Thursday, 25 January 2018

More coverage of the Archbishop's statement on George Bell

Updated Friday evening

Continued from this earlier post… (Comment pieces are at the bottom of that article.)

Martin Sewell has written at Archbishop Cranmer The George Bell saga evidences a CofE legal culture which is not merely incompetent, but predisposed toward deception and injustice.

This is a very long and detailed article but is well worth the time to study. Here’s a teaser excerpt:

…The problem may be succinctly put: Archbishop Justin has a handful of advisors to guide him in these matters – not one of whom has a credible claim to expertise in this increasingly complex specialism. What is especially ironic is that, in the person of the President of Clergy Discipline Tribunals, Lord Andrew McFarlane QC, the Church of England has the country’s leading expert on Safeguarding Law. The legal tome Hershman and McFarlane’s Children Law and Practice is every child practitioner’s bible: it runs to four volumes and is updated every three months with interchangeable loose-leaf inserts. This is a fast evolving field for the specialist: what major institutions do not need is people from other disciplines doing their incompetent best…

And a second one:

…The Church of England needs to found its Safeguarding on the well-established principles of English Law. It has been off on a frolic of its own, and it has not ended well. Speaking to a very senior figure at Synod I was gently chided: “You want to create a system in accordance with the Law – we are creating one suitable for the Church of England.” Well, just look where that has got us.

Even if it were right for the Established Church to attempt to develop a jurisprudence divergent from that of English and Welsh Law, on what basis do we suggest that we have the knowledge and basic competence to undertake such a project?

There is also a letter from Martin Sewell in the Telegraph (h/t AC)

Christian Today has Bishop of Peterborough breaks ranks over Church’s handling of George Bell case (for full parliamentary text see here).

…Explaining his remarks to Christian Today, Allister said the name of the accused should only be disclosed ‘when there was a substantial body of evidence suggesting guilt’.

‘I suggest that if a complainant is allowed to be anonymous, there should be a presumption that the respondent should normally be afforded the same right,’ he told Christian Today.

‘I am simply asking for a public debate and for the government to review this matter. I’m not suggesting that I have all the answers, merely that I believe such a review is necessary.’


Church Times has a leader Saint, tarnished which concludes this way:

…It is because innocence is harder to prove than guilt that the UK legal system insists on assuming innocence until guilt has been proved. It is this assumption that Bishop Bell is being denied, and it is for this reason that Lord Carlile and others have advocated anonymity for those accused of abuse. Sir Cliff Richard, at the end of a successful fight to clear his name, re­­­marked: “It hurt me so much I don’t think I can ever recover personally.” Of course, Bishop Bell knows nothing of the accusation. Instead, it is the Church of England’s own history and reputation that is being harmed, despite this talk of heroes.

It is clear that the Lambeth psyche has been seriously bruised by the Peter Ball affair. Archbishop Welby named the disgraced former Bishop of Gloucester three times in his short statement about Bishop Bell on Monday. Possibly, too, there are personal scars from the John Smyth cover-up. But an unwinnable wrangle over an unprovable case undermines the Church’s efforts to construct a credible response to present-day instances of abuse.

Andrew Brown in the Church Times press column covers the subject: Newspapers circle as Archbishop Welby digs in

…When you have The Economist, The Times, the Telegraph, The Guardian, and The Mail on Sunday all attacking you, it is safe to say that you have lost the press. And it is really hard to see what is gained as a result.

Economist The case of Bishop George Bell

Posted by Simon Sarmiento on Thursday, 25 January 2018 at 2:47pm GMT | TrackBack
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Categorised as: Church of England

From the Archbishop's self-justification:

"The experience of discovering feet of clay in more than one person I held in profound respect has been personally tragic."

Yet another red herring....

And I'm going to say it: The George Bell case has absolutely nothing to do with the Archbishop's parentage.

Is the Church of England now to conclude that the Archbishop is making safeguarding-policy decisions based on his own family history?

His words, not mine. He opened this door.

Posted by: Jeremy on Friday, 26 January 2018 at 2:32am GMT

Seems to me that with all this reaction to Justin Welby's most recent ill-advised statement the "significant cloud" now hangs over Lambeth and not over the undoubtedly innocent George Bell.

Posted by: Father David on Friday, 26 January 2018 at 5:40am GMT

Clergy are almost the worst people to take part in these sort of investigations because they are people of faith, unswayed by evidence and able to stick dogmatically and persuasively to their beliefs, without doubts or questions, at least publically.

Having asserted that "victims" must be believed this may be internalised alongside the other articles of faith which must be believed. Welby is no more able to accept the evidence for Bishop Bell's innocence than to question the evidence for the other articles of his faith.

What is a great strength for an archbishop in his day job may be strong reason to keep him well away from anything involving jurisprudence or casting clouds on other people's reputations.

Posted by: T Pott on Friday, 26 January 2018 at 5:48pm GMT

I hadn't connected Welby's discovery about his real father with his discovering feet of clay in people he respected. I assumed he meant John Smyth.. There are probably others too, with the amount of uncovering of old crimes now being made. It's tough to find that people you liked and respected are not what they seem, and many of us have been through that.

