Archbishop refuses to lift ‘significant cloud’ left over Bishop Bell

The Archbishop of Canterbury, The Most Revd Justin Welby
The Archbishop of Canterbury, The Most Revd Justin Welby

The Archbishop of Canterbury has refused to apologise for his response to a report into the Church’s handling of historic sex abuse claims against Bishop Bell.

His comment that ‘a significant cloud had been left over’ the Bishop Bell’s name had provoked anger from campaigners pushing for George Bell to be celebrated again following the review by Lord Carlile, which found the Church ‘rushed to judgement’.

George Bell was Bishop of Chichester from 1929 until his death on October 3 1958

George Bell was Bishop of Chichester from 1929 until his death on October 3 1958

Responding yesterday, the Most Rev Justin Welby said he ‘cannot with integrity’ rescind his statement, in which he also said the Church would continue to name alleged perpetrators of sexual offences.

He said: “Our history over the last 70 years has revealed that the Church covered up, ignored or denied the reality of abuse on major occasions.

“I need only refer to the issues relating to Peter Ball to show an example.

“As a result, the Church is rightly facing intense and concentrated scrutiny (focussed in part on the Diocese of Chichester) through the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA). Our first hearing is in March.

“The Diocese of Chichester was given legal advice to make a settlement based on the civil standard of proof, the balance of probability.

“It was not alleged that Bishop Bell was found to have abused on the criminal standard of proof, beyond reasonable doubt.

“The two standards should not be confused.

“It should be remembered that Carol, who brought the allegation, was sent away in 1995, and we have since apologised for this lamentable failure; a failure highlighted by Lord Carlile.”

He added that abuse was ‘often kept very secret’ but reiterated his previous comments that Bishop Bell was one of the ‘greatest Anglican heroes of the 20th century’.

Bishop Bell, who was Bishop of Chichester from 1929 until his death in 1958, was commended for his work supporting the anti-Hitler resistance.

The Bell Society had invited clergy to a ‘Rebuilding Bridges’ event in Westminster on February 1, with the aim of securing pledges to ‘restore Bishop Bell’s place in history’.

Measures being called for include 4 Canon House in Chichester being returned to its former name of George Bell House.