Tag Archives: Winston Churchill

An Anniversary Tribute to Bishop George Bell by Fr. Michael Fullagar – on the eve of the Coburg Conference in Chichester

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Bishop George Bell

Dear Reader

(A victim of some strange illness these last months, I have not been officiating , but I wanted to honour on the anniversary of his heavenly birthday George Bell, one Bishop whom many of us consider great).

As a graduate, I was an ordinand at Chichester Theological College  for just eight terms between 1957-1959.  As the College was short of accommodation at the time, I spent  my second year in a room  on the top floor of the Bishop’s Palace.   I was already well acquainted with the Bishop’s Chapel, as that served  also as the College Chapel, where we assembled, except when we worshipped in the Cathedral. Later on we had our own Chapel and a new Building, the latter due to the generosity of many, till the C. of E. closed down our oldest Theological College. It was due to the kindness of Bishop George Bell, one of the great Bishops of Chichester, that for a time both my spiritual and bodily home was to be in the Palace. We did not see the Bishop very often, but memories remain vivid of both him and Henrietta, his splendid wife.

As I am one of a dwindling  number of former students still alive who remember those days, Andrew Chandler,  of the University of Chichester, George’s excellent biographer and defender against calumny, asked me among others specific questions about the Palace Building as it was. Of course, if the accusers had only spoken to George Bell’s former Chaplain, who was still alive at the time, a Chaplain never far from the Palace, they would have learned that the Bishop was abroad for much of the time they mentioned. Nor did he ever own a Rolls Royce, as was suggested. If George Bell were by any chance aware of allegations made against his name, I imagine he would raise a wry smile, for this good man had to face opposition for much of his life, not least from Bishops and Politicians.

In George Bell’s memory, the Arundel screen in the Cathedral has been restored and re-erected. On one side is a profile of Bell with the inscription – ‘GEORGE KENNEDY ALLEN BELL, BISHOP OF CHICHESTER 1929 -1958. A TRUE PASTOR. POET AND PATRON OF THE ARTS. CHAMPION OF THE OPPRESSED AND TIRELESS WORKER FOR CHRISTIAN UNITY.’ Fresh flowers  were placed underneath the bronze even before  accusers apologised. One of George’s final acts was to dedicate in his honour Bishop Bell School, Eastbourne, now renamed St Catherine’s College, though I wonder which Catherine they mean (the Alexandrian  ‘Wheel’ one or Siena) . I cannot find any answer to that, and have not heard of any plans to bring back the original name.

As far as I know, George Bell House at 4 Canon Lane, has not as yet had its proper name restored, although George’s fourth successor as Bishop of Chichester, Martin Warner, has apologised, (incidentally the previous three being Roger Wilson, Eric Kemp and John Hind, all of whom I have had the privilege to meet) .   

We remain proud of George Bell’s connection with this glorious Church of St Mary, Hampden Park, which he consecrated on 24th October, 1953. As we enter the Church, we do not fail to see on the outer wall that tribute to a beloved Bishop.

A son of the Vicarage, winning the Newdigate prize at Oxford for a poem, then at Wells Theological College, George went to work in Leeds, where he greatly admired the social work of the Methodists. Later, as a Domestic Chaplain to Randall Davidson at Canterbury, George wrote his two volume official biography.

As a distinguished pioneer of the Ecumenical Movement, George befriended the German theologian, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who was hanged by the Nazis on 9th April, 1945, at Flossenburg Concentration Camp. In 1938-9, Bell helped 90 people  escape from Germany to Britain. He spoke passionately in the House of Lords against the blanket bombing of civilians in Germany, which did him no earthly favours with either Prelates or Politicians. Many people believe that he would have become Archbishop of Canterbury rather than Geoffrey Fisher, if he had not been opposed by the Archbishop of York, and if Winston Churchill had not vetoed the appointment.