However, that does not make Welby's gross misjudgments in this case any less damaging. When I read his latest statement I wondered about his state of mind: perhaps he should take a sabbatical.

Martin Sewell's being told "You want to create a system in accordance with the Law – we are creating one suitable for the Church of England” suggests a much more widespread and deep-rooted problem than the Archibishop's mental health, however. The arrogance of this is absolutely breathtaking, and the wrong-headedness alarming.

As a survivor, and one with a complaint currently (I hope) being dealt with by the Lambeth safeguarding team, I want to know that the Church has high professional standards and operates according to the law of the land. It's no help at all to survivors that our highest authorities persist in shaming innocent men - that will only lead to genuine cases being considered suspect, and survivors being disbelieved.

I hope the IICSA will be able to consider the ramifications of the Bell case in its upcoming investigation into Chichester Diocese. If not, I think we need a Parliamentary inquiry into the processes of the C of E.

Posted by: Janet Fife on Saturday, 27 January 2018 at 9:19am GMT

The sad thing, and I say this without clear ways to move forward morally, is that coverups have longer-term consequences than frank acceptance. We've known this since Watergate; Nixon would have served out his term had he just immediately condemned what he would have painted as over-enthusiastic supporters.

Suppose that Peter Ball, or in another sphere Larry Vassar, had been dealt with as soon as credible suspicions arose. The burden of proof for sacking someone is a great deal lower than convicting them of a crime, but in both cases there was at the time of their offences clear evidence sufficient to convict them in a criminal court anyway. But no: the Church of England (including Archbishops) jumped to Ball's defence, because the alternative was letting young men be heard, and the whole US gymnastics establishment decided to stand behind a cheap paedophile quack, because the alternative was letting young women have agency. And now, no-one believes a word either of those institutions say about sexual abuse.

Welby, wrongly, is trying to change the narrative: we will listen. He has got it horribly wrong this time, but imagine had he instead dismissed the accusations about Bell: "look, it's another Archbishop, covering up another paedophile". That's a no-win situation. The same's going to happen in athletics and sport: there will be well-founded accusations, but there will also be less well-founded accusations, and a generation of cover-up means findings of innocence are not credible.

The real villain of the Bell affair is George Carey, who dismissed out of hand the very idea that his mate Peter Ball could be anything other than purer than driven snow. Carey torched the idea of the Church of England as moral force, by giving twelve grand to a sex abuser as well as multiple references and letters of innocence. After that, who's going to believe a word Lambeth Palace says? Has Carey apologised? Not in any useful or meaningful way. He puts his friendship with a sex abuser ahead of the church and there, I'm afraid, goes George Bell's reputation. Undeservedly so, it seems, but that's the stain of coverup: they make institutions untrustworthy. I hope Ball was worth it to the CofE, because after Ball, findings of innocence aren't worth the paper they're written on.

Posted by: Interested Observer on Saturday, 27 January 2018 at 10:09am GMT

When I first offered myself for ordination, over 30 years ago, a wise Franciscan told me that, unless I had a robust and realistic doctrine of human frailty and corruptability, I wouldn't survive.

Reading Justin Welby's statements, and his recourse to Peter Ball and John Smyth (or his own father?), makes me wonder whether his approach is an inevitable symptom both of having too idealised a picture of human life and a lack of episcopal experience.

Any bishop with sustained experience as a suffragan and diocesan will know that many clergy cannot be the impressive people we expect them to be all the time (and that includes Justin Welby, with his notoriously bad temper and not-so-well developed capacity to show empathy at every opportunity). I just wonder whether not having having 'time served' episcopal experience, before landing in Lambeth, makes him particularly vulnerable to the shock and disappointment of having his illusions about religious leaders shattered; and whether, in turn, this has made him prone to make generalised assumptions wherever there seems to be 'smoke' regardless of whether 'fire' is discovered or not.

None of this excuses his (and his advisors') stance towards George Bell, and it is clear that his refusal to withdraw his original and ill-advised statement is seriously undermining his moral and intellectual authority. But I thought it might be helpful to offer this, especially after reflecting on @Jeremy's incisive comments, as a possibly way of shedding some light on his confused and indefensible stance.

Posted by: Graham Hardy on Saturday, 27 January 2018 at 11:44am GMT

Welby has diminished his office over this affair. And he seems altogether too keen to comment on any issue of the day without proper forethought. I fear the CoE has a more serious leadership crisis than ever.

Posted by: Ken Powell on Saturday, 27 January 2018 at 1:56pm GMT

"The real villain of the Bell affair is George Carey" -- what utter nonsense.

For God's sake, leave Carey out of it. There is sufficient scope for evaluating this very difficult issue without dragging +GC into it.

Posted by: CRS on Saturday, 27 January 2018 at 2:41pm GMT

Thank you @Graham Hardy for this perspective. I also wonder if what you are suggesting is rooted in a particularly myopic reading of scripture and the Christian tradition - not least the way that a particular strand of Reformed theology has appropriated Anselm and Augustine of Hippo's theologies of atonement and the human person. Then it becomes easy to uncritically divide people into categories of 'good' and 'evil.'

