Thinking Anglicans

Personal statement from Archbishop Justin Welby on Bishop George Bell

Updated to add links to press reports

The Archbishop of Canterbury issued this statement this morning.

Personal statement from Archbishop Justin Welby on Bishop George Bell
17/11/2021

The last 30 years have shown the importance of taking allegations of abuse seriously, whether in the Church or any other institution. As a society we have awoken, albeit shamefully late, to the insidious nature of abusers and the profound damage caused by abuse of all types. We have learned of the way that such acts of profound evil and cruelty are committed in places of trust and vulnerability. Each time we have looked away, made excuses, or failed to act, we have sinned beyond measure – and the Church is on a journey of thoroughgoing repentance, not just through words, but in all the practical measures we have taken and are putting in place to protect the most vulnerable among us and bring abusers to justice.

This is why the posthumous allegations made against Bishop George Bell were taken seriously and investigated fully. I do not apologise for that, but as I have said before, 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 recognised the hurt that has been done as a consequence, and I have apologised unreservedly for the mistakes made in this process.

What I say today that is new and should have been said sooner is this: I do not consider there to be a ‘significant cloud’ over Bishop George Bell’s name.

Previously I refused to retract that statement and I was wrong to do so. I took that view because of the importance we rightly place on listening to those who come forward with allegations of abuse, and the duty of care we owe to them. But we also owe a duty of care to those who are accused. I apologise for the hurt that my refusal to retract that statement has caused to Bishop Bell’s surviving relatives, colleagues and longstanding supporters. They have all raised this issue, often powerfully, and I have recognised my error as a result of their advocacy.

Bishop Bell was and remains one of the most courageous, distinguished Anglican bishops of the past century, committed to the peace and hope of Jesus Christ in a time of conflict and war. The debt owed to him extends far beyond the Church that he served and is one that we share as a society. I am delighted that the statue to him that was planned will be erected on the west front of Canterbury Cathedral, where he served as Dean, as soon as the extensive repair and maintenance works are complete.

This does not detract from my commitment to and support for victims and survivors of abuse and especially the person abused in this case. All allegations must be taken seriously. We must remain a Church which strives for openness, transparency, care, and honesty in our dealings with sexual abuse. This includes, with paramount importance, instances where we have failed.

Press reports

The Guardian Justin Welby admits he was wrong to say there was a cloud over George Bell

Church Times No significant cloud over Bishop George Bell: ‘I was wrong’ says Archbishop Welby

BBC Archbishop Justin Welby sorry for abuse-accused bishop comment

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Homeless Anglican
Homeless Anglican
16 days ago

This is a good, gracious and welcome statement and should be accepted as such. Let us now continue to celebrate and raise up Bishop Bell and all that he has done and will continue to do as an inspiration to the church and society.

Christopher
Christopher
Reply to  Homeless Anglican
16 days ago

How long before we get an apology for his misjudgement of the Ghana situation?

Jeremy Morris
Jeremy Morris
16 days ago

Well this is very welcome.

Clifford Jones
Clifford Jones
16 days ago

In 1920 Henry Lowther Clarke, Archbishop of Melbourne, retired to return to England. When advice on a possible successor was sought from England George Bell’s name was suggested, and Archbishop Randall Davidson said that he would ‘not stand in his way’ if Bell was formally nominated. All of this is recounted in R.C.D. Jasper’s biography of Bell. In the event Harrington Lees, vicar of Swansea, was appointed to Melbourne in 1921. George Bell was only 38 in 1921, and had he gone to Melbourne translation to an English diocese might well have occurred sooner or later. In that same year, 1921, Archbishop… Read more »

Last edited 16 days ago by Simon Sarmiento
Ian Black
Ian Black
16 days ago

One correction, George Bell was Dean of Canterbury not a Canon.

Simon Sarmiento
Simon Sarmiento(@simon-sarmiento)
Admin
16 days ago

Welby describes Bell above as a Canon of Canterbury. In fact he was Dean of Canterbury.

Simon Sarmiento
Simon Sarmiento(@simon-sarmiento)
Admin
Reply to  Peter Owen
16 days ago

I’m glad the error has been corrected at source, but it’s quite worrying that such an elementary mistake gets made in the first place. How many staff does Lambeth Palace have?

