Tag Archives: The Spectator

March 31 2016 – CHARLES MOORE ON BISHOP BELL

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Charles Moore

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Witness to the truth

Charles Moore strenuously defends the reputation of the former Bishop of Chichester— who dared to criticise the carpet-bombing of Germany, and may have been unjustly accused of child abuse

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George Bell, Bishop of Chichester: Church, State and Resistance in the Age of Dictatorship

Andrew Chandler

Eerdmans, pp. 224, £

George Bell (1883–1958) was, in many respects, a typical Anglican prelate of his era. He went to Westminster and Christ Church, and passed his career in the C of E’s fast stream. Never a parish priest, he became, first, chaplain (and later, biographer) of the Archbishop of Canterbury, Randall Davidson; next, Dean of Canterbury; finally, Bishop of Chichester. He was not an intellectual or a contemplative. He was an effective, energetic leader, strongly interested in public affairs, a natural candidate to end up as an archbishop of the established church.

This did not happen, probably because Bell opposed ‘area’ Allied bombing of Germany in the second world war. Such carpet-bombing threatened ‘the roots of civilisation’, he said. The British war cabinet, by permitting the indiscriminate devastation of civilian populations, was ‘blind to the harvest’.

Given the titanic nature of the struggle against Hitler, it is not surprising that many, from Winston Churchill downwards, were angry with Bell. When Bell’s office requested transport for him to visit an RAF station in his diocese, an officer there retorted: ‘Let the bugger bike.’ But Bell was not a pacifist, and he was someone who, against the trend, had always warned against the Nazis. In the 1930s and even — when contacts were minimal — in the 1940s, Bell did everything he could to support Christian resistance in Germany. Close to many of the July plotters against Hitler in 1944, he was probably the only senior English clergyman to work actively with those trying to overthrow the regime. He sought unsuccessfully to persuade the British government to back them.

This commitment explains why the last message of Pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer, before he was murdered by the SS in April 1945, was to Bell. The principle of ‘universal Christian brotherhood which rises above all national hatreds’, Bonhoeffer said in that message, means that ‘our victory is certain’.

‘Universal Christian brotherhood’ can sound platitudinous, but the spectacle of Christians killing one another in vast numbers twice in the 20th century showed that it is all too easily forgotten. To Bell (and Bonhoeffer), it meant everything. That is why he absolutely resisted writing off all Germans. His striking way of putting it was ‘Germany was the first country in Europe to be occupied by the Nazis.’

Round this, as Andrew Chandler sets out in this learned and thoughtful book, Bell organised his thought and action: his help for Jewish refugees and persecuted ‘non-Aryan’ Christians; for all the German churches which refused to enter the stooge ‘Reichkirche’; for those detained as ‘enemy aliens’ on the Isle of Man; for a negotiated peace if Hitler were overthrown; and for those trying to rebuild Germany after its defeat.

Bell lacked political skill. As the historian Owen Chadwick put it, he was ‘the most Christian bishop of his age, but had little idea how to commend the points he wanted to press’, so most of his causes — the ecumenical movement is the great exception — did not prevail. His importance lies in his witness to the truth as he saw it. T.S. Eliot, whom Bell encouraged to write Murder in the Cathedral, described him as ‘a lovable man’. Bell had, said Eliot, ‘dauntless integrity’, and ‘no fear of the consequences’ of speaking out: ‘With this went understanding and simplicity of manner, the outward signs, I believe, of inward humility.’

Fifty-seven years after George Bell’s death, his own diocese, supported by the national Church authorities, announced that Bell had sexually abused a child between 1949 and 1953. They gave no details, and paid compensation. (The complainant later revealed herself to have been a five-year-old girl when the alleged abuse began.) The Church said it had decided against Bell ‘on the balance of probabilities’. No other such accusations — or even rumours — have ever been heard against Bell. His name was removed from buildings and institutions named after him.

A recent detailed review of the case showed that no effort had been made by the Church to consider the evidence for Bell: his voluminous papers and diaries had not been consulted, nor had living people who worked with him at that time (including one domestic chaplain, Adrian Carey, now aged 94, who spent virtually every waking moment with Bell for more than two of the years in which the abuse supposedly happened). His cause was given no legal advocate. Instead, in a process still kept secret, the ‘victim’ was believed. The normal burden of proof was reversed and so it was considered wicked to doubt her veracity.

As Chandler puts it, ‘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.’ Of course, if Bell was guilty, his high reputation should not protect him. But we have not been given the chance to establish fairly whether he was. Jesus, of course, also suffered from unjust process. When the Church forgets this, it is not — as it claims — rejecting the dreadful child-abuse cover-ups of the past. It is dishonouring the example of its founder.

Breaking News – “Archbishop admits Bishop Bell investigation has been ‘very painful process’, ahead of report into case” – Daily Telegraph – Hayley Dixon

Jan 24 2019 – “Archbishop admits Bishop Bell investigation has been ‘very painful process’, ahead of report into case” – The Daily Telegraph – Hayley Dixon

Hayley Dixon
The Telegraph 
Bishop George Bell was accused of abuse years after his death  - PA
Bishop George Bell was accused of abuse years after his death  – PA
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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. 