When the O'Donovan report identified the need for more 'intellectual liveliness' in the House of Bishops, it wasn't kidding, was it? And it is precisely these kind of situations, that require an agile mind, which has acquired a deeper theological culture, that point-up the weakness of Justin Welby's longstanding impatience with the theological endeavour.

In years to come, our successors will ask, as some of us are doing now, how on earth did we let this happen? I can only hope they will learn from it, and recognise that ill-judged strategies for short-term recovery are always too flimsy to be of lasting value.

Posted by: Michael Mulhern on Saturday, 27 January 2018 at 3:34pm GMT

In reply to Janet (9.19 am this morning): Unless the current IICSA chairman reverses the ruling of Dame Lowell Goddard on 21 March 2016 (when she was chairman of the inquiry) refusing the application of Martyn Percy (Dean of Christ Church, Oxford) to be a core participant on the basis that "Bishop Bell's guilt or innocence is not a critical aspect of this Inquiry, or of the Anglican investigation, or of the investigation's case studies" it seems unlikely that the inquiry will "consider the ramifications of the Bell case in its upcoming investigation into Chichester Diocese." Perhaps, though, Alexis Jay will decide it should, in the light of the Carlile report and the episcopal responses to it.

A critical General Synod private member's motion is likely to be tabled next week, and both the Moira Gibb and Carlile reports will feature in a 1½ hours 'Presentation' on safeguarding at Synod on the morning of Saturday 10 February 2018.

Posted by: David Lamming on Saturday, 27 January 2018 at 4:15pm GMT

Janet, what then are we to make of these words: "more than one person" and "personally tragic."

More than one = it cannot be Smyth alone.

And personally tragic?

However much sympathy we might have for personal tragedies, rhetorically and logically they are a red herring, irrelevant in terms of the Church's safeguarding policy.

I agree with you that shaming innocent people does the survivor community no favours.

As for IO's point about the Church's lack of credibility when it finds that someone is innocent, well, which way does that cut? It does not mean that no one is innocent. It rather urges in favor of independent inquiries, so that findings of innocence can be believed.

Posted by: Jeremy on Saturday, 27 January 2018 at 6:41pm GMT

David Lamming, thank you for that. I hope Goddard's ruling will be reversed, in light of recent events and what they reveal of C of E. culture. If not, I hope Parliament will step in and require action - but Parliament has more than enough on its hands at present.

Jeremy, I did say there were probably others too. And I wouldn't describe personal tragedies as a red herring, if they materially affect the judgement of a leader. If Welby's personal tragedies render him unable to make sound decisions re. safeguarding and abuse cases, he ought to hand over to someone else - at least until he has had some counselling and time to reflect. Which is why I suggested a sabbatical.

The problem is, have we got anyone at the top who is able to make sound decisions? We seem to have had a policy for some years now of promoting 'one of us, a safe pair of hands' - with the blessed exception of Alan Wilson. Hopefully there are others prepared to buck the system if need be.

Posted by: Janet Fife on Sunday, 28 January 2018 at 9:33am GMT

George Bell and the Carlile report were referred to by Fiona Scolding QC (counsel to the inquiry for the Anglican church investigation) at this morning's preliminary IICSA hearing into the inquiry's investigation into child sexual abuse in the Anglican church and, specifically, the Diocese of Chichester (evidence hearings in March) and Bishop Peter Ball (evidence hearing in July).

The transcript of today's hearing is available already on the IICSA website (together with that of the earlier preliminary hearing on 4 October 2017 which, helpfully, sets out in some detail the scope of the investigation.)

So far as George Bell and the Carlile report are concerned, this morning's transcript has this (at pages 22 and 26):
"The case study will investigate, amongst other things ...
"The internal investigations carried out from 1992 to the present, and whether or not the recommendations, for example, of Ms Edina Carmi were implemented and, if not, why not; whether or not the past cases review carried out between 2007 and 2009 was sufficient; whether or not the diocese and the wider church acted upon the numerous reports undertaken by individuals into the Diocese of Chichester, including the reports undertaken by Baroness Elizabeth Butler-Sloss, Roger Meekings and the Archepiscopal Visitation commissioned by the Archbishop of Canterbury in 2011/2012, as well as the reports into Peter Ball by Dame Moira Gibb in 2017 and the recent report of Lord Carlile in respect of the case of the Bishop of Chichester, George Bell, in order to examine the recommendations within that report and how the church is intending to deal with posthumous allegations of sexual abuse going forward. The inquiry is not, however, going to examine the truth or substance of the allegations made concerning Bishop George Bell."

So no going back on Lowell Goddard's statement in her ruling in March 2016 on Martyn Percy's application for core participant status that "Bishop Bell's guilt or innocence is not a critical aspect of this Inquiry, or of the Anglican investigation, or of the investigation's case studies"

Posted by: David Lamming on Tuesday, 30 January 2018 at 2:36pm GMT

The transcript to which David refers can be found here:

Posted by: Simon Sarmiento on Tuesday, 30 January 2018 at 4:22pm GMT
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