Saturday, 14 November 2015


Peter Hitchens The Spectator The Church of England’s shameful betrayal of bishop George Bell
Church of England Newspaper editorial The rule of the lynch mob
His Honour Alan Pardoe QC Church Times The Church of England media statement about Bishop George Bell

Jeff K Clarke 2 Reasons NOT to Keep Christ in Christmas

Andrew Lightbown A focus of unity? Really?

Posted by Peter Owen on Saturday, 14 November 2015 at 10:59am GMT | TrackBack
You can make a Permalink to this if you like
Categorised as: Opinion

George Bell may well have been guilty, but I have to agree with Peter Hitchens: I can't believe anonymous, unspecific hearsay, however sympathetic I am to the reasons for the person who accused Bell wishing to remain unidentified.

The only way to believe the accusation is to take the judgment of the Church of England wholly on trust, and I'm not prepared to do that.

I'm not diminishing the impact of child abuse, nor the ability of abusers to hide their crimes. I'm not disputing the struggle survivors have to be believed. It's a question of evidence, and evidential standards must be upheld, however tempting it is to set them aside.

Posted by: James Byron on Saturday, 14 November 2015 at 5:28pm GMT

Peter Hitchens' article was discomforting to read. The accusation has evidently been believed by the police and by the Church of England. George Bell evidently was an outstanding churchman. It was not possible to take the matter to court, due to the prior death of the accused person, not due to lack of evidence. There does not have to be many accusers for someone to be guilty of a crime, there only needs to be one person with credible evidence. The Church must never diminish the impact of child abuse and it must never diminish its capacity for forgiveness. What else can one say?

Posted by: Pam on Saturday, 14 November 2015 at 8:43pm GMT

Pam, applying standards of evidence to accusations of child abuse does nothing to diminish the impact of the crime, anymore than applying them to accusations of murder diminishes the impact of murder.

Since we know nothing of the specifics, we can't assess the credibility of the accusation for ourselves -- we can only accept it on trust, and no organization is so perfect as to deserve that, least of all one that spent years concealing the very abuse it now condemns. As for the police, all they said was that there would've been reasonable cause to justify an arrest, a very low burden, certainly not amounting to proof of guilt.

Not accepting the accusation isn't calling the person making it a liar. It's simply withholding judgment.

Posted by: James Byron on Sunday, 15 November 2015 at 12:43am GMT

Yes, James, I understand what you are saying. I think Hitchens' article took one side of a very complex situation and ran with it. So many victims are unable to prove sexual abuse because it is such a 'hidden' crime. Police having grounds to make an arrest does say something even if it can't be tested in a court of law.

One thing: a very sad situation for the complainant, Bell, the Church and the police.

Posted by: Pam on Sunday, 15 November 2015 at 10:49am GMT

Peter Hitchens article provides a valid perspective on the Bishop Bell matter. However, as he himself notes, Bell is now an historical figure. I think we can make a distinction between the presumption of innocence in a criminal context for a living person facing allegations, and an historical judgement of someone who has died and part of history. The problem of course is that protecting the identity of the alleged victim is important. Such is usually the case even in court cases with publication bans. It would be foolish to comment in a definitive way on this issue given the fact that crucial information is, basically, secret at present.However, given Bell's place and prominence in recent church history, it is not unimportant that a greater degree of clarity and transparency about the allegations might one day be established. I'm guessing there is not much of an interest at the institutional level at the moment for that.

Posted by: Rod Gillis on Sunday, 15 November 2015 at 4:56pm GMT

Rod, due to the trauma and stigma, there's certainly an argument that survivors of abuse should have the right to remain anonymous (although when there's a prosecution, since the defendant's liberty is at stake, I believe the right to a public trial must supersede it), but anonymity makes it harder to assess their testimony.

When we don't even have the testimony itself, assessment's impossible, even to the lower standards of historiography. All we can say for sure is that an accusation's been made, and after a secret investigation, senior figures in the Church of England have decided that it's probably true.

It may well be, but until more details are forthcoming, we can't judge for ourselves. The priority is, of course, the wellbeing of a person who's been abused, so that's not necessarily wrong. But until the evidence is released (if it ever is), the church shouldn't consider the book closed on Bell's guilt.