Froghole
Froghole
Reply to  Simon Sarmiento
15 days ago

It was not only that he was dean of Canterbury, but that he was by far the most important dean of Canterbury in the twentieth century, despite his relatively brief tenure (1924-29). Derek Ingram Hill used to describe at first hand the tremendous impact that Bell had on the cathedral and diocese after the torpid incumbency of the erudite evangelical Henry Wace (Wace had been a man of great energy when at KCL, but was broken physically within a few years of arriving at Canterbury, and lingered for a long time). Ingram Hill told me that Bell was almost like… Read more »

Malcolm Dixon
Malcolm Dixon
Reply to  Froghole
11 days ago

The statement that +Bell died in office as Bishop of Chichester still seems to hold wide currency. It is repeated in the BBC News article linked in this thread, and in several Wikipedia entries. His retirement to Canterbury must have been very short as, according to Crockford, his successor was appointed in 1958, the year of +Bell’s death

Froghole
Froghole
Reply to  Malcolm Dixon
11 days ago

Many thanks. He announced his resignation on 4 June 1957, and died on 3 October 1958, so it was indeed brief. The Canterbury address is in the ODNB entry (also by Prof. Chandler) and also in ‘Who Was Who’. The atmosphere of the Precincts would not have been nearly as cordial in 1957-58 as during Bell’s tenure of the deanery, because the then dean (Hewlett Johnson, who was immensely considerate to Bell, as he was to everyone) was in a state of ‘war’ with the chapter, especially the canon treasurer and headmaster of the King’s School, ‘Fred’ Shirley, who was… Read more »

Last edited 11 days ago by Froghole
Malcolm Dixon
Malcolm Dixon
Reply to  Froghole
11 days ago

Thank you, Froghole, for providing these fascinating details. I knew you would be able to provide chapter and verse!

David Lamming
David Lamming
Reply to  Froghole
11 days ago

While not wishing to go off piste (at least, not too far off piste) from the subject of this post (i.e. Archbishop Justin’s statement), now that Froghole has mentioned Bell’s contribution to the arts it is worth noting that on 15 May 1954 he, rather than the diocesan chancellor (Kenneth Macmorran QC) gave the judgment of the consistory court on a petition, heard by the chancellor on 30 March 1954, for a faculty authorising the decoration of the west face of the chancel arch at the church of St Mary the Virgin, Goring-by-Sea, Sussex, with a mural by Hans Feibusch… Read more »

Froghole
Froghole
Reply to  David Lamming
11 days ago

Many thanks indeed! There was also Feibusch’s work at the now demolished St Elisabeth’s Eastbourne, which has been the subject of some recent controversy: https://savethemural.org/. It was a rather attractive building for its era on a spur overlooking the bulk of the town: https://sussexparishchurches.org/church/eastbourne-st-elisabeth-victoria-drive/.

Kate
Kate
16 days ago

We have an archbishop who is clearly more concerned with the reputation of a dead bishop than ordinary LGBTIQ+ people in Ghana.

Jo B
Jo B
Reply to  Kate
16 days ago

Surely we have to wait and see on that. He might yet offer a belated apology many years after the damage has been done.

Angusian
Angusian
Reply to  Jo B
15 days ago

and Ghanaian gays murdered!

Dominic Barrington
Dominic Barrington
Reply to  Kate
16 days ago

We have an Archbishop who has just owned up to a serious failure of judgement. If you would rather have an Archbishop who does not own up to such failures, I wish you well, Kate, but I don’t want to be in the church led by such a person. And now lets hope that he can own up to the failures around his conversations with the leadership of the church in Ghana.

Homeless Anglican
Homeless Anglican
Reply to  Kate
16 days ago

No Kate – we have an archbishop with the grace and dignity to do what he can when he can and the courage to own up to mistakes and to do things differently. Cut him some slack please. This is part of good leadership.

Chris Carter
Chris Carter
Reply to  Homeless Anglican
15 days ago

If his cowardice on Ghana is “part of good leadership” I can’t imagine what bad leadership might look like.

