Like the Bourbons, the Church of England under its present leadership seems incapable of learning from its mistakes. When it attempted to impugn the reputation of George Bell, perhaps the greatest of all modern Anglican Bishops, by suggesting, nearly sixty years after his death, that he had sexually abused a child, the case fell apart for lack of sufficient evidence after an investigation that was deeply flawed, not least because it took place in secret. Nevertheless, Archbishop Welby, who presided over this fiasco, still permits judgements to be reached about the most senior clerics by secret, one-sided inquisitions. Alistair Lexden, who has consistently championed Bishop Bell in the Lords and in the press, condemned the Church’s grave misconduct in a letter published in The Daily Telegraph on 5 February.
SIR – My friends Lord Carey of Clifton (Comment, January 30) and Rev Jonathan Aitken (Letters, February 1) will be widely supported in their calls for an end to the “culture of fear and secrecy” created by the Archbishop of Canterbury’s failure to establish open, accountable arrangements with proper legal safeguards for the investigation of allegations of sexual abuse brought against members of the clergy.
It is intolerable that, after a secret process, Lord Carey was found “on a balance of probabilities” to have known of one person’s record of abuse.
It was clear that something was seriously amiss six years ago when the Church’s press office suddenly announced that compensation had been paid on the uncorroborated word of a complainant who said she had been sexually abused by Bishop George Bell more than half a century earlier.
Lord Carlile QC tore the Church’s conduct of the case to shreds in an independent report at the end of 2017. Astonishingly, Archbishop Welby simply said that a “significant cloud” remained over this internationally renowned bishop.
After another secret process judged a copycat allegation to be groundless in 2019, the archbishop made a general apology to those involved, but there was no withdrawal of his charge against Bishop Bell. It is still awaited.
The public campaign in defence of Bishop Bell involved only two senior Church of England clerics, Lord Carey and the Dean of Christ Church. It is striking that they too have suffered as a result of the Church’s refusal to devise procedures that treat complainants and defendants even-handedly.
Lord Carey is still owed an apology, which, judging by what happened in the case of Bishop Bell, is unlikely to be forthcoming.
On the day before publication, Alistair Lexden wrote in response to a letter in The Telegraph which asserted that the reputation of Bishop George Bell “has suffered irreparably” as a result of allegations made against him. The Lexden response, which in the circumstances will not appear in the paper, denied this. Who, apart from his stooge, the current Bishop of Chichester, now takes seriously Archbishop Welby’s disgraceful claim that a “cloud of suspicion” hangs over the internationally renowned Christian who exercised such a powerful influence for good during the Second World War? That cloud exists only in the mind of an unsuccessful prelate who will be quickly forgotten, while Bishop Bell’s reputation will endure unsullied for ever.