We continue to honour George Bell as ecumenist and peacemaker. As Patron of the Arts as Dean of Canterbury he enabled, among other events, the staging of T.S. Eliot’s ‘Murder in the Cathedral’. Later he supported the gift of murals to St Elisabeth’s, Eastbourne, the artist being Hans Feibusch, and also work by the Bloomsbury Group from Charleston on the walls of Berwick Church.

George and Hetty Bell left Chichester in 1958 for retirement in Canterbury but not for long. In that same year on October 3rd he died. Ronald Jasper, his first biographer wrote of George. ‘He will go down in history as one of the special glories of the Church of England: in days to come when the Catholic Church recovers again its lost unities, men will still remember the debt for that recovery owed to George Bell’.

When I lived in the Palace, very few of us could afford a car. One could and gave me lifts to Arundel for Sunday Evening Benediction. Another rose to owning a bubble car. Nevertheless, our parking by the Palace incurred the very voluble opposition of Hetty Bell, a marvellous sort of friendly dragon, whom we all loved. This outspoken lady was complemented by her husband who seemed almost shy at times. When we heard of the Bishop’s departure, some of us clubbed together to buy them a Kenwood food mixer. ‘Oh, excellent!’, was the immediate response of Hetty. ‘George was always a good mixer!’ And so he was, though subsequently I have also read into her remark, intended or not, that, when necessary, Bishop Bell was also prepared to stir things up. But then, in the words of the Prayer Book Collect, we are urged to pray:

‘Stir up, we beseech thee, O Lord, the wills of thy faithful people; that they, plenteously bringing forth the fruit of good works, may of thee be plenteously rewarded. ‘ Amen.

 

Rev Michael Fullagar Michael Fullagar was Rector at Freemantle for nine years, from 1978-87. Before coming to Freemantle he had worked in Zaire.

Priest-in-Charge at Westbury, he was appointed Chaplain to Wycombe General Hospital in 1994.

Now retired Michael helps out in the Benefice of St Mary Hampden Park and St Peter the Hydneye, Eastbourne

Nov 2016 – “In Defense Of George Bell” – Peter Hitchens – ‘First Things’

https://www.firstthings.com/article/2016/11/in-defense-of-george-bell

 

George Bell, Bishop of Chichester: Church, State, and Resistance in the Age of Dictatorship
by andrew chandler
eerdmans, 224 pages, $35

The best way to get a belly laugh from a Roman Catholic is to mention the words “Anglican” and “principle” in the same breath. It is easy to see why.

The current leaders of the American Episcopalians and their English mother church are wedded firmly to the spirit of the age. And as William Inge, dean of St. Paul’s Cathedral in London warned long ago, “Whoever marries the spirit of this age will find himself a widower in the next.” So it has proved, and so it will continue to prove. The leaders of this rather interesting version of Christianity mistook its breadth and openness for a benevolent, politicized vagueness. They adopted social democratic politics and economics in England, and 1960s liberationism in the U.S. They then waited for the kingdom of heaven to arrive as their churches grew emptier and their voices fainter and shriller.

And yet there were exceptions. The British radical politician Tony Benn was fond of saying that there were two types of public figure: weathervanes that revolved, squeaking, in the prevailing wind, and signposts that grimly continued to point the way, often to an oblivious multitude, which missed the straight and narrow and surged instead on to the winding primrose path. George Bell, bishop of Chichester in the middle part of the twentieth century, was one such signpost. By a single action he asserted the primacy of the Christian conscience above all considerations of power, popularity, and convenience. Yet by this same action he gravely damaged himself. I have a slight suspicion that the merciless attacks being made on his reputation today are part of the reaction to this singular act, an attempt to tear down an example to which we cannot rise.

After much study of his life, I am convinced that I would not have liked George Bell if I had met him, and that he would not have thought much of me. This is surely a good thing. Bishops are not supposed to be likeable. They are supposed to be stern, set apart from the world, and ready to put up with some unpopularity. In the seventeenth-century consecration service which Bell would have undergone, he had to assent to the following question: “Will you deny all ungodliness and worldly lusts, and live soberly, righteously, and godly in this present world; that you may show yourself in all things an example of good works unto others, that the adversary may be ashamed, having nothing to say against you?”

