Defending George Bell

By John Martin

“Miscarriage of Justice”: A judge, a retired senior police officer, one of Britain’s leading libel lawyers, and a member of Parliament are part of the George Bell Group, which has criticized the Church of England for “committing a grave miscarriage of justice” in the case of the Rt. Rev. George Bell, former Bishop of Chichester.

In October 2015 the Diocese of Chichester released a statement that said Bell abused a young girl, and the survivor was paid £15,000 (just over U.S. $21,000) in damages. The diocese apparently ignored allegations in 1995, but the complaint was investigated after the victim approached Archbishop Justin Welby in 2013.

The group wants a public apology by the church. They say it did not interview key people, including Bell’s chaplain, and did not consult archival records, including Bell’s diary, which may provide clues in the case.

The group’s statement said, in part:

The public has been consistently assured that the process by which the Church of England reached a view on Bishop Bell was “thorough” and “objective,” and that it commissioned “experts” whose ‘independent reports’ found “no reason to doubt the veracity of the claims” of sexual abuse made by the complainant.

However, although the nature of this process has never been publicly disclosed, we have discovered enough to establish its severe limitations which render it quite inadequate as a basis for assessing the probability of Bishop Bell’s guilt. The scope of the independent experts’ inquiries was limited to a degree that made a proper analysis of the complainant’s allegations virtually impossible. …

In view of the evidence that we have gathered and examined we have concluded that the allegation made against Bishop Bell cannot be upheld in terms of actual evidence or historical probability.

The group has appealed for a full investigation of the case and restoration of Bell’s name to schools and buildings named after him.

Church authorities continue to state that “the overriding goal was to search out the truth and issues of reputation cannot take priority over that. Any suggestion that the reputation of the Church, or its ministers, should take precedence over the search for the truth is fundamentally misplaced.”

Huge Christian Exodus from Syria: Two-thirds of Syria’s Christians have fled the country, according to Antoine Audo, the Chaldean Catholic Bishop of Aleppo. He blames the violence and insecurity spread by extremist groups who insist that most Christians still support the Syrian president. The Assad regime has protected Christian minorities in Syria for many years.

“I think now there are maybe 500,000. Two-thirds have left, mainly due to the insecurity,” Audo told agency reporters in Geneva.

He said the exodus was even greater from the embattled northern city of Aleppo There are only around 40,000 Christians left there, down from 160,000.

“You cannot imagine the dangers that we face every day,” he said. “Wealthy Christians have all left. The middle classes have become poor and the poor have become miserable.”

Violence in Syria has cost 270,000 lives in five years. Audo denies the government has persecuted Christians. Instead, they are targeted by jihadists who aim to “destabilize the Syrian society and transform the war into a confessional war,” he said.

The bishop believes Syria has for many years been a model for how Muslim and Christian communities could live side by side. Hatred has been “imported,” he said. “I think … this war is not coming from inside Syria. … I think all is organized from outside to destroy Syria.”

Atrocities in Sudan: Human-rights violations are spiraling in South Sudan, with over 1,300 rape cases in five months of last year, as civil war continues to rage. A United Nations Human Rights report claims children and disabled people were burned alive by pro-government forces.

Opposition forces and criminal gangs are accused of sexually exploiting women, but the U.N. claims South Sudan’s government allowed the rape of women as a substitute for wages to fighters. Repeated attacks on civilians could amount to war crimes and crimes against humanity, it said.

Children have been subjected to violence such as being maimed, raped, recruited for hostilities, and killed. UNHR received reports of 702 children being survivors of sexual violence since the conflict began in December 2013, and some victims of gang rape were as young as 9.

The South Sudanese government perpetrated a “scorched-earth policy” of deliberate rape, pillage, and killing of civilians during the civil war in 2015, the U.N. report said.

In one of many cases, the Sudan People’s Liberation Army forces rounded up 60 cattle-keepers and put them in a container in a compound of a Roman Catholic church for two days. Only one survived, according to the report. More than two million civilians have been displaced and thousands killed as the parties struggle to establish the Transitional Government of National Unity they promised in a peace agreement last August.

South Sudan, which gained independence from Sudan in 2011, has been gripped by violence since December 2013, when President Salva Kiir Mayardit

accused former vice president Riek Machar of attempting a coup.

The country has since disintegrated along ethnic fault lines, and the conflict has led to one of the worst humanitarian crises in the world. At least seven ceasefires have been broken.

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