Thinking Anglicans

More criticism of responses to Carlile report

Updated yet again Friday afternoon

This critique by Martin Sewell at Archbishop Cranmer needs to be read in full by anyone who has concerns about the way the Church of England has treated Bishop George Bell:
Carlile Report: Bishop George Bell has been traduced, and the blame lies squarely with Church House and Lambeth Palace

There is also this piece by Peter Hitchens in the Mail on Sunday:
PETER HITCHENS: If a saintly man can be branded a sex abuser, none of us is safe.

We linked previously to the Telegraph article by Charles Moore:
Archbishop Welby’s response to 
the George Bell inquiry is shocking

Ian Paul has asked
What is missing in the George Bell case?

Martyn Percy at Christian Today
Why the Church’s response to the George Bell inquiry is so shocking

Peter Hitchens has now written an open letter to the Bishop of Chichester:
Acquitted and Vindicated – but his Reputation is Still in Prison. The Church’s Duty to George Bell

The Telegraph reports: Bishop Bell’s niece: Welby should resign

Church Times Letters to the Editor: Inadequate episcopal response to Carlile report includes two: one from Professors David Brown and Ann Loades, and the other from Dr Ruth Hildebrandt Grayson, who had written previously on 17 November (scroll down to second letter).

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Rod Gillis
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Rod Gillis

Charles Moore concludes, “The good Bell did is proved. The evil is an uncorroborated accusation believed by the religious authorities because it makes their life easier. We have been here before – in the life of Jesus, and in the reason for his unjust death.”

A sentence to hoist bishops and other church bureaucrats on their petard in that they are not the only ones on the giving end of weaponizing piety in a debate.

Lavinia Nelder
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Lavinia Nelder

Reality check for the Church, the proper people to investigate criminal allegations are those qualified and experienced in the matter. That is the police who are not only independent, but also have a complaints board that is much more open and transparent. The first rule of safeguarding is do not investigate; you record it and report it and then leave it to the professionals.

Susannah Clark
Guest

Lavinia nails it.

Her proposed approach also reduces the risk of an institution covering up complaints for institutional reasons, or being accused of doing so.

As a fundamental principle an organisation should not ‘queer the pitch’ but hand the basic disclosure to professionals, and ensure an objective independent party investigates any disclosures or claims.

Mark Bennet
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Mark Bennet

If the police do investigate allegations and decide not to charge a person with a criminal offence they will not share all their evidence with others – there are confidentiality considerations. There may be all kinds of reasons why not – including that the alleged victim is unwilling to go through the ordeal of a trial. I also know of a case where a guilty plea was made and an organisation involved was not even told whether the victim(s) had been people within its care, yet alone their identities. Employers and caring organisations are still responsible for disciplinary arrangements and… Read more »

Janet Fife
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Janet Fife

This is damning of the Church and our procedures. It seems a long time since Bp. David Wilbourne assured us that the Church is best placed to manage its own safeguarding. I wonder If he still believes that?

Only yesterday a member of the Archbishops’ Council asserted (on Bp. Alan Wilson’s Facebook page) that there is no crisis regarding safeguarding. Following the Elliott and the Carlile reports, and the Gibb review before them, I find that disturbing.

Marshall Scott
Guest

I cannot speak to the case of Bishop Bell, but I can certainly respond to the angst of Mr. Hitchens: a man, otherwise saintly in so many respects, may not only be branded a sex abuser but may be a sex abuser. Persons of remarkable accomplishments often have remarkable failings – something we’re recognizing again in the political life of the western side of the Atlantic. There is that saying: “Bright lights cast dark shadows.” Tillich was a redoubtable theologian, and a very doubtable husband. Or, as someone important to us is reported to have said, “Why do you call… Read more »

James Byron
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James Byron

I can see why, in this case, the police may not’ve been the best people to investigate (Bell having been dead for nearly half a century’s the obvious one). Once they’d been made aware of the allegations, I don’t object to the church investigating so much as how it was done. The report notes that the diocese could’ve conducted a much better investigation even without police resources. There’s ample ex-police detectives in the private sector, alongside other experts in this most difficult of fields. An independent report was able to nail down basics like timelines and opportunity (or rather, lack… Read more »

Rod Gillis
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Rod Gillis

Re Marshall Scott, your post regarding Paul Tillich etc., is simply a pitch for guilt by association. None of the very general and unrelated observations in your comment necessarily have any bearing on the Bell case. The public is not now, and may never be, in a position to adequately evaluate the allegations against Bishop Bell. All the public had was the ability to trust that the church had engaged in a proper process. The Carlile report has shown such trust to be misplaced. The blow back from the Carlile report, including the unctuous P.R. rhetoric the church is using… Read more »

Lavinia Nelder
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Lavinia Nelder

Disciplinary hearings for this kind of allegation are normally undertaken after the police have decided not to investigate or prosecute. The information they have should have been made available to the legal representatives of both sides of the allegation. Before anyone starts I know this hasn’t been the case in the recent cases, but people have been imprisoned for that ‘oversight’. As James Byron has pointed out there are enough people around who the diocese could have approached for advice and a serious dose of humility should be dished out to those who didn’t.

