By John Martin
An independent review will probe the case of the Rt. Rev. George Bell, former Bishop of Chichester.
In September 2015 the church settled a civil claim by a woman who claimed she was abused as a child by Bell, who was Bishop of Chichester from 1929 until his death in 1958. The review will scrutinize all aspects of how the case was handled.
A complaint was first made in 1995 but no action was taken until 2013, when the complainant approached Archbishop Justin Welby. The name of the independent reviewer and the review’s terms of reference will be announced at a later date.
Supporters of Bishop Bell are highly critical of the church’s original investigation. They claim there was little or no reference to Bell’s diaries or working papers, or to people who worked with him during the years in question. Their campaign has won the support of high-profile journalists, including Charles Moore, a former editor of The Telegraph.
Bell is still much admired years after his death. He supported German Christians, notably the martyred pastor Dietrich Bonheoffer, who opposed Adolf Hitler and the Third Reich. Many believe Bell should have been chosen as Archbishop of Canterbury in succession to William Temple in 1944, but his way was blocked by Prime Minister Winston Churchill for opposing bombing of German cities and civilians during World War II.
Journalist Peter Hitchens, who has criticised the Church of England’s handling of the claims against Bell, welcomed the review, although he said he hoped it would dig beyond procedural issues. “Anything which brings us closer to the truth about this case is good news,” he said.