One of several sons of a parson (two of his three brothers died in the last bitter months of the First World War), Bell was academically bright, but not brilliant. He had, it is necessary to say, a poor speaking voice. He had an unlikely early friendship with Oliver St. John Gogarty, a bohemian Irish republican whom he defeated in the battle for an Oxford poetry prize. He had little in the way of social life outside his work. He was identified early in life as one destined for high position, and spent several years as an aide-de-camp to Randall Davidson, the archbishop of Canterbury. He loved poetry, wrote it competently, and was one of the earliest to recognize the genius of Gerard Manley Hopkins. Without his encouragement, T. S. Eliot’s play Murder in the Cathedral might never have been written, or performed in the Chapter House of Canterbury Cathedral. He showed similar friendship and encouragement to the composer Gustav Holst. He was austere and painfully honest in personal dealings, traveling third-class by train and pursuing the railway company with offers of payment (often for tiny fares) if by any chance he had failed to buy a ticket for some rural journey. But his own trusting nature meant he was sometimes embarrassingly wrong, continuing (for instance) to harbor hopes of peace with Hitler’s Germany after the outbreak of war in 1939, and intervening mistakenly on behalf of some Germans who were later shown beyond doubt to have been war criminals.

state the case against him because I am currently being told (by Bell’s modern accusers) that I refuse to accept that he had faults because of my admiration for his good deeds. On the contrary, I have long believed that there are no great men, only great deeds. And yet it takes exceptional men and women to do such deeds, and Bell was exceptional. What were his great deeds? Many of them are easy to admire. He strove to comfort and rescue those persecuted by Hitler, recognizing the wickedness of the National Socialist state earlier than most. Several owed their lives to his efforts. He was a constant support to that giant, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who sent a last message of gratitude and comradeship to him from his cell. He intervened (this took some courage) to secure the release of undoubted anti-Nazis interned alongside actual Nazis thanks to a Churchillian invasion panic, just when Britain needed their skills and commitment to fight Germany more effectively. He supported the resistance to Hitler, and in 1942 tried to interest the British Foreign Office in early German plans for the overthrow of Hitler, of which he had been told in a meeting in Stockholm. Anthony Eden, the foreign secretary, would not get involved. He probably knew that any talk of peace with Germany, even one cleansed of Hitler, was impossible once we were allied with Stalin. Bell, still clinging to ideals of just war and hoping to save Europe from a prolonged fight to the end, could not see this. Was he wrong? Probably. Britain had by then lost control of the war and was a helpless, bankrupt client of Moscow and Washington. And it seemed possible then that he was being used, though in fact this was not so.

But this is just a preliminary to the one thing about which Bell was wholly right, the thing which marks him out from his generation of English Christians, and the thing for which we all owe him a great debt till the end of time. One righteous man can save a city and cancel out the unrighteousness of millions. And this is what he did.

After long preparation and study, Bell publicly condemned the deliberate bombing of German civilians in their homes, which had by then become Britain’s main contribution to the war in Europe. For this purpose he used the House of Lords, in which a small number of senior bishops sit by right. They must always speak there clad in their priestly robes of plain and puritan black and white, to remind everyone that they are not politicians or their placemen. The privilege has never been used better. To this day, few really understand the issue. Many still believe that Britain accidentally killed German civilians while aiming at oil refineries and munitions factories. Or they think that Bishop Bell was protesting against the notorious bombing of the city of Dresden in 1945, so frightful that even supporters of the policy had their doubts about it. In fact, his speech, delivered on February 9, 1944, was a protest against years of deliberate warfare against defenseless women and children. Few now realize that British forces did this, and even to this day, debates about it in Britain can degenerate into fury and abuse, combined with simple refusal to acknowledge recorded fact. Those interested in the full, grisly story should read Richard Overy’s The Bombing War, Max Hastings’s Bomber Command, and A. C. Grayling’s Among the Dead Cities.