David Emmott
David Emmott
16 days ago

At this rate ++Justin will have clocked up more U-turns than his fellow Etonian Johnson.

Dave
Dave
16 days ago

Has the Bishop of Chichester similarly apologised and made retribution for his serious errors of judgement?

Richard W. Symonds
Richard W. Symonds
Reply to  Dave
15 days ago

WEST SUSSEX GAZETTE

In response, the current Bishop of Chichester Dr Martin Warner said:

“I greatly welcome Archbishop Justin Welby’s statement on Bishop George Bell. It is both humble and courageous, reminding us that these virtues, evident in George Bell himself, do still surface in the Church of England of our own time“

James Nye
James Nye
Reply to  Richard W. Symonds
13 days ago

To be fair, Richard, I think that most people realise that Martin Warner has been deeply uncomfortable about the situation for a long time and, if what I am being told is correct, we have him to thank for the archiepiscopal apology. Sometimes, quiet diplomacy, away from the scatter-gun approach of social-media and the blogosphere often (though not always) delivers the desired outcome. One hopes that Justin Welby is learning that he really must engage brain before opening mouth (Wonga and Ghana as well as George Bell) but I confess I am not hopeful. That Etonion train trait of unquestioning… Read more »

David Lamming
David Lamming
16 days ago

This is a gracious and welcome apology (albeit belated) by Archbishop Welby: thankyou, Justin. There are two caveats, though: Justin says that the posthumous allegations made against Bishop George Bell “were taken seriously and investigated fully”. Unfortunately they were not ‘investigated fully’, as Lord Carlile’s comprehensive Independent Review, published on 15 December 2017, exposed: had they been, much of the trauma and hurt, and the many thousands of words spoken and written about the matter over the past 6 years, could have been avoided. Justin also says (rightly) that his statement “does not detract from my commitment to and support… Read more »

God 'elp us all
God 'elp us all
Reply to  David Lamming
15 days ago

It is good to see Archbishop Welby ‘seeing the light’; a good practice for all. lt must be particularly hard for a Primate to confess openly to this sin of omission which has had such devastating effect for so long. I found myself thinking of the family of Neil Todd.

Richard W. Symonds
Richard W. Symonds
Reply to  God 'elp us all
15 days ago

“lt must be particularly hard for a Primate to confess openly to this sin of omission…” [‘God ‘elp us all’] 

Yes, as Charles Moore says, for an Archbishop to confess he was wrong is “brave”.

Fr Dean
Fr Dean
16 days ago

So the statue will appear but wasn’t there at least one school that was renamed? I’m sorry but no lessons have been learned as Her Majesty’s Coroner pointed out in the case of Fr Alan Griffin. He died as a result of homophobic tittle tattle.

Richard W. Symonds
Richard W. Symonds
Reply to  Fr Dean
16 days ago

“So the statue will appear but wasn’t there at least one school that was renamed?” [Fr Dean]

Yes, a number of buildings were renamed – especially in Chichester. George Bell House comes immediately to mind.

Righting this wrong can now take place in a spirit of reconciliation.

Richard W. Symonds
Richard W. Symonds
Reply to  Richard W. Symonds
15 days ago

“No Nation, No Church, No Individual Is Guiltless Without Repentance, And Without Forgiveness There Can Be No Regeneration” – Bishop George Bell [1883-1958]

Stanley Monkhouse
Reply to  Richard W. Symonds
15 days ago

Thank you for your dogged persistence, Mr Symonds, and indeed thanks to all who have kept up the pressure.

Richard W. Symonds
Richard W. Symonds
Reply to  Stanley Monkhouse
15 days ago

Thank you Stanley M – your kind words are appreciated – but this has been a great team effort by all concerned, including yourself.

