Good news published on the Times website today:
Lambeth Palace will be fiercely criticised today in an official report into its handling of historical child abuse allegations against one of the Anglican Church’s most revered figures.
George Bell, a former Bishop of Chichester and a renowned opponent of Nazism in the 1930s who died almost 60 years ago, was labelled a paedophile by the Church of England in 2015 after it paid damages to a woman who claimed she had been abused by him.
The Times understands that the church’s investigation into Bell, ordered after the woman complained to the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Most Rev Justin Welby, will be condemned as disorganised and flawed.
The findings of the review, commissioned by the church, raise questions about the decisions of senior churchmen to express “deep sorrow” about the case and the stripping of Bell’s name from buildings at Chichester Cathedral and the University of Chichester.
The issue highlights the pitfalls of investigating sexual abuse allegations against people who are dead and where conclusive evidence may be impossible to find, such as in the recent allegations against Edward Heath, the former prime minister.
An Anglican source said: “The report pulls no punches, it paints a picture of chaos and is very critical of the church’s procedures. We will have to deal with such situations differently in future.”
The church announced in October 2015 that it had settled a legal claim by a woman, now in her 70s, who said she was abused by Bell in the 1940s and 50s.
She said he abused her at his official residence when she was taken there by a relative who worked at the property. The church required the woman to be examined by a psychiatrist before it agreed to settle the claim for £15,000.
The current Bishop of Chichester, the Right Rev Dr Martin Warner, apologised to the alleged victim while the church’s former head of safeguarding, Bishop Paul Butler, said “the church was right to make a settlement in this matter, and right to make this known as was done”. Sussex police said that had he still been alive, Bell would have been arrested and interviewed.
Despite the establishment of a helpline for other potential victims, no one else came forward.
Amid mounting criticism, Lambeth Palace commissioned Lord Carlile of Berriew, QC, to review the case. His terms of reference were confined to processes and did not include examination of whether or not abuse occurred.
The review is believed to have found that the church’s investigation of the allegations failed to trace and interview potential key witnesses including Canon Adrian Carey, Bell’s chaplain from 1950-52, and Barbara Whitley, Bell’s niece. Questions are also raised about the accuracy of the alleged victim’s descriptions of the residence where she said abuse took place.
Andrew Chandler, Bell’s biographer, said: “The church’s investigation into this matter was simply not credible and accusations that this was a kangaroo court can hardly be surprising. It lacked historical integrity while committing no legal expertise to a proper defence of Bell’s interests. In short, it was unreal and unfair.”
Bell was a champion of the German Confessing Church, which resisted the Nazis, and he helped Jews and Christians to escape persecution. During the war, he condemned saturation bombing by the RAF, saying in a 1941 letter to The Times that it was “barbarous to make unarmed women and children the deliberate object of attack”. [J4MB emphasis. Not barbarous to make unarmed men the deliberate object of attack, then.] After the war, he opposed the nuclear arms race and criticised the Cold War. His Times obituary in 1958 described him as a man of “outstanding eminence”. Bell is honoured with a feast day in the Church of England on October 3.
You can subscribe to The Times here.