@BishopGeorgeBell will not go away

The Bell affair rumbles on. That it does so is the fault of the #ArchbishopofCanterbury, and other bishops, who, on

receipt of @LordCarlile’s report, could easily have issued an apologetic statement which would have laid the whole business to rest.

Instead the episcopal response has been:

1. Various bishops have apologised for the church’s procedures in what the #BishopofChichester called a ‘thorough investigation’ of the charges against Bell. They could not have done less, since Carlisle had found the procedures shambolic [not his word].

2. They pointed out that Carlisle had not explicitly found Bell ‘not guilty’. This is not surprising, since the Church had itself excluded the question of guilt from Carlile’s terms of reference.

3. They diverted attention from the main point by taking issue with Carlile’s argument that, instead of publishing Bell’s name, the Church should have made a private pay-off to the complainant, with a confidentiality clause and no admission of guilt. They thought Carlile’s view inconsistent with the church’s commitment to transparency, which is an arguable point, though to make so much of it was obviously a tactical diversion.

4. They managed to convey that the case was not closed. For example, the Archbishop said that a cloud still hung over Bell’s name.

This last is the principal cause of the complaints that are gathering momentum , not only among church people. The Archbishop and other prelates could blow away the cloud very easily, though it may prove less easy to save their own reputations. Instead the Archbishop has replied to a letter from a group of modern historians, apologising again for the church’s procedures, but robustly maintaining his agnosticism about Bell’s innocence.

It is disconcerting that an archbishop should write such a muddled letter, into which he even inserts paragraphs about @BishopPeterBall, who was indeed found guilty in a court. Ball and others had given the #dioceseofChichester a bad reputation, and that does help to explain the Church’s “rush to judgement” (Carlile’s words) in the Bell case, though not to justify it. But the way the Archbishop emphasises the Ball example suggests that he is, again, anxious to divert attention from the main issue.

This letter from the Archbishop provoked a distressed response from @CanonProfessorJaspers who sadly concluded: “I am simply appalled that I can no longer trust the spiritual or intellectual leadership of one who bears the highest office in the Anglican Communion.” There could hardly be a more devastating summing up from an eminent scholar-priest.

@ArchbishopWelby and his colleagues have dug themselves into a place from which it is going to be very hard to scramble out. Yet these men are not fools, and it is difficult to diagnose what makes them behave as they do. The possibilities seem to me to be 1/. Their letters are drafted for them by p.r.people in whom they have such faith that they do not read the drafts; 2/secret information, which they withheld from Carlile’s and 3/pride.

The first possibility is too outlandish to be pursued. I also discount ‘secret information’, rathe reluctantly, because one could spend happy hours speculating about it, in fantastical or even silly fashion.

That only leaves pride.

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