These are the facts: In November 1941, Sir Richard Peirse, then commander in chief of RAF Bomber Command, declared in a semi-public speech that his planes had for nearly a year been attacking “the people themselves,” intentionally. He said, “I mention this because for a long time the Government for excellent reasons has preferred the world to think that we still held some scruples and attacked only what the humanitarians are pleased to call Military Targets. . . . I can assure you, gentlemen, that we tolerate no scruples.” Senior government officials knew of the policy but preferred the truth of it not to be widely known in case “false and misleading deductions” were made. An Air Staff memorandum stated that towns should be made “physically uninhabitable” and the people in them must be “conscious of constant personal danger.” The aim was to produce “destruction” and “the fear of death.” This is not chivalry.

Supported by the military historian Basil Liddell Hart and his own long-standing anti-Nazi credentials, Bell challenged this. These words of his speech echo right down to our own time: “It is common experience in the history of warfare that not only wars, but actions taken in war as military necessities, are often supported at the time by a class of arguments which, after the war is over, people find are arguments to which they never should have listened.”

The speech, which infuriated Winston Churchill and his friends, probably ensured that George Bell did not become archbishop of Canterbury. And yet the speech showed that the broad, reasonable church of Cranmer, Hooker, and Andrewes still possessed a backbone of righteousness, such as it had not shown since it defied the despotic King James II in 1688, and so helped save liberty for posterity. It was the culmination of a life of thought, prayer, love, dedication, and Edwardian high seriousness, just as notable in its way as all the other thousands of stories of physical heroism in the same generation. Bell’s example ought not to be forgotten, and Andrew Chandler’s new biography will help ensure that it will not be. This is a very different book from Ronald Jasper’s rather flat earlier biography, which gave the facts but lacked the personal sympathy with Bell’s intense seriousness of purpose and self-discipline, and also lacked the deep knowledge of Bell’s archive that Chandler demonstrates—especially in his account of Bell’s work with the German resistance.

Yet it is a sad story, and its ending—if such stories ever end—is sadder still. Bell himself, writing of a dead colleague, once adapted Richard Hooker’s words to say, “Ministers of good things are like torches, a light to others, waste and destruction to themselves.” Bell’s life did not really end very happily or completely, perhaps because he was kept from the high position he deserved. He was confined to a second-rank bishopric when his mind, distinction, and experience should have taken him to the Archbishoprics of York or Canterbury, or to the almost-as-significant See of London. His great energy had less and less of an outlet. He had been consumed by his work during his life, and so had little to fall back on as retirement approached. Like so many of his generation, he began to be forgotten by a modern age that regards the past as a storehouse of mistakes, best left locked. And then he was remembered, because of a solitary, ancient, uncorroborated anonymous accusation that he had long ago sexually abused a little girl.

What was his church to do about this charge? Reasonably and understandably, it offered sympathy and money to the unnamed accuser. Given the length of time (more than sixty years ago) and the shortage of witnesses—though it failed to look for at least one such witness, who worked closely with George Bell at the time and says the allegation is absurd—this was a kind and decent thing to do. Less reasonably, it publicized the allegation in such a way as to allow several major London newspapers and the BBC to behave as if the charge were proven. Yet it bears, as Chandler says, no relation to anything else in his well-documented life. Indeed, it contradicts the personal testimony of Canon Adrian Carey, a decorated naval veteran now in his nineties but absolutely lucid, who was Bell’s personal chaplain during the years covered by the accusations, and who has said the events described by the accuser are impossible to match with his own close experience of Bell’s daily life. Yet Canon Carey, who actually lived and shared meals with Bell and his wife during this era, was neither contacted nor consulted by the church authorities, who claimed to have “found no reason to doubt” the accusations.