Garry Lovatt
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Garry Lovatt

Has it struck anyone else that there is a great irony here? The ABC’s church experience seems to have been pretty limited, both in depth and breadth. OTOH, we are told he has important business experience. Not unnaturally then he has led an initiative to increase the expertise of bishops in business practices. But in the Bell case some very common business practices are clearly evident, and are at least in part at the root of the really scandalous mishandling of the matter.

Mark Bennet
Guest
Mark Bennet

Lavinia – on what legal basis should the police normally make available the information they hold to the legal representatives? What about organisations which are affected/involved, but not legally represented in the primary matters? What about witnesses who have spoken to the police under compulsion? What about vulnerable witnesses who are adamant that their information should not be shared with others?

Note also: UK law on information held by organisations and information sharing is just about to undergo a huge overhaul, the unintended consequences of which have not been thought through.

Jeremy
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Jeremy

Martyn Percy’s account of the phone call from Sir William Fittall is rather damning when it comes to the Church of England putting public relations first.

But then, as Garry Lovatt suggests, it’s all about marketing these days.

rjb
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rjb

I tend to agree with Marshall Scott. Some moral nuance is called for when considering both our heroes and their mortal shortcomings. I have no opinion about the allegations against George Bell (as distinct from the shambolic way they have been handled by the Church), and I am not heavily invested in maintaining either his guilt or innocence. But it strikes me that Christians need not share the legal fiction that is the presumption of innocence: in moral terms we should perhaps have a presumption of universal guilt! We live in a very Manichaean culture, which tends to cherish flawless… Read more »

Interested Observer
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Interested Observer

“The information they have should have been made available to the legal representatives of both sides of the allegation.” The police would not, and should not, provide the evidence gathered in the course on an investigation that does not result in a trial to anyone. It would, inter alia, identify witnesses and people who provided information on a confidential basis. It would also provide extensive background on the accused which was not part of the investigation per se; it’s very hard to (for example) search someone’s house or investigate someone’s finances without throwing up a huge amount of irrelevant information.… Read more »

Lavinia Nelder
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Lavinia Nelder

Points taken, but according to our union lawyer an employer would be “ill advised to start a disciplinary action on alleged criminal activity in advance of any criminal proceeding having taken place by the appropriate authority”. The Church did just that, with the difference that the Bishop was long dead. They wouldn’t have done that if he was alive without the risk of being dragged through the civil courts. Aside from the damage done to the reputation of a man who was held in huge regard, the damage that has been done to the credibility of the Church as a… Read more »

Rod Gillis
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Rod Gillis

re rjb, “Some moral nuance is called for when considering both our heroes and their mortal shortcomings.” Such an observation is in keeping with character development in contemporary film and literature i.e. the moral ambiguity of every person. However,it is a leap from the notion of generic moral ambiguity to a conclusion of guilt on a particular count. A review of Albert Camus’ novels may be helpful. “…in moral terms we should perhaps have a presumption of universal guilt!” The church has a long standing neurotic obsession with guilt with guilt rather than justice being the church’s default position in… Read more »

Interested Observer
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Interested Observer

Lavinia writes: according to our union lawyer an employer would be “ill advised to start a disciplinary action on alleged criminal activity in advance of any criminal proceeding” Your union lawyer is being very cautious, to the point that few employers would agree with him in general; it is their choice when they bring disciplinary charges, not his. It is reasonable for a school to suspend a teacher who was suspected of child abuse, for example, in advance of charging, never mind conviction. The presumption of innocence is a legal requirement in the criminal process; it does not mean that… Read more »

James Byron
Guest
James Byron

“If the church wants to focus on ‘guilt’, then it missed an opportunity to say, in the light of Carlile, we are guilty, we did the thing, we put public relations ahead of proper process.” Such generalizations have all the weight of an airline’s non-apology, allowing the hierarchy to feel faux-contrition without the troublesome business of assigning blame to specific individuals and policies. Just hide in the thicket of collective guilt and promise that lessons will be learned. Given that I defended the presumption of innocence, here and elsewhere, from the moment the accusations were first published — in the… Read more »

Rod Gillis
Guest
Rod Gillis

“Such generalizations have all the weight of an airline’s non-apology…” I am unclear what this is intended to mean with regard to my post. I’m not suggesting a draft wording for a church apology. My point is that the church should fess up with greater clarity that with regard to Bishop Bell it has bungled the entire affair, that in doing so it has caused damage to itself, the complainant, and the reputation of Bell. I thought I was clear about that. Archbishop Welby’s statement reads, “He [Bishop Bell] is also accused of great wickedness.” That line appears in the… Read more »

James Byron
Guest
James Byron

Thanks for the clarification, and apologies for misunderstanding you. 🙂

Absolutely agree that the leadership should accept responsibility & work to set things right.