Susannah Clark
Reply to  Fr Dean
15 days ago

I’m sorry, but the unfounded tittle tattle of the rumour-mongers, in Father Alan’s tragic case, is not analogous with the complaint of abuse of a young girl, made by the person who was abused. Whereas it is widely understood that the tittle tattle about Father Alan had no substance, in the case of ‘Carol’ it is generally believed that she actually was abused, though there is uncertainty among people about who was the abuser. Where I agree there is overlap, is the problem of how to deal fairly with a person who faces accusations. That obviously matters whether the alleged… Read more »

Jeremy
Jeremy
16 days ago

Am I correct in concluding that this statement was made public mere minutes after Synod was prorogued?
But we also owe a duty of care to those who are accused.”
Indeed the Church does. It’s a pity that it took the appointment of an Independent Safeguarding Board for the Archbishop belatedly to draw this conclusion and make this statement.
Don’t tell me I should be welcoming this statement. I seriously doubt it is made willingly. Perhaps the ISB was going to clarify matters, if the Archbishop didn’t.

Simon Sarmiento
Simon Sarmiento(@simon-sarmiento)
Admin
Reply to  Jeremy
15 days ago

No, it was published around 10.30 am Wednesday.

Father Ron Smith
15 days ago

“What I say today that is new and should have been said sooner is this: I do not consider there to be a ‘significant cloud’ over Bishop George Bell’s name.” Archbishop Welby” This illustrates the undue haste with which innocent clergy are put through the wringer without properly considered evidence that normally would be required before an adverse judgement is entered. The question now is: “How does the Church adequately restore the good reputation of a cleric whose good name has been besmirched?”. What is at issue here is the implementation of ‘true justice’. Is the above admission by the… Read more »

Rowland Wateridge
Rowland Wateridge
15 days ago

Might we hope that this announcement will finally draw the line under a long and unhappy episode in the life of the Church of England. Can we leave the subject of ‘Carol’ in peace and discuss Ghana on its own thread and its own facts.

Richard W. Symonds
Richard W. Symonds
Reply to  Rowland Wateridge
14 days ago

“Might we hope that this announcement will finally draw the line under a long and unhappy episode in the life of the Church of England. Can we leave the subject of ‘Carol’ in peace…” [Rowland Wateridge]

I wholly agree with RW. Very little is to be gained by raking over the past six years. We must now move forward in hope together in a spirit of reconciliation.

As Bishop Bell himself said: “No nation, no church, no individual is guiltless without repentance, and without forgiveness there can be no regeneration”

Rowland Wateridge
Rowland Wateridge
Reply to  Richard W. Symonds
14 days ago

Richard: I join Stanley Monkhouse in his tribute to your persistent efforts on behalf of Bishop Bell and the Bell Society, in keeping the subject alive and not allowing it to be simply forgotten. Your quotation says all that is now necessary for drawing the line.

Richard W. Symonds
Richard W. Symonds
Reply to  Rowland Wateridge
14 days ago

Thank you Rowland [and Stanley] for your kind words – it is appreciated. But I am acutely aware it has been a great team effort. I have been lifted and supported by so many along the way, to whom I owe a debt of thanks. The last six years have taken their toll in more ways than one. There’s always a cost, isn’t there? My personal faith has not been shaken – at least I don’t think so – but my faith in the Church of England has been shaken to the core. It will take time to heal –… Read more »

Last edited 14 days ago by Richard W. Symonds
Jeremy Morris
Jeremy Morris
Reply to  Richard W. Symonds
13 days ago

May I just say here that the role of Andrew Chandler, Bell biographer and redoubtable defender of his reputation, needs to be acknowledged, as does the contribution of Charlotte Methuen and Keith Clements? They have all along – and they are the ones who should know, having done the work – maintained that the trashing of Bell’s reputation just didn’t fit the evidence available.

Richard W. Symonds
Richard W. Symonds
Reply to  Jeremy Morris
13 days ago

“They [Andrew Chandler, Charlotte Methuen, Keith Clenents…and Jeremy Morris et al] have…maintained that the trashing of Bell’s reputation just didn’t fit the evidence available” [Jeremy Morris].

Indeed yes, and that evidence was known and available- in November 2015 – a month after the Church of England Statement on George Bell [October 22 2015].

If this evidence had been listened to and acted upon at the time, six years of heartache and hurt could have been avoided by all concerned.

