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Chichester Cathedral property to be renamed George Bell House again

31 July 2023

The cathedral property 4 Canon Lane is to be known as George Bell House again from 3 October

The cathedral property 4 Canon Lane is to be known as George Bell House again from 3 October

THE Chapter of Chichester Cathedral has decided to change the name of one of its properties back to George Bell House, after a years-long campaign by defenders of the reputation of the late bishop after whom it was named (News, 9 February 2019).

In 2016, the Chapter announced a decision to call George Bell House — named in memory of the Bishop of Chichester from 1929 till 1958, the late Dr George Bell — 4 Canon Lane, a year after he had been named in a legal civil claim of sexual abuse (News, 30 October 2015). The complaint concerned the abuse of a young girl in the late 1940s and early 1950s, later known as Carol.

In 2017, an independent review of the case carried out by Lord Carlile said that Church of England officials had “rushed to judgement” when they had concluded that Bishop Bell was the alleged sexual abuser (News, 22 December 2017).

Sussex Police closed their latest investigation concerning Bishop Bell in 2018 (News, 27 April 2018). In 2019, the Archbishop of Canterbury apologised for “mistakes” made in the handling of the allegation (News, 1 February 2019). Archbishop Welby had said in 2017 that, after the Carlile review, “a significant cloud” was left over the name of Bishop Bell. He later said that “nothing of substance” had been added to previous allegations and that “[Bishop Bell’s] legacy is undoubted and must be upheld.”

In 2021, he retracted his 2017 statement (News, 19 November 2021): “What I say today that is new and should have been said sooner is this: I do not consider there to be a ‘significant cloud’ over Bishop George Bell’s name. Previously I refused to retract that statement and I was wrong to do so. I took that view because of the importance we rightly place on listening to those who come forward with allegations of abuse, and the duty of care we owe to them. But we also owe a duty of care to those who are accused. I apologise for the hurt that my refusal to retract that statement has caused to Bishop Bell’s surviving relatives, colleagues and longstanding supporters.”

 

The Bell Society has been campaigning for the Bishop’s name to be cleared and for 4 Canon Lane to revert to its previous name.

On Thursday, a statement from the Chapter was issued which said that — “after prayerful consideration” — it had been decided to “reinstate Bishop George Bell’s name to 4 Canon Lane” from 3 October. The name 4 Canon Lane would still be used for “some commercial activities”, however.

“The Chapter recognises that the decision to remove Bishop Bell’s name from 4 Canon Lane in 2016 was a response to a serious allegation and was motivated by a desire to do the right thing by the complainant. The decision was made in good faith under deeply sensitive circumstances. However, the Chapter acknowledges that this decision was deficient and apologises for this.”

The statement explains: “Built in the late nineteenth century, 4 Canon Lane was dedicated to Bishop Bell in 2008 as a gift to the Cathedral from the Sisters of the Community of the Servants of the Cross. Formerly an archdeaconry, the House was secured in trust to be primarily a centre dedicated to Bishop Bell’s concern for vocation, education, and reconciliation.”

Richard Symonds of the Bell Society told the Church Times: “Seven long years to right this wrong is beyond unacceptable. . . But anger at the injustice must now make room for forgiveness in a spirit of understanding and reconciliation. This wartime Bishop of Chichester would have expected nothing less in the Cathedral City — and beyond it.”

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