Bishop Bell’s accuser cannot be overlooked, says Welby

06 February 2018

Richard Watt

Archbishop Welby at Lambeth Palace on Monday

Archbishop Welby at Lambeth Palace on Monday

THE complainant who alleged that Bishop George Bell abused her was “not an inconvenience to be overlooked”, the Archbishop of Canterbury said on Monday. Instead, she is someone who should be “treated equally importantly” as the reputation of Bell.

In an interview with the Church Times, Archbishop Welby defended the Church of England’s decision to publicise the £16,800 payment that it made to the woman, known as “Carol”, who, in 1995 and again in 2012 and 2013, told church officials that Bishop Bell had abused her when she was a young girl.

The decision to make Bell’s name public was criticised by Lord Carlile’s independent review (News, 22 December). Since the publication of the review, Archbishop Welby has been fiercely criticised for saying that he could not, with integrity, clear Bell’s name (News, 26 January).

On Wednesday, The Daily Telegraph reported that retired judges, who included His Honour Judge John Bullimore and His Honour Alan Pardoe QC, had written to the Archbishop. “We are grievously disappointed at your failure to show proper regret and to apologise for the great harm and injustice which the Church, through the catalogue of errors identified by Lord Carlile, has caused.” they wrote.

Speaking to the Church Times, the Archbishop acknowledged that the Carlile report “points out some of the quite severe weaknesses in the initial investigation of George Bell”; and he “accepted its recommendations — all except half of one recommendation” (the naming of those accused of abuse).

He said: “Let’s just have a hypothetical situation in which Chichester diocese had not declared its payment [to Carol] two years ago. With the Independent Inquiry [into Child Sexual Abuse] . . . that confidentiality undertaking would certainly have become public. Now, the first question, when I give evidence, would then be asked: ‘What else are you hiding? What do you really know about George Bell that you are not telling us, because you’re so anxious to keep it secret?’ It’s a lose-lose. . .

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“We have to treat both Bishop Bell, his reputation — we have to hold that as something really precious and valuable. But the person who has brought the complaint is not an inconvenience to be overlooked: they are a human being of immense value and dignity, to be treated equally importantly. And it is very difficult to square that circle.”

Campaigners for George Bell have cast doubt on the account given by Carol (News, 24 March 2016). But on Wednesday of last week, the Church of England’s national safeguarding team announced that it had received “fresh information concerning Bishop George Bell” (News, 2 February). It did not give any further details.

The following day, the Bell Society convened a conference at Church House, Westminster. The keynote speaker was Dr Jules Gomes, pastor of an independent Anglican church on the Isle of Man.

There has also been press coverage of Julian Whiting, a survivor of independent school and church abuse, who wrote to Archbishop Welby last month to complain about the settlement that he had received.

“I have struggled for years to obtain appropriate compensation, which despite huge efforts over many years I have failed to receive”, Mr Whiting said on Monday. “Even direct approaches to Justin Welby have proved fruitless.”

Accounts by other survivors were published in a booklet on Tuesday, We Asked for Bread but You Gave Us Stones (extract).

The General Synod will discuss safeguarding policy at its meeting in Church House, Westminster on Saturday morning.

Archbishop Welby, reflecting on his first five years in office, said that safeguarding was the hardest thing that he had to deal with. “It’s the hardest because you’re dealing with the Church’s sin. You’re dealing with profound human weakness. You’re dealing with the consequences in damaged people, in people who’ve been terribly, terribly hurt. And it’s heart breaking. . .

“I think we’ve sought to address it, both in mechanistic ways but also spiritually, in prayer, in attitude and culture. We’ve sought to address it in every way we can.”

The man who allegedly accused Sir Edward Heath and other former parliamentarians of abuse (News, 5 October), has been charged with making indecent images of children, it was reported on Wednesday. The man, known only as “Nick”, denies the charges. The Crown Prosecution Service said that the matter was due for trial at crown court.

 

Read the full interview with the Archbishop of Canterbury in next week’s Church Times.

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