As is by now well known, Bishop George Bell, who died in 1958, has been accused of sexual abuse between 1949 and 1953 by a woman who was aged five in 1949. The Church has accepted the truth of her accusations, and has paid her off.
The George Bell Group of eminent persons who have sought to rescue Bishop Bell’s reputation from the condemnation of his Church has not yet achieved as much as had been hoped, but at least its findings are on the record, and its questions will not go away.
It seems that the current Bishop of Chichester, Dr Martin Warner, has dug his toes in, and is refusing to answer any more enquiries, and that the cathedral staff are doing the same.
Such Church ripostes as there have been to the Group’s report have missed the point. For example one spokesman said: “The decision to settle the civil claim relating to the activities of Bishop Bell and make a formal apology was not taken lightly or without consideration of the impact on the reputation of George Bell.
“However in this case, as in others, the overriding goal was to search out the truth and issues of reputation cannot take priority over that. Any suggestion that the reputation of the Church, or its ministers, should take precedence over the search for the truth is fundamentally misplaced.”
That response quite falsely suggests that the Group was protesting against seeking out truth which might risk damage to reputations, whereas all it asks for is a competent investigation which really does seek the truth without suppressing due process. The point cannot have been missed by mistake, so presumably the spokesman was under instruction to obfuscate.
Bishop Warner has written: ”All facts which were capable of independent corroboration were corroborated; evidence was exchanged; independent advice from all the professional disciplines which are usually involved in such claims was obtained, including of course independent legal advice; and the survivor was questioned in person about their (sic: her sex had not at that time been revealed) evidence”.
Here are some of the questions which eventually will have to be answered:
1. Why does Bishop Warner insist on concealing the evidence in the case? He appeals to confidentiality, but he could at least indicate the type of evidence.
2. Why will he not say who has assessed the evidence? He will not even say which “professional disciplines” were called in.
3. Nor will he say who has had access to the evidence, without necessarily being required to assess it. We know that the Dean and Chapter had no access, yet they have committed themselves to following the Bishop’s line, and even to removing the name of Bishop Bell House, without knowing the facts first hand.
4. Where did the money come from to pay off the complainant, known at present as “Carol”? All that is known is that it did not come from diocesan funds and that the payment “was undertaken by the Church of England through national and diocesan representatives”. Somebody must have taken the business decision, which has backfired, to salvage the Church’s reputation by making the payment.
5. How much was she paid? The undenied rumour is £15,000.
6. Exactly which “confidentiality laws” is Bishop Warner relying upon to back up his refusal to answer questions?
7. Why did the Church not trace Bishop Bell’s chaplain and niece, who are both alive? Was it incompetence or lack of interest, or is there some other explanation?
8. Why were Bishop Bell’s diaries not referred to?
9. Why did Bishop Warner not discover the layout in those days of the Bishop’s Kitchen, where Carol says the abuse took place? Carol recollects a layout that did not exist.
10. Carol claims to have been brought regularly to the Palace by a relation who worked there. Why did Bishop Warner not find out this person’s name and publish it?
11. Is there any imaginable evidence which would make the current Bishop accept that he might have made a mistake?
I have been puzzling over what type of evidence could have persuaded Dr Warner of the truth of Carol’s allegations.
1. Did she take photographs, which have been preserved since 1953?
2. Did anyone else take damaging photographs?
3. Did Carol write letters at the time, complaining about Bishop Bell?
4. Did any associate of Bishop Bell suspect that he was up to no good, and leave notes, memoranda or letters to that effect?
5. Was there an eye-witness who said nothing at the time, but who left a relevant document?
6. Did Bishop Bell himself leave any document which might inculpate him?
7. Are there any damaging tape recordings?
8. Was there a feeling in the Cathedral Close in the 1940s and 1950s that Bishop Bell had undesirable tendencies? If so, has someone survived to retail these feelings, or has any document been found?
Can any reader think of any other category of evidence which the Church authorities may be concealing? Please let me know if you can think of anything.
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