By John Martin

The Church of England has appointed a senior member of the House of Lords to review the sex-abuse allegations against the late Bishop George Bell.

Alex Carlile, the independent reviewer of terrorism legislation between 2001 and 2011 and an expert in cyber-related issues, will report on lessons learned in the Bell case. His report, commissioned by the Church of England’s National Safeguarding Team in accordance with the House of Bishops’ guidance on all complex cases, is expected to be finished by the end of next summer.

The Rt. Rev. Martin Warner, Bishop of Chichester, issued a public apology in 2015 and said the church had settled a legal civil claim involving allegations of sexual abuse by Bishop Bell, Bishop of Chichester from 1929 to 1958.

Bell was revered in his time as a pioneer ecumenicist and supporter of German Christians opposed to Adolf Hitler. Schools and other buildings were named after him and a statue honors him at Chichester Cathedral. He was a serious candidate to succeed William Temple as Archbishop of Canterbury.

Allegations against Bell were brought to the Diocese of Winchester in 1995 but they prompted no action. In 2013 the complainant approached Lambeth Palace, which commissioned an investigation.

Since the settlement in 2015, several legal experts and journalists have run a sustained campaign criticizing the church’s handling of the case and calling for it to be reviewed.

The Rt. Rev. Peter Hancock, Bishop of Bath and Wells and lead bishop on safeguarding, said in a media statement: “I am grateful to Lord Carlile for agreeing to undertake the review, which will take a detailed look into how the church handled the George Bell case; as with all serious cases there are always lessons to be learnt. The Church of England takes all safeguarding issues very seriously and we will continue to listen to everyone affected in this case while we await the findings of the review. The Diocese of Chichester continues to be in touch and offer support to the survivor known as Carol, who brought the allegations.”

Fresh Expressions Tops 50,000

A new Church of England report says that more than 50,000 people participate in Fresh Expressions services in England. Church Army, one of the church’s leading urban mission agencies, conducted the research and published the report. It says the majority of those who attend are younger than the average worshiper in standard parish congregations.

Fresh Expressions is defined as a “new gathering or network that engages mainly with people who have never been to church.” The term was coined in a 2004 report on church-planting, Mission-shaped Church. The movement was championed by Rowan Williams during his time as Archbishop of Canterbury.

The report says 3,400 Fresh Expressions projects are found in all the major denominations across the United Kingdom. About half, 2,100, are linked to the Church of England. The 233-page report, The Day of Small Things [PDF], analyzes about 1100 Fresh Expressions projects in 21 Church of England dioceses.

Malawi’s President Praises Church

Malawi’s President, Peter Mutharika, has praised Anglican churches in his country for their work in health, education, and agriculture.

Mutharika made the remarks to a contingent of Anglican bishops at Kamuzu Palace in the capital city, Lilongwe. Leading the group was the Most Rev. Albert Chama, Primate of Central Africa, based in neighboring Zambia. The Province of Central Africa comprises dioceses in Malawi, Zambia, and Zimbabwe.

“The Anglican church here is doing a lot, in providing for the body and the soul,” the president said. “You are running schools and hospitals. You are supporting agriculture, and you are with us in times of emergencies, such as the devastating floods and droughts we experienced the past two years. You are also in environmental rehabilitation and management.”

The president reiterated his hope for church and state to work collectively in instilling good values among citizens. “Church and government are partners in development,” he said. “Together we take care of the body and the soul. Here in Malawi, we have agreed on pillars through which we will develop our country — namely patriotism, integrity, and hard work.”

Australian Diocese Rocked by Allegations

The Diocese of Newcastle, north of Sydney, is reeling from revelations about a culture of widespread sexual abuse across many years. The Rt. Rev. Greg Thompson, Bishop of Newcastle, told a royal commission that a priest told him in the 1970s he would “get ahead” in the church if he offered sexual favors.

Thompson was the concluding witness in a royal commission’s hearing into the diocese, which confirmed abuse occurred there for decades. He broke down several times as he recalled being abused as a teenager.

The hearings included accusations against the Rt. Rev. Ian Shevill, Bishop of Newcastle from 1973 to 1977. He was secretary of USPG, a leading U.K. missionary society, from 1970 to 1973. He died in 1988. The Rev. Canon Eric Barker, a former editor of the diocesan newspaper, also was implicated. He too is deceased.

The Royal Commission led the Most Rev. Roger Herft, Archbishop of Perth and former Bishop of Newcastle, to stand aside during the course of the commission. He said he had failed the people of Newcastle: “I let them down badly — let down the survivors in a way that remorse itself is a very poor emotion to express.”

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