Church 'wrong' to name Bishop of Chichester George Bell a paedophile
By Patrick Sawer
March 19, 2016
|Dr George Kennedy Allen Bell|
|Former Archbishop of Canterbury Dr Rowan Williams who said it ?would have been a good thing? if Bell had been given the role?|
The Church of England’s decision to name the former Bishop of Chichester, George Bell, as a paedophile has been strongly criticised by a group of senior Church leaders, academics, politicians and retired police officers.
The group claims that the internal inquiry which found Bishop Bell guilty of abuse committed a “grave miscarriage of justice” after failing to interview key witnesses or examine documents which could have cleared his name.
Before he was condemned as a child sex abuser, in October last year, Bishop Bell had previously been one of the most revered figures in the Anglican church, praised for his work in speaking out against Hitler during the 1930s, welcoming refugees from Germany and later condemning the Allied destruction of German cities.
But his reputation was destroyed after the church accepted the claims of a woman who came forward to say she was sexually abused by him during the late 1940s and early 1950s, when she was aged between five and nine.
The church subsequently settled a compensation claim by the woman, paying her £15,000.
Now campaigners have written to the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Most Rev Justin Welby, calling on him to apologise to the family of Bishop Bell and launch an investigation into the process which led to his “public denigration”.
Frank Field MP, a member of the George Bell Group, said: “There has been a grave miscarriage of justice here. The church acted in secrecy. We don’t know what the charges were, who were the authorities which made the judgment and how that judgment was arrived at.
“If this could happen to a man like Bishop Bell it could happen to someone who is unknown and does not have influential friends to fight for them. We need a much more robust system for dealing with this kind of allegation.”
The woman first made her allegations in 1995, but her complaint was effectively ignored by the then Bishop of Chichester, Eric Kemp, who died in 2009.
It was not until she contacted the office of Archbishop Welby in 2013, that the allegations were finally investigated by the church authorities.
Although Bell, who died in 1958, could not be questioned, the Church said it had investigated the victim’s allegations and accepted the account as being true on the balance of probabilities.
Bishop Bells’ supporters point out that the church investigation failed to interview Bishop Bell’s his personal chaplain, Canon Adrian Carey, a decorated war hero, who had been with him for much of the period during which he was accused of abusing the woman.
They also claim the church failed to take basic steps such as examining the Bishop’s diary and papers to check whether he was in the country at the time the abuse was alleged to have taken place. He frequently travelled abroad on church business and friend say he may have been out of the country during the period when it was claimed the abuse took place.
The Bishop Bell Group is also understood to be critical of the role of Sussex police, who issued a statement last year saying they would have arrested the Bishop had he been alive, although that would have been standard practice and in cases such as this lead to charges being brought in fewer than 30 per cent of cases.
A source close to the group, which includes former chief constable of West Midlands Police, Lord Dear; Conservative peer and historian Lord Lexden; Judge Alan Pardoe QC and the dean of Christ Church Oxford, said: “The police had no business making any comment on a case they had not investigated.”
Bishop Bell was a close friend of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the German theologian who was executed for his links with a plot to assassinate Hitler.
He also counted Gandhi and Nehru among his friends and helped lay the foundations for improved relations between Anglicans and Roman Catholics.
It is widely believed that the Bishop would have been appointed Archbishop of Canterbury following the death of William Temple in 1944, but for his public denunciation of Allied bombing of Dresden.
In 2008, the then Archbishop of Canterbury Dr Rowan Williams said it “would have been a good thing” if Bell had been given the role”.
Instead he was honoured with an annual commemoration, the Anglican equivalent of a feast day, on October 3, the anniversary of his death.
However altars and plaques erected in his honour are in the process of being renamed or removed following the publication of the church’s internal inquiry last year.
Tracey Emmott, the victim’s lawyer, said at the time: “While my client is glad this case is over, they remain bitter that their 1995 complaint was not properly listened to or dealt with until my client made contact with Archbishop Justin Welby’s office in 2013. That failure to respond properly was very damaging, and combined with the abuse that was suffered has had a profound effect on my client’s life.
She added: “The new culture of openness in the Church of England is genuinely refreshing and seems to represent a proper recognition of the dark secrets of its past, many of which may still not have come to light.”
The row comes after the Church of England indicated it is to make far-reaching changes to the way it deals with cases of sex abuse, following a highly critical independent report detailing how senior church figures repeatedly failed to act over sadistic assault by a cleric.
The first independent review commissioned by the church into its handling of a sex abuse case highlights the “deeply disturbing” failure of those in senior positions to record or take action on the survivor’s disclosures over a period of almost four decades.
It is understand those told of the abuse were three bishops and a senior clergyman later ordained as a bishop.
The church said the report made for “embarrassing and uncomfortable” reading.