Chichester Cathedral moves to restore Bishop George Bell

Nov 24, 2019 by

by Martin Sewell, Archbishop Cranmer:

When I first began to raise a dissenting voice against poor process at the heart of the Church of England’s treatment of the legacy of Bishop George Bell, I knew little about him. I became engaged because there are really only two things that provoke my anger: injustice and stupidity. Little did I realise how much my blood pressure might be put at risk over the subsequent years as time and again we have encountered a series of ‘perfect storms’ because we simply fail to do the obviously sensible thing.

I am, however, pleased now to report a small victory for a doughty bunch of local campaigners in the Chichester Diocese who have carried the battle for normal standards of fairness on the ground, even as more prominent folk like Peter Hitchens and Charles Moore made the same case in the national press.

The Chichester Cathedral guidebook had included a passage which reflected the Church of England’s acceptance of the allegations of child abuse against Bishop George Bell, notwithstanding the conclusions of the two independent reports into the allegations by Lord Carlile and Timothy Briden, which each concluded that the evidential basis for such allegations was unsafe. Setting aside the long established principle of English law that a person is innocent until proven guilty by cogent and compelling evidence, the church had maintained its stance that the allegations could not be ignored, although it tried, unconvincingly, to soften the blow for Bell’s admirers by emphasising the many good things about his life and witness.

The new Cathedral guidebook has been published, and there is no mention of the controversial passages in its short summation of the Bishop’s biography. Instead, there is a passage concerning Bell’s friendship with, and support for, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the great pastor of the German resistance to Nazism, which is altogether better attested.

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