Posted by: James Byron on Sunday, 15 November 2015 at 7:24pm GMT

I was baptised by Bishop George Bell in October 1949, just the period when these abusive incidents are supposed to have happened. Bell was visiting New Zealand to promote the recently created World Council of Churches. My father had been ordained by him 8 and 9 years before, and held Bell in very high esteem. The knowledge that I was baptised by such a great and saintly man (my father certainly used that word of him) has been an important part of my spiritual pilgrimage, so I share what the current Bishop of Chichester called a “bewildering mix of deep and disturbing emotions” at the accusations/revelations that have recently come to light. I am glad both my parents went to their graves before all this came to light.
I have considerable empathy for the points James Byron makes, but I feel inclined to trust Bishop Martin here. This is a diocese already having to deal with the proven improprieties of Bishop Peter Ball, the great cloud hanging over the reputation of Bishop Wallace Benn regarding the handling of sexual abuse by clergy during his leadership, and the legacy of Bishop Eric Kemp, creating a bastion of conservatism on ordination of women and acceptance of GLBT issues in an area that includes Brighton, otherwise one of the most gay-friendly centres in England. With that much mess to sort out, what possible motive would Bishop Warner have in making things worse by destroying the reputation of perhaps the greatest bishop in Chichester’s long history, with the possible exception of Saint Richard?
I find it hard to imagine that he would have taken such a step purely to demonstrate that the church is now serious about sexual abuse. Like James, I know absolutely nothing about the detail of the accusations against George Bell, but I am certain that Bishop Warner would have investigated the accusations pretty thoroughly before stating that “there is no reason to discredit the accusations”, or words to that effect.
The bishop, the diocese, and of course the victim/accuser all must be in our prayers.

Posted by: Edward Prebble on Sunday, 15 November 2015 at 9:02pm GMT

This is a scandal of historic proportions, and will, I think, be remembered as such. Should we be content to leave to history the judgement of Bishop Bell? It is hard to think of any 20th century Church of England bishop with much better credentials for humanity and courage. Of course, it may have been right of the Church (because of the evident guilt of the bishop) to apologise to the alleged victim, and even to pay restitution; but, if so, it was incumbent upon the Archbishop of Canterbury (not only of Chichester) to make known the evidence upon which that judgement of guilt was made. The Telegraph today (15.11.2015) has a story with this headline "Revered Bishop George Bell was a paedophile – Church of England." Not alleged, but WAS! Is it just that someone dead these 57 years should be convicted of a crime that is, of its very nature, out of the public eye, and in general leaves little evidence? And if there is such evidence - not just the story, possibly true, of an alleged victim - then the Church is bound to produce it now, not to allow Bishop Bell’s name to be bandied about in this fashion without reasonable justification (beyond the desire to protect its good name). If experts have pronounced upon it, then their findings should be made public. Regarding the police commenting on an event (or events) that took place nearly 80 years ago, they must explain the significance of their statement that there is (or was) enough evidence for an arrest. There have been alleged victims of the Nazi Holocaust who have made up stories that have convinced expert Holocaust historians, and yet were complete fabrications. And since the alleged victim waited 20 years before bringing the matter to the attention of Church authorities again, and did not immediately, in 1995, take the matter straight to the police, surely there is some reason to question his or her motives. But, regardless of motivation, did not Bishop Bell deserve at least the presumption of innocence, before his name was made public, without clear evidence that justified that publicity? Perhaps Bishop Warner is to be trusted, as Edward Prebble says, but I think Bishop Bell at least deserved that the evidence upon which he has been found guilty be made public. Besides, leaving these things unsaid will only arouse curiosity about what the Church wants to remain hidden.

Posted by: Eric MacDonald on Sunday, 15 November 2015 at 10:30pm GMT

Re: James Byron, Edward Pebble, and Eric MacDonald, their posts present engaging perspectives on the conversation at hand. We should be appreciative to Peter Hitchens for demanding that the church have a conversation.

Parsing the difference between judgement in a court of law and the judgement of history aside, this comment from James Byron caught my eye, "The priority is, of course, the wellbeing of a person who's been abused, so that's not necessarily wrong. But until the evidence is released (if it ever is), the church shouldn't consider the book closed on Bell's guilt." Agreed. It states with concision the point I was attempting to make in my initial comment.

Posted by: Rod Gillis on Monday, 16 November 2015 at 12:18am GMT

"I know absolutely nothing of the detail of the accusations against George Bell" Edward Prebble

"I think Bishop Bell at least deserved that the evidence upon which he had be found guilty be made public." Eric MacDonald

I thought that in matters such as these that there was to be a new spirit of openness and clarity? Recently the Bishop of Horsham was criticised by a victim of abuse over the comments that he made on television concerning previous ill-judged attempts to "cover up" complaints of this nature. Well, it seems to me that a lot is being covered up with regard to the accusations made against the reputation of a great man who showed enormous courage during the Second World War in denouncing the blanket bombing of German cities with the consequent loss of thousands of civilian lives.