January 23 2018 – “The Church of England’s Bishop Bell battle” – The Spectator – Tim Wyatt

https://blogs.spectator.co.uk/2018/01/the-church-of-englands-bishop-bell-battle/

The Church of England’s Bishop Bell battle

23 January 2018

4:03 PM

The Archbishop of Canterbury has once again been dragged into a battle between traditionalists and modernisers. This time though it’s not about gay marriage or women bishops, but the tattered reputation of one of the Church of England’s most-celebrated figures, Bishop George Bell.

Justin Welby was sorely mistaken if he hoped commissioning an independent report into the claim that Bell was a child abuser would draw a line under this messy two-year row. Instead, the report found that the church has made mistakes in the way it handled the accusations. This infuriated Bell’s supporters, who always maintained his innocence. Now, some are calling for Welby to walk, or at least apologise. But he refuses to do either.

Even Welby’s supporters would probably concede that his refusal to back down has poured fuel on the fire. In his report, Lord Carlile was scathing about the way the Church of England had handled things, suggesting that it had ‘rushed to judgement’ when it decided the allegations against Bell were probably true.
Carlile also concluded that Bell, who died in 1958, had not been given a fair hearing. Yet Welby continued to cast doubt on Bell’s integrity, issuing a statement saying: ‘We realise that a significant cloud is left over his name…Bishop Bell was in many ways a hero. He is also accused of great wickedness… No human being is entirely good or bad’.

This response has done little to calm Bell’s supporters. Now, three open letters chastising Welby have been published. In one of these, a group of historians, including Sir Ian Kershaw, call for Welby to take back his remarks about Bell: ‘We cannot understand how such an unsupported, indeed insupportable, allegation can be upheld by a responsible public authority. Quite simply, it is indefensible’.

To make matters worse for Welby, a group of church leaders from across the world have also spoken out. ‘The way in which the allegations against him were dealt with has shocked people well beyond both the Anglican communion and Britain. There has been a miscarriage of justice for one who himself fought so earnestly for the victims of injustice,’ their letter says.

Yet still Welby refuses to budge. ‘The letter from the historians does not take into account…the past failures of the Church…The experience of discovering feet of clay in more than one person I held in profound respect has been personally tragic’, he said.

The bust-up is now arguably about more than just Bell. Instead, it looks to be part of a wider war between two factions in the church: those who look back, and those who look forwards. The way in which Bell was promptly written out of history – buildings named after him were quickly re-named when the scandal first broke – seemed to some like a telling example of the progressive, thrusting, cavalier attitude they suspect also drives the CofE’s hierarchy. But for the clerics leading the church, there is little time for nostalgia for the ‘good old days’. They do not believe the church exists to venerate long-dead bishops and want to get on with the day job of doing God’s work.

So when the allegation arose against Bell, they had, it would seem, no interest in fighting to protect the reputation of one of the 20th century’s great Christian leaders. In the wake of other sex scandals that have plagued the church, the leadership was desperate to prevent a repeat of another cover up. Painfully aware of their dismal record in handling other historic cases of clerical abuse, the CofE ‘oversteered’ – to use Lord Carlile’s euphemism – in the other direction and rushed to condemn Bell, irrespective of what actually happened.

To the modernisers, this seemed like the logical and moral response to ensure the CofE could move on. Yet the irony is that in trying to dampen this row, Welby’s response has led to things blowing up. The fallout has also exposed the deep divisions rumbling at the heart of the Church of England. It is difficult to see how things will be solved amicably. And meanwhile, Bishop Bell’s name has been badly traduced.


December 7 2017 – “Why is the C of E still messing around with the Carlile report?” – The Spectator – Letter – Peter Hitchens

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Peter Hitchens

https://www.spectator.co.uk/2017/12/letters-why-is-the-c-of-e-still-messing-around-with-the-carlile-report/

Letters: Why is the C of E still messing around with the Carlile report?

9 December 2017

9:00 AM

The Carlile report

Sir: The Bishop of Bath and Wells tells us (Letters, 2 December) that nobody is holding up publication of the Carlile report into the Church of England’s hole-in-corner kangaroo condemnation of the late George Bell. Is it then just accidental that the church is still making excuses for not publishing it, and presumably for fiddling about with it, more than eight weeks after receiving it on 7 October? The church was swift to condemn George Bell on paltry evidence. It was swifter still to denounce those who stood up for him, falsely accusing them of attacking Bell’s accuser. Yet it is miserably slow to accept just criticism of itself. Somehow, I suspect that, had Lord Carlile exonerated the apparatchiks involved, his report would long ago have been released. May I commend to the Bishop the words of Our Lord (Matthew 5:25): ‘Agree with thine adversary quickly, whiles thou art in the way with him.’
Peter Hitchens
London W8

December 2 2017 – “Bishop Bell delay…What delay?” says the Church – Letters – The Spectator

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“Bishop Bell delay” [Martin Sewell – General Synod Member] – “What delay?” [Bishop Peter Hancock – Safeguarding] – Letters Page – The Spectator – December 2 2017