Jeremy
Guest
Jeremy

The “risk of being dragged through the civil courts” may refer not to any suspension proceeding but rather to a defamation action by the accused. Much as I agree with Lord Carlile’s conclusions, I must note: All this inquiry and press has been about one man, long dead. Such concern for his reputation, even though he cannot suffer at all. How do you think the 30 sacked York Minster bell ringers feel? They are alive, they have families, jobs, and communities. Their reputations matter too. They asked for an independent inquiry, but did not get it–perhaps because they lacked highly… Read more »

David Lamming
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David Lamming

Jeremy, the reputation of the long-deceased bishop DOES matter, as Lord Carlile noted in this paragraph (para 46) of his report: “First, the reputations of the dead are not without value. This applies as much to those who have lived ordinary lives as to those who have been famous. A moment’s thought makes it plain that none of us would wish to be vilified after our deaths when we could no longer defend ourselves. Further, the pain caused to those who have loved and respected the alleged perpetrator, on hearing that a shocking allegation has been accepted as true, cannot… Read more »

Interested Observer
Guest
Interested Observer

“The “risk of being dragged through the civil courts” may refer not to any suspension proceeding but rather to a defamation action by the accused.” There has not been a case of someone bringing a successful defamation action in relation to a company disciplinary process in living memory (possibly ever), and doubly so since the massively raised bar of the 2013 Defamation Act. There are defamation cases arising from dismissals (see, for example, [1]) but they relate to things wildly outside normal company processes. Disciplinary processes aren’t published, for a start off, which makes defamation difficult. The threshold for bringing… Read more »

Mark Bennet
Guest
Mark Bennet

If there are people in the CofE who still don’t get that the only public processes they have instigated in this area which carry any kind of credibility at all are the reviews of mistakes in investigations and the handling of allegations – mistakes which belong to a broken institutional culture where the supposed need for public credibility is at odds with any realistic doctrine of sin (to make a theological point), and which are leading to a huge disconnect between what the institution thinks of itself, and what others think about it. This becomes mission critical, and if there… Read more »

Jeremy
Guest
Jeremy

David Lamming, as I said above (“[M]uch as I agree”), I agree with Lord Carlile about the treating carefully the reputation of someone who is dead. (Whether the someone is a bishop shouldn’t really matter, don’t you think?)

My point, however, is how much more it matters to be careful about the reputation of someone who is living.

Much less the reputations of _30_ living people.

Jeremy
Guest
Jeremy

Interested Observer, may I refer you to the article in the Telegraph dated 16 Dec 2016, in which a solicitor was quoted as saying the following: ““York Minster, in confirming the outcome of its process, said on September 23 2016 ‘the matter is private and confidential, further comment would not therefore be appropriate, the matter was closed’. “In light of this it was surprising to see the Archbishop of York and the Dean on October 17 making a public statement on television, on nine occasions making reference to an ongoing investigation. This and the contents of their new press release… Read more »

Toby Forward
Guest
Toby Forward

I made a decision long ago not to post here again, but this is an exceptional case. George Bell and this report have long been a matter of concern to FrDavid, who has not posted on this or any other matter for a while.
Is he all right? I don’t like to think that something has happened to him and we don’t know.
Thank you.

Froghole
Guest
Froghole

@Canon Forward: I am also breaking my decision not to post here again, only to let you know that Fr David now seems to be commenting frequently on the Archbishop Cranmer blog (not my cup of tea as blogs go). As far as I am aware he is still very active as a team rector in East Sussex, where he has worked for the last four years: he has about another four/five years to go, assuming he wants to stay the full course.

Perry Butler
Guest
Perry Butler

An incisive letter from professors Loades and Brown ( a formidable duo) in the latest Church Times.

Toby Forward
Guest
Toby Forward

@Froghole. Many thanks. That’s good to know. Like you, I’m not much of a fan of Cranmer, so I doubt I’ll see his posts there.

Rowland Wateridge
Guest
Rowland Wateridge

I have made this comment on an earlier, related thread, and I think it is apposite to repeat it here.
I believe we all agree that the cause of justice was not well served either for ‘Carol’ or the late, and very long deceased, Bishop Bell. Lord Carlile has gone as far as he could, within his limited remit, to restore some balance of fairness. I believe his recommendations and reasoning about anonymity deserve far more careful consideration – and respect – than they have so far received.