Why were his successors so willing to toss his reputation into this stinking pit of ultimate shame? Was it because they did not value it, and had forgotten who he was, if they had ever known? Or was it because, when they did understand the great thing he had done, they did not much like it, not being men of his sort? As I think I may have said at the beginning, principle and the Church of England do not always mix very well, and it is not only Roman Catholics who think this. And yet, whatever they do, there is still the collect for the twentieth Sunday after Trinity: “O Almighty and most merciful God, of thy bountiful goodness keep us, we beseech thee, from all things that may hurt us; that we, being ready both in body and soul, may cheerfully accomplish those things that thou wouldest have done.” George Bell would have known those words, said them many times, and, I believe, meant them.

Peter Hitchens is a columnist for the Mail on Sunday.

Jan 29 2019 – “Bishop Bell Vindicated” – Peter Hitchens -‘First Things’ (US)

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Peter Hitchens

 

https://www.firstthings.com/web-exclusives/2019/01/bishop-bell-vindicated

had not thought that victory in a good cause after a long campaign would make me so angry. And yet I was angry. It is only at such moments that we can test the real currency of conscience and eternity against the counterfeit of everyday.

For I and my allies have just undoubtedly won a protracted struggle to restore the good name of Bishop George Bell of Chichester, outrageously condemned as a child abuser by the Church of England he once adorned.

The headlines and the bulletins have all described it as a victory. We will probably get much of what we have always wanted—for instance the restoration of Bell’s name to the buildings and institutions from which it was Stalinistically stripped after the accusations were first made. Indeed, a statue of him, intended for the west front of Canterbury Cathedral, but left incomplete when the charges were made, is now to be finished and put in its intended place. This is a vindication, if ever there was one.

Yet confronted with the poor, sad burbling thing which is a modern Anglican bishop, refusing even now to withdraw doubts about Bell’s innocence (absolutely presumed in English law), refusing to retract insinuations against his defenders, and in general lacking what I regard as proper contrition—it is this failure to confess and seek absolution which predominates in my mind. I did not just want justice or restitution for George Bell (though I did want them). I wanted his accusers to accept that a man’s good name, after he is dead, cannot lightly be trifled with.  If you damage it, and you are wrong, you have a far greater duty to make restitution than if your victim is alive to refute and forgive you.

And I genuinely could not understand their view, which seems to be that, while George Bell may in fact be guilty of the filthy crimes alleged against him, his wider activities in the great world are still somehow valid and worth “celebrating” or whatever the word is. This is such rubbish. The cruel violation of a trusting child, concealed by abuse of power, and unconfessed, as is suggested, would completely cancel out any public virtue and turn it into slime and ashes. One’s hands reach for a millstone.

But I have had to put away my rage, and my growing fear for those who will not admit to what they have done. This is because the political victory cannot properly be exploited unless we, George Bell’s defenders, assert it.

And so I do, and it is quite clearly such a victory. After a struggle lasting nearly as long as the First World War, we have plainly won.

For the second time, allegations against him have proved on inquiry to be weak beyond belief, nowhere near the standard of proof of any court—and in the case of some of the latest ones actually laughable. In one of these accusations, the bishop is supposed to have engaged in homosexual congress, nine years after he was dead, with a man whose body was spread over some part (presumably the hood) of a Rolls Royce automobile which Bishop Bell did not ever possess. It is just possible to be charitable about whoever put this fantasy forward. This is plainly a troubled mind. It is impossible to be charitable to those who took it seriously and spent a ponderous year pretending to assess its worth, while Bishop Bell’s 93-year-old niece was kept in suspense about the outcome. You may study the embarrassing details here.

I have written about this case for First Things and will not dwell on the details. George Bell was for many a pattern of courage when he spoke out, almost alone, against what is now increasingly recognized as having been the mistaken deliberate bombing of German civilians during the 1939-45 war. He knew it would damage him to say this, yet he still said it, which is what his Lord and Master would have wished, even though it was very much not what Winston Churchill would have wished.