Posted by: Father David on Monday, 16 November 2015 at 7:46am GMT

Oh, please, Fr David, when I make such a mistake please correct it, thus: "I think Bishop Bell at least deserved that the evidence upon which he had be[en] found guilty be made public"!

As to James Byron's remark: "The priority is, of course, the wellbeing of a person who's been abused, so that's not necessarily wrong. But until the evidence is released (if it ever is), the church shouldn't consider the book closed on Bell's guilt." That should read: "If a person has been abused, his or her wellbeing is a priority. But before a great man's name is muddied beyond repair, the grounds upon which the alleged claim of abuse has been made should be made public, otherwise it is just a smear campaign. We have found him guilty before the bar of history, so you must think of him now, not as a great man, but as a pedophile (see the Telegraph article with that title). Whatever his achievements may have been, they are now to be considered the acts of a monster who abused children, and whose entire life must now be considered a sham."

The dishonesty of that should be evident to anyone who reads it, but that is effectively what the Church has said. So much for integrity and transparency!

Posted by: Eric MacDonald on Monday, 16 November 2015 at 2:14pm GMT

None of the comments posted so far has mentioned the article in the Church of England Newspaper, "The rule of the lynch mob" which, like Peter Hitchens, challenges the decision of the Church of England to "traduce the reputation of one if its greatest wartime spiritual leaders on the basis of recent allegations about the events of 65 years ago", adding that Bishop Bell "is effectively being tried and convicted by the Church of England with little thought for proper justice and process" and that "The Bishop, and the independent assessors, have missed out a vital part of the process of justice that is that the accused is presumed innocent and has the right to defend themselves [sic]."

Certainly, the 'evidence' which led the Diocese of Chichester to settle the legal claim should be published so that others can assess whether the decision was justified. And, if the "unknown sum of money" that has been paid to the so-called "survivor" has come from the DBF, church members in the diocese, who subscribe to the DBF through their payment of parish share, deserve no less.

I wonder whether any General Synod member representing the diocese has put down a question for answer at next week's GS meeting on the matter.

Posted by: David Lamming on Monday, 16 November 2015 at 6:58pm GMT

Peter Hitchens now has a link on his blog to the very interesting Church Times letter from Judge Pardoe, which is well worth reading. The Church Times has lowered its pay wall to allow this so TA might be able to link too. The letter is well worth reading.

Posted by: John Scrivener on Tuesday, 17 November 2015 at 9:55am GMT

David, I am in complete accord with what you say. The Church of England Newspaper has a very trenchant article on the Bishop Bell business. Here is the point that stood out for me in particular, beginning with a quote from +Cicestr:

“We face with shame a story of abuse of a child; we also know that the burden of not being heard has made the experience so much worse. We apologise for the failures of the past.”

And here much of the problem lies. The starting point must be justice, not just a concern for the ‘survivor’, because that is to jump to conclusions. The Bishop, and the independent assessors, have missed out a vital part of the process of justice that is that the accused is presumed innocent and has the right to defend themselves.

End quote. The only way that Bishop Bell can get a fair hearing is to have all the reports, the various findings, etc. made public, so that it can be seen as clearly as is possible after all these years that there is or is not a reasonable finding of guilt. It would have been better to keep quiet than to depend on the integrity of those in authority (sorry to say), but now that it has been made public, the public have a right to know on what basis a judgement of guilt was made. This is the only kind of justice that is possible now for Bishop Bell (even it points directly to his guilt, or, perhaps, rather, even more importantly if it points directly to his guilt).

Posted by: Eric MacDonald on Tuesday, 17 November 2015 at 5:59pm GMT

Bishop Bell "is effectively being tried and convicted by the Church of England with little thought for proper justice and process"

No, his memory is being tried and convicted. History routinely does that to people and, in this case, shouldn't the priority be in supporting the living rather than concern for someone who has passed from this earthly life?

Posted by: Kate on Tuesday, 17 November 2015 at 9:18pm GMT

I have added a link to Judge Pardoe's letter.