As Rowland Wateridge has already said:

“…a long and unhappy episode in the life of the Church of England”

Froghole
Froghole
Reply to  Jeremy Morris
13 days ago

Indeed, Dr Morris. The 2016 biography (a continuation and amplification of the 1993 EHR article and the 1997 and 2012 volumes, the last of which was an edited collection) was written in the heat of the controversy which broke in the preceding year. It’s value, to me, was in providing about 200 pages’ worth of evidence demonstrating that Bell was a man of iron integrity and vast goodness, not only in the field of ecumenical relations and international politics, but at the personal level. Appendix 3 contains a short, but tactful, refutation of the probability of Bell having committed any… Read more »

Susannah Clark
13 days ago

A young girl was sickeningly abused, and her life spoilt, but this thread is all about a great man. We shall never know with any certainty what happened to this girl, or whether her recollection of who abused her is correct or not. It might be. It might not be. We can argue in terms of probabilities. We cannot argue in terms of certainties. Memory can be false but it can also be true. I know that from my own experience at a similar age. No-one believed me, they believed the man with the power and status. In the end… Read more »

Kate
Kate
Reply to  Susannah Clark
13 days ago

Thank you Susannah. It is sad that so much effort has gone into proving that a victim’s recollection was wrong for the sake of the reputation of someone dead and buried. If Bishop Bell was half the man people claim, I think he would be appalled at what has been done in his name

Last edited 13 days ago by Kate
Richard W. Symonds
Richard W. Symonds
Reply to  Susannah Clark
13 days ago

As Rowland Wateridge says: “What happened in this case has proved to have been a disservice to both ‘Carol’ and Bishop Bell” Knowing that fact, any hint of “triumphalism” is to be condemned – just relief that a gross miscarriage of justice has come to an end. There is little to no doubt ‘Carol’ was abused as a child – no-one who knows the facts of this case is denying that. But, after legal investigation – following the due process of law – there is little to no doubt the abuser of ‘Carol’ was NOT Bishop Bell. A deeply disturbing… Read more »

Jeremy
Jeremy
Reply to  Susannah Clark
13 days ago

The campaign may put the Church of England off from falsely impugning innocent people. We’ve seen too much of that–and I hope that the establishment of the ISB will have put an end to it.

Jane Chevous
Reply to  Susannah Clark
12 days ago

Thank you Susannah for saying so eloquently everything I have been thinking and feeling since this statement was made.

The statement and the comments here seem far more concerned with the reputation of the powerful than the care of the abused. How do you imagine ‘Carol’ would feel reading these?

Archbishop Romero said the church has to choose whether to be on the side of the powerful or of the oppressed. It’s clear which side it has chosen in this case.

Richard W. Symonds
Richard W. Symonds
Reply to  Jane Chevous
12 days ago

“The statement and the comments here seem far more concerned with the reputation of the powerful” [Jane Chevous]

Such thoughts and feelings might well have been accurate in the case of former bishop Peter Ball six years ago, but they are not accurate in the case of Bishop George Bell now.

Last edited 12 days ago by Richard W. Symonds
Rowland Wateridge
Rowland Wateridge
13 days ago

My hope that the line could now be drawn under this sad episode seems to be fading with polarised opinions still being expressed. The principle lesson to be learned, I suggest, is that the C of E should never repeat the mistake of embarking on a DIY ‘in-house’ investigation of historic abuse. These are matters for professional and independent experts: legal, medical and forensic. Such expertise exists and was readily available. As David Lamming points out above, the Archbishop is incorrect in asserting that the allegations “were investigated fully”. Lord Carlile’s report analysed a catalogue of amateur ineptitude. What happened… Read more »

Richard W. Symonds
Richard W. Symonds
12 days ago

“Let us now praise Archbishop Justin Welby. These are words I never thought I’d write, but I must, because three weeks after I gave him what for on this page, Mr Welby has finally admitted he was wrong about the late, great Bishop George Bell (not to be mistaken for the horrible Peter Ball). “He has withdrawn his silly claim that a ‘significant cloud’ still hangs over Bishop Bell, who was presumed guilty by the CofE, when someone accused him of incredibly long-ago child abuse. In fact a series of detailed investigations have demolished the cases against him. “Now that… Read more »

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