Today’s Anglican Church, a poor shivering thing these days, first smeared George Bell in October 2015. It was very worldly in its actions. It had issued a rather coy and ambiguous written statement on allegations against him which had emerged decades after his death in 1958. It was in fact so nebulous that there was later a quarrel about whether it had actually said he was guilty.

It did not really matter by then, as several major newspapers, national and local, and the BBC had somehow or other gained the confidence to state beyond doubt and without qualification that Bishop Bell had been a child abuser. As a journalist myself, who knows how such things happen, I have always believed that somebody must have encouraged them to take this bold step. News organizations are wary of publicly condemning people even when they are dead.  But I have never been able to find out who it was.

What I am sure of is that their confident condemnations served the purpose of a Church trying hard to look decisive and stern about priestly abuse—a problem it has in fact handled very badly. For the Church, it was a free lunch. They could hurl a dead man’s reputation onto the rubbish-heap. Nobody would care, and they would appear to be showing resolve. Because they are new men, from a new era, they had no idea of the power and importance of the reputation they were destroying. Another generation on, and I suppose they would have got away with it. But they didn’t, and for that we can give thanks to the God of Justice and Mercy. You can expect to do a lot of praying if ever you get involved in such a case, because very often, despite your confidence in the rightness of your cause, you will be overpowered by the world’s willingness to tolerate and indeed defend naked injustice.

Peter Hitchens is a columnist for the Mail on Sunday.

COMMENTS

  • In fact, nobody cares. That’s as disgraceful as anything. No one will be held to account for this. The press won’t cover it. The false accusations will continue to be repeated.

  • “You can expect to do a lot of praying if ever you get involved in such a case, because very often, despite your confidence in the rightness of your cause, you will be overpowered by the world’s willingness to tolerate and indeed defend naked injustice”

    But that’s the standard now, isn’t it? An accusation equals guilt? Think of the legal standards of the French Revolution, or the Salem Witch Trials. Or more recently, the Tawana Brawley accusations, the Virginia fraternity accusations, or the Duke lacrosse case.

    “Innocent until proven guilty” is so, so 19th century..

February 26 2018 – “The Church of England should stand up for Bishop Bell” – OXSTU [Oxford Student]

http://oxfordstudent.com/2018/02/25/church-england-stand-bishop-bell/

The Church of England should stand up for Bishop Bell

A short biography of George Bell, who had been Bishop of Chichester for 27 years when he died in 1958, begins by acknowledging a recurring pattern regarding the reputation of notable people. It points out that after such people die, their reputations are often reshaped and defamed by harsh criticism not voiced during their lifetimes – but that the Bishop had managed to be an exception to this rule.

This claim, published in 1971, would no longer be written today. Whilst the memory of George Bell has been cherished over the past 60 years due to his significant support of the Protestant opposition to Hitler, his work in bringing over many non-Aryan refugees from Germany and his emphatic opposition to the bombing of civilians during the Second World War, Bell’s reputation is now at risk of being utterly decimated. A complaint made to the Archbishop of Canterbury in 2013 accused Bell of having committed grotesque acts of child abuse in the 1940s and 50s. In response, the Church apologised and paid the accuser £16,800 in compensation. Various memorials, such as one proclaiming him a ‘champion of the oppressed’ in Chichester Cathedral, faced removal. An Eastbourne school, formerly known as the Bishop Bell Church of England School, has changed its name altogether.

Most would agree that this sort of action would be justified in the face of conclusive evidence against Bell. But it has since transpired that the church acted far too hastily. Following their acceptance of the abuse claims, a robust movement was sparked to defend Bell’s reputation, involving major journalists such as Charles Moore and Peter Hitchens. The Church then initiated an independent inquiry, led by Lord Carlile (one of the country’s top legal experts), which concluded that they had “rushed to judgement” and that the damage to Bell’s reputation was “just wrong”. Lord Carlile even went so far as to say that had he been prosecuting a case against Bell in court, Bell would have won. Nevertheless, this report was withheld by the Church for two months. After its eventual release, Justin Welby insisted that a “significant cloud” still hangs over Bell’s name in spite of Lord Carlile’s conclusions.

