The following is a guest post by the Rev Dr Peter Mullen, Hon. Chaplain of The Freedom Association.
For how much longer will Justin Welby, the Archbishop of cant, be allowed to continue to traduce the good name of Bishop George Bell?
The heroic wartime Bishop was “hung out to dry” by the Church of England authorities at the highest level. Those are the words of Lord Carlile in his judgement on how the Church hierarchy mistreated George Bell.
The Church operated a kangaroo court. Here are the facts…
Bishop George Bell (1883-1958), Bishop of Chichester, has been judged and condemned without any case brought for his defence. An elderly woman came forward in 1995 and claimed that Bishop Bell had sexually abused her fifty years earlier. The authorities took no action. The woman complained again in 2013, by which time Bishop Bell had been dead for fifty-five years. The police concluded that there was sufficient evidence to justify their questioning Bishop Bell, had he been still alive. Martin Warner, Bishop of Chichester, discussed the matter with Justin Welby, Archbishop of Canterbury and in 2015 the Church of England offered a formal apology to Bishop Bell’s accuser, paid her an undisclosed sum in compensation – now revealed to have been £31,000 - and allowed her to remain anonymous. Memorials to Bishop Bell were removed and institutions – such as the Bishop Bell School, Eastbourne – changed their names.
Let us be in no doubt as to the seriousness of the Church’s misconduct so eloquently criticised in Lord Carlile’s report. To that phrase “hung out to dry,” he adds that the Church’s procedures were “deficient, inappropriate and impermissible”; “obvious lines of enquiry were not followed” and there was “a rush to judgement.”
In the light of this scandalously incompetent behaviour, the least that might be expected from the Archbishop of Canterbury is a profuse apology to Bishop Bell’s descendants, family, friends and numerous supporters for the distress his decisions have caused them. Is such an apology forthcoming? It is not. Instead Justin Welby persists in his mood of arrogant vindictiveness, saying, “A significant cloud is left over George Bell’s name. No human being is entirely good or bad. Bishop Bell was in many ways a hero. He is also accused of great wickedness. Good acts do not diminish evil ones…”
Welby’s words are outrageous. True, Bishop Bell was “accused of great wickedness” – but he was not found guilty of any wrongdoing. And there is no “significant cloud” over his name. There is, however, certainly a very dark cloud over Welby’s name after his lamentable performance in this matter.
This cloud has just turned even darker. After Lord Carlile’s report last January exonerated Bishop Bell, the Church announced that it had found additional evidence against him but refused to say what this evidence was. Welby said it had been delivered to the Sussex police, adding that the Church would be conducting its own enquiry and would disclose its findings once the police had completed their own investigation. Last week the police declared that this had now been done and they were taking the accusations against Bishop Bell no further. Case closed – sixty years after the Bishop’s death.
Surely then, Welby will stand outside the front door of Lambeth Palace and offer an unqualified apology? He does not. Instead there is only an archiepiscopal silence so thick you could chew it. There is no good reason for this silence. Surely the Church is not still conducting its own enquiry after the police – with their vastly superior resources and forensic skills – have closed theirs? Meanwhile, in Welby’s all-enclosing silence, Bishop Bell’s reputation continues to suffer perhaps irreparable damage and the sensitivities of his surviving family are trampled on. That leaders of the Christian Church in England are the perpetrators of all this damage and all this hurt is passing disgraceful.
Come out of Lambeth now, Welby and apologise. Then resign.
All views expressed in contributions by named authors are their own and may not reflect the views of The Freedom Association.