George Bell will be vindicated in spite of the Church of England

Bishop Eric Kemp described the allegations of sexual misconduct made against Peter Ball after he was appointed Bishop of Gloucester as 'the work of mischief makers'. Yet he must have known of allegations against Ball when he was serving the Diocese of Chichester as Bishop of Lewes.

In fact the Diocese of Chichester appears to have turned a blind eye to sexual offences by its clergy for a long period of time. A visitation ordered by Archbishop Rowan Williams concluded that the diocese had an appalling history of child protection failures. As a result of its investigations, the police were able to pursue new cases.

The current Bishop of Chichester, Dr Martin Warner, apologised for failures in the initial response to 'Carol's' claims.

Lord Carlile reports that the present Archbishop of Canterbury told him that the number of allegations of sexual abuse in the Diocese of Chichester was 'overwhelming' and disproportionate to other areas.

This background needs to be kept in mind when reading Lord Carlile's excellent review of the way allegations against George Bell were dealt with. As many critics such as the biographer of Bell, Andrew Chandler, and the journalist, Peter Hitchens, have pointed out, the procedures followed were totally inadequate.

The first and second complaints brought by the woman known as Carol failed to receive the serious attention they deserved. But when Carol renewed her complaints in 2013 a Core Group was appointed to examine the case. This included no less than three bishops.

In Lord Carlile's opinion the Core Group made no attempt at a balanced judgement and failed to examine the facts from Bishop Bell's standpoint. The Bishop's chaplain (who died only a few months' ago) was never questioned. No evidence of any other example of the bishop committing abuse was ever discovered although he was extensively involved in bringing Jewish children from Germany to safety in Britain.

Lord Carlile produces the evidence of a woman he calls 'Pauline'. She was informally adopted by the housekeeper in the Bishop's Palace and lived there with her mother. She does not remember visits by Carol although she does remember the name of the person Carol says she was visiting in the Palace. According to Pauline there was nothing remotely weird about the Bishop. She reports attending children's parties for the children of clergy and all seemed completely normal.

Lord Carlile does not set out to prove or disprove the allegations against Bishop Bell. His concern is way the Diocese handled the case. He quotes the psychiatric evidence of Professor Maden which was only given in summary form to the Core Group. In his evidence Professor Maden seeks to show how 'false memories' can be held by people with complete sincerity. This not unusual when someone is recalling events of 40 years ago.

According to Lord Carlile the Church of England gave the clear impression it thought Bishop Bell was guilty. The Church disputes this but unfortunately it follows a pattern identified by the veteran Australian journalist (and committed Anglican) Muriel Porter. In her book The New Scapegoats she claims that Anglican Church in Australia is now trying to preserve its reputation not by covering up abuse but by making scapegoats of clergy.

One Australian bishop, Keith Slater, has been deposed for failing to handle sexual abuse complaints adequately as Bishop of Grafton. He appealed to the Church's highest court, the Appellate Tribunal, which found his deposition 'null and void' although it added it may not have jurisdiction on technical grounds.

German playwright Rolf Hochhuth put an encounter between Bell and Churchill in one of his plays. Dietrich Bonhoeffer said the two men he respected most were Karl Barth and George Bell. The Church of England continues to acknowledge Bell's greatness but Bishop Martin Warner refuses to withdraw words that imply Bell's guilt. So does Archbishop Welby. He did not attend the press conference to release the Carlile Report.

It is not a Macavity cat archbishop or a diocese struggling to escape a terrible reputation for failing to handle sex abuse that will vindicate Bell, but history. Long after other bishops are forgotten he will be remembered for his compassion and decency, for his readiness to reach across national boundaries and for his ecumenical commitment.

Paul Richardson worked for 17 years as a missionary in Papua New Guinea, and is now a Catholic priest in the Diocese of Westminster.

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