We should be equally concerned for protecting Bell’s reputation against false accusations as we are for spoiling his reputation over true accusations

This strange outcome highlights an element of mystery that has surrounded the Bell case. The initial claim against Bell was anonymous and the church revealed no details about the accusation when making their apology. As mentioned, it took two months for the Church to release the Carlile report after having received it. Once it was released, Justin Welby did not follow the logical implications of the report, but refused to retract his statements because of a vague belief in a “cloud”. On the 31st January, the enigmatic plot thickened when the Church announced that a further anonymous and unspecified accusation had been made and was being investigated. Some felt the timing of this was suspicious, given that a motion to debate the restoration of Bell’s reputation was due to be voted on at the Church’s General Synod the following week. Lord Carlile, who knew nothing of this accusation during his investigation, described the announcement as ‘unwise, unnecessary and foolish’. At the very least, we can all recognise the strange and stark asymmetry between the previous withholding of the completed Carlile investigation report and the eagerness of the recent announcement of an incomplete investigation. Things got worse when it emerged that the Church of England had refused to allow Mrs Barbara Whitley, Bell’s 93-year-old niece, to have the lawyer of her choice represent her side in the proceedings – instead choosing on her behalf someone who is neither a lawyer nor known to Mrs Whitley.

At this point, while many will sympathise with the active supporters of George Bell, which now includes leading groups of historians, theologians and church leaders who have written public letters asking for Welby to retract his statement, others feel a sense of unease. After all, it is of course possible that the accusations are true. Justin Welby, in a recent interview with the Church Times, said that the alleged victims should be “treated equally importantly” as the reputation of George Bell. Some would say this does not go far enough: surely we must be more concerned for the alleged victims, who are still living, over the reputation of someone who died 60 years ago?

The general nervousness of the Church of England’s handling of the Bell case must be related to the fact that the Church currently faces over 3,000 complaints of sexual abuse

Perhaps a better way of framing this would be to say that we should be equally concerned for protecting Bell’s reputation against false accusations as we are for spoiling his reputation over true accusations. The trouble is that most people have an instinctive tendency to find the latter much easier than the former. When the Church of England apologised and paid the first alleged victim in 2015, The Guardian ran the story with the headline “Church of England Bishop George Bell abused young child”. At that stage, nothing was known about the identity of the accuser nor the accusations, and yet headlines announced the claims as fact. Once the Carlile report was made public, it would have been no less factual to run the headline ‘George Bell declared innocent of abuse claims’, yet nobody did so. In fact, most would consider this overstepping the mark.

The general nervousness of the Church of England’s handling of the Bell case must be related to the fact that the Church currently faces over 3,000 complaints of sexual abuse (including both long-standing and recent accusations). Other high-profile cases of clergy committing child abuse, such as that of former bishop Peter Ball, have highlighted the shocking failures of senior clerics to listen to victims and pass allegations on to the police. Taking into consideration the sharp spike in awareness of the prevalence of sexual abuse in society more broadly, following Weinstein, Larry Nassar and the #MeToo movement, it is not hard to imagine why the Archbishop of Canterbury would not want to stick his head above the parapet and defend the innocence of an archetypal establishment figure: a dead, white, male clergyman.

Courage, after all, comes at a cost. George Bell discovered this himself when his opposition to the bombing of innocent civilians during the Second World War put him on the wrong side of Winston Churchill, probably the main reason why he was never appointed Archbishop of Canterbury. In the absence of substantial evidence in support of the accusations against him, Bell’s reputation deserves to be defended. This is not only in the interest of truth, but also in the interest of maintaining a legacy of courageous leadership which is desperately needed among Bell’s clerical successors today.