Posted by: Peter Owen on Wednesday, 18 November 2015 at 9:19am GMT

I am glad to have had the opportunity to read Judge Pardoe's letter, and agree entirely with his summing up:

"It is understandable that the Church has very properly now fully investigated this matter and that it has apologised for the inadequacy of its investigation in 1995 and has paid compensation for that failure. It is incomprehensible why the Church in its Media Centre’s statement has almost casually lent its authority to the utter destruction of the reputation of George Bell, arguably one of the greatest bishops of the Church of England."

Notice that, according to the judge, the compensation was paid for the Church's failure, IN 1995, to deal appropriately with the complaint. Certainly, we should be concerned about the living, and no one is denying that. However, in the absence of further evidence, there was no reason that the reputation of Bishop Bell should have been torn to shreds in the process. This is the point that I have been making all along.

Posted by: Eric MacDonald on Wednesday, 18 November 2015 at 1:49pm GMT

Two observations...

The first is that on threads where accusations (and trials and convictions) have been published on Thinking Anglicans of Bishops who are alive, comments have been disabled. But not on this thread.

The second is that the accusations made against Bishop Bell date to the late 1940s and 1950s. That would make Bishop Bell in his late 60s and early 70s at the time of the accusations. It seems amazing (to me) that if Bishop Bell had struggled with temptations towards child abuse for a significant proportion of his life (which I'm not saying he had), that he would only finally succomb to those temptations in his late 60s/early 70s. Which is to say: watch this space.

If the accuser is indeed telling the truth (I have no way of determining whether that is the case, and it has not been tested in a court of law) then it wouldn't surprise me if other accusations also surfaced. If no further accusations surface, that doesn't mean this particular accusation is false; however the weight of a number of accusations would be much more convincing to many. If you take the case of Jimmy Saville, it wasn't the weight of a single trustworthy victim's testimony which convinced the public of his guilt, I don't think, but the weight of evidence against him and matching patterns of abuse across years and decades.

Posted by: Alastair Newman on Friday, 20 November 2015 at 9:25am GMT

When I was a schoolboy at Canterbury I met several people who had known George Bell - in the 1920s, when he was dean, and in the year between his retirement from Chichester and his death (when he lived at Starrs House by the Oaks and Burgate). They spoke of his remarkable character, and his quite astonishing impact upon the life of the cathedral (which he had hitherto known as chaplain to Randall Davidson) after the rather moribund regime of the aged, infirm, scholarly, evangelical Henry Wace. That there are 'friends' organisations for all cathedrals and a good many churches is, in large measure, due to him and Margaret Babbington. He has some claim to be among the three or four greatest deans of Canterbury. These allegations are not less shocking for Canterbury as for Chichester.

Who today really knows of his private life or of his emotional impulses, excepting perhaps Andrew Chandler (whom I hope has been invited by the diocese to comment)? He did marry relatively late (34), and the marriage was childless, but what of that? His did not 'get on' with the notably fecund Arthur Duncan-Jones, despite their shared dislike of Nazism, whilst his shorter relationship with Walter Hussey - a fellow aesthete - was somewhat warmer. So what?

The initial report - the one supposedly ignored by Dr Kemp - was made some 37 or so years after Bell's death. We are now 57 years on. If the alleged offence(s) were committed in the 1940s or 1950s, that is more than ample time for person's memory to become distorted. I am reminded of the suggestions made in 2007 (fifty years on) that Field Marshal Viscount Slim ("Uncle Bill") abused boys at Fairbridge, NSW. These allegations have not been pursued to date, but the taint has besmirched the memory of a remarkable soldier.

I am sure that the diocese has done its best for the alleged victim based upon such facts as can reasonably be corroborated, but even as we are now seeing the pendulum swing against some of the purported excesses of recent abuse investigations, no one is likely to emerge from this business smelling creditably, and the real truth (if yet undiscerned) might remain elusive. Bell's reputation will simply have to remain hanging on the wire.

Posted by: Froghole on Saturday, 21 November 2015 at 12:42am GMT

At the beginning of our Eucharist this morning we sang George Bell's great hymn "Christ is the King, O friends rejoice" with great gusto as we processed around St. Peter's.
I am deeply saddened that the reputation of a great man and an outstanding bishop has been thrown to the wolves by the Church of England. I believe that the Arundel Screen in Chichester cathedral was re-erected as his memorial, are we to expect that it is to be dismantled once more as he continues to be air-brushed from 20th century ecclesiastical history?

Posted by: Father David on Sunday, 22 November 2015 at 1:13pm GMT

I'm very pleased to say that we also sang Bell's hymn, and had a sermon about him as well.

Posted by: Simon Sarmiento on Sunday, 22 November 2015 at 1:15pm GMT
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