@BishopGeorgeBell: episcopal responses

I have just reread the evidence of @DrMartinWarner (#Bishop of Chichester) to the @IICSA (Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse) of which a few pages relate to the Bishop Bell affair.

When reminded by Counsel of some of the failures of the church’s procedures in investigating the case, which had been trenchantly listed by @LordCarlile, he replied:

“These are stringent and harsh observations which largely we accept. We were in a situation here of breaking new ground. The formation of a core group was something which we were unfamiliar with, which has subsequently

been regulated for us, and we were also, of course, very aware of working in the context of a serious criminal allegation against a person of a massive international and national reputation.

So I think the failures of consistency, of sense of purpose and how we were to function, those allegations — those criticisms are valid against us. I don’t think, however, that that means we were cavalier or unaware of the seriousness of the responsibilities that we were trying to carry out.”

Dr Warner’s acceptance of blame, which at first seems generous, is spoilt by these feeble excuses. How anyone could find a Core Group unfamiliar, or see it as breaking new ground, passes belief. To see this point you only have to think of it as a committee like any other, which needs to appoint members from relevant organisations, and then to specify its objectives and procedures before it starts work.

Presumably most, if not all, of its members had served on committees before, but Lord Carlile found that their proceedings were shambolic. Papers were not properly circulated, so that some members received different versions from others; attendance was erratic, (the bishop himself only attended one or two of the five meetings); the chairman and membership changed; if the group had a secretary, he or she seems not to have been at home with a committee secretary’s basic duties.

It may be that the group’s members, or some of them, were simply not used to defining objectives and applying their minds in a systematic way. In that case, why were they on the committee at all?

Dr Warner also refers to “serious criminal allegations”. Yet one of the points laboured by church representatives was that they were applying the standard of proof appropriate to a civil, not a criminal, case.

As for “the serious of its responsibilities”it is not clear that the Core Group ever really defined them. Certainly it failed to recognise the elementary responsibility of appointing someone to defend Bell’s interests.

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