Church defends its position on Bishop Bell amid mounting pressure

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

A Church of England representative has defended its position amid mounting pressure over its handling of abuse allegations against Bishop George Bell.

An independent review carried out by Lord Carlile found the Church ‘rushed to judgement’ in paying compensation to a woman who claimed she was sexually abused by Bishop Bell as a girl.

Days after its publication the Church announced on January 31 it was now investigating ‘fresh information’ concerning the late bishop.

Lord Carlile, having advised in his report that alleged perpetrators, living or dead, should not be publicly identified unless a ‘proper and adequate investigation’ is settled with ‘admission of liability’, has opening criticised the Church for ignoring his recommendations in announcing this new information.

Speaking on Radio 4 Today on Saturday morning ahead of the General Synod gathering for a third day, Lord Carlile said: “The Church in doing this is behaving in a very peculiar way.

“It’s like a small dictatorial government deciding to go ahead and acting any way it wishes, regardless of due process of the rule of law.

“It flies in the face of the recommendations I made which the Church said it accepted.

“The Church has got to get a grip on this.”

The programme also reported that the Church has denied Bishop Bell’s surviving family legal representation from their chosen barrister for this new investigation.

Speaking on the programme on behalf of the Church, Tim Thornton, Bishop at Lambeth, said instead someone had been ‘put forward to represent the voice of Bishop Bell’ and his family.

Bishop Thornton said: “We are taking Lord Carlile’s recommendations very seriously, we are going through our processes.

“Even before they’ve done that it’s tragic that some more information has come forward since the publication of his report and we are taking the voice of the survivors and those who are complaining very seriously.

Archbishop Justin Welby’s response to Lord Carlile’s report that a ‘significant cloud remained over Bishop Bell’s name has provoked growing anger amongst Bell supports, some calling for his resignation.

Asked if that remained the position of the Church, Bishop Thornton replied ‘yes’.

Mr Welby was among several bishops to join a silent protest staged by surviving victims of abuse within the Church of England outside Church House.

The told the Church’s ruling synod that its approach to safeguarding ‘needs culture change’.

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

He was revered for his support of Christians and Jews in Nazi Germany during the Second World War and condemned the British government over its bombing of civilian areas in Germany.

Read more about Lord Carlile’s review here