Although I am writing this first blog in South Africa my mind has been much on the destruction by the Church of England of the reputation of Bishop George Bell of Chichester. He died in 1958, and I understand has no living family: recently he has been the subject of what the Church describes as a “civil case” alleging paedophilea in “the late forties and early fifties”. When he was alive, and until very recently, he was seen as a great man, for his Christian ministry and, in particular, his efforts to stay in touch with German Christians during the war.As those fine English journalists, Peter Hitchens and Charles Moore have recently written, the complainant’s name has not been published, nor even the sex, though the feeling in the diocese (where I live when in England) is that it is female.
No evidence of any kind has been published, nor any specific accusations, yet the Church has made a payoff to the complainant, using, as its spokesmen say, the standard of proof appropriate to a civil case, that is, the balance of probability.
It is not known where the money for this payoff came from. Its amount remains secret, and all Dr Warner, the current Bishop of Chichester, will say is that it did not come from diocesan funds. A rumour in the diocese is that it came from a policy for reputation insurance, but what insurance company would be so unfaithful to its shareholders as to pay up in circumstances like these?
The Church is perhaps using a figure of speech when it says it has settled a civil claim, since such cases must be brought in twelve years. But it really should come clean about the source of the pay-off funds, lest people start cancelling their legacies to all sorts of Christian institutions. This is not just a reaction that Christians might exhibit: there are also heathens who value parish churches, but may wonder why they should pay for repairing their roofs, when the parent body can waste money on evidenceless allegations of abuses over sixty years ago.
This kind of sorry tale makes it embarrassing to be British, so it is a comfort to see that South Africans also suffer from the misdemeanours of the powerful. What the latter have in common with the Church of England’s spokesmen is that they are in the business of destroying reputations. Many South Africans are destroying their own, while the Church sticks to a great man long dead.