Adapted from an ACNS report
An independent inquiry carried out by a senior ecclesiastical lawyer has ruled that fresh allegations against the late Bishop George Bell are unfounded.
On Oct. 22, 2015, the church announced that it had reached a settlement in a civil claim bought by a complainant known as Carol. Carol had alleged that she had been abused by Bell when she was a girl. Supporters of the bishop said the church had been too quick to condemn a revered dead man who could not defend himself.
In December 2017, an independent review carried out by the senior lawyer and politician Lord Carlile criticized the church’s handling of the allegation.
He made a number of recommendations, and the church accepted all but one. The one it declined to adopt was a recommendation that secrecy should surround settlements in cases when the accused has died and is unable to offer a defense.
The next month, the church announced that fresh information had been received following the publication of the Carlile Review, and that a core group has been formed to look investigate.
In April 2018, Sussex Police announced that they had carried out “a proportionate investigation” and would not proceed further. The church appointed former police Det. Supt. Ray Galloway to carry out an investigation and the Bishop of Chichester appointed Timothy Briden, vicar general of the Province of Canterbury, to conduct a review.
In a detailed report released Jan. 24, Briden concluded that the fresh allegations are unfounded.
“We have learned that the boundaries of doubt and certainty have to be stated with great care, that the dead and those who are related to them have a right to be represented, and that there must be a balanced assessment of the extent to which it would be in the public interest to announce the details of any allegation,” said the Rt. Rev. Martin Warner, Bishop of Chichester, in a statement.
“We recognise the hurt that has been done to all who have been directly involved, including the family of George Bell and those who continue to respect his achievements, as a result of the areas where we have fallen short. We apologize profoundly and sincerely for our shortcomings in this regard. The responsibility for this is a shared one, as are the lessons learnt from it.”
He continued: “We have all been diminished by this case. The legitimate quest for certainty has been defeated by the nature of the case and the passage of time. Bishop Bell cannot be proven guilty, nor can it be safely claimed that the original complainant has been discredited. There is an uncertainty which cannot be resolved.
“We ask those who hold opposing views on this matter to recognize the strength of each other’s commitment to justice and compassion. Moreover, we continue to believe that the good things that George Bell did in his life will stand the test of time. His prophetic work for peace and his relationship with Dietrich Bonhoeffer are only two of the many ways in which his legacy will go on being of great significance to us in the Church and we hope and pray we can go on learning from what he has given to us.”
Abp. Welby’s New Apology
The Archbishop of Canterbury has apologized unreservedly for flaws in how Church of England has dealt with accusations of sexual misconduct against the late Bishop George Bell.
The new apologies by Archbishop Justin Welby follow a report by Timothy Briden, a senior ecclesiastical lawyer.
By the time of his death in 1958, the former Bishop of Chichester was respected as a theologian, peace advocate, hymn-writer, and pioneer of ecumenism.
“The reputation of Bishop Bell is significant, and I am clear that his memory and the work he did is of as much importance to the church today as it was in the past,” Archbishop Justin Welby said. “I recognize this has been an extremely difficult period for all concerned and I apologize equally to all those who have come forward and shared stories of abuse where we have not responded well.”
The allegation against the late bishop was originally brought in 1995 amid a growing awareness of abuse and safeguarding issues in the Church of England.
Lord Carlile conducted a review of how the church handled the Bell case, and many of his recommendations were accepted by the Church of England.
Welby said the church’s dilemma was to “weigh up the reputation of a highly esteemed bishop who died over 60 years ago alongside a serious allegation. We did not manage our response to the original allegation with the consistency, clarity, or accountability that meets the high standards rightly demanded of us.
“I recognize the hurt that has been done as a consequence. This was especially painful for Bishop Bell’s surviving relatives, colleagues, and supporters, and to the vast number of people who looked up to him as a remarkable role model, not only in the Diocese of Chichester but across the United Kingdom and globally.
“I apologize profoundly and unconditionally for the hurt caused to these people by the failures in parts of the process and take responsibility for this failure.
“However, it is still the case that there is a woman who came forward with a serious allegation relating to an historic case of abuse and this cannot be ignored or swept under the carpet. We need to care for her and listen to her voice.”
He said the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse has already questioned the Church of England about its response to the Bishop Bell case and the review by Lord Carlile. “We expect that their report on our hearings will address further the complex issues that have been raised and will result in a more informed, confident, just, and sensitive handling of allegations of abuse by the church in the future.”
Bishop Bell “is one of the most important figures in the history of the Church of England in the 20th century and his legacy is undoubted and must be upheld,” Welby added.
“His prophetic work for peace and his relationship with Dietrich Bonhoeffer are only two of the many ways in which his legacy is of great significance.”
The church “must go on learning from what he has given to us. I hope that ways will be found to underline his legacy and share the learning from his life with future generations.”