TimBriden, a barrister who specialises in church law and is”Diocesan Chancellor and Vicat-General of the Province of Canterbury.”
Briden’s assessment has been delayed (again, no one knows why) and the latest news from the church is that the decision whether or not to publish it will be made, probably this month or in a February, by an individual with the wonderfully appropriate designation of, wait for it, the Deciding Officer. I do not yet know whether this is Mr Briden wearing another hat, or whether the Deciding Officer represents yet another source of delay on top of Galloway and Briden.
It will be a nice matter of judgement whether to publish before or after the forthcoming #Synod (20-23 February). To publish before the Synod risks giving ammunition to unco-operative clergy and laity. To delay would allow those same divisive elements to complain that they had been denied the opportunity to discuss the report.
We can only wait and see.
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