From Dr Andrew Chandler
In his article in the October edition of New Directions the Revd Graham Sawyer refers specifically to the case of Bishop George Bell, but only to make a succession of distracting assumptions and generalizations. Incantations of human fallibility cannot be substituted for specific and relevant argument. Such a method is not simply lazy; it is an excuse for not thinking at all. The fallibility of humanity does not make George Bell a paedophile; and nor does the making of a single, uncorroborated, and inexpertly tested allegation. Furthermore, the public disclosure of a dubious bargain struck by other interested parties over his unrepresented remains makes the situation no better. Which of us would wish to be on the receiving end of all of this? Does it really represent a model of courage and balance, and even a road to redemption, as Fr Sawyer claims?
It should be sufficient here to observe that a formidable and authoritative body of opinion has revolted against what the authorities of the Church of England have done to George Bell. This revolt is not the work of a motley assortment of campaigners, but represents a concentration of the most authoritative experience to be found in this country today, drawn from the highest regions of law and policing, academic life and pastoral practice, politics and journalism. We know that the authorities of the church have traded on the assumption that their critics will simply tire and evaporate. In fact, the longer the controversy goes on the greater this body of criticism becomes, in authority and in numbers. It is not growing in patience.
Perhaps none of this matters? I must it leave to your readers to judge. May I simply refer them to the material published on the website of the George Bell Group (www.georgebell group.org), to the House of Lords debate of 30 June 2016 on historical child abuse (available online), and the many letters and articles which have been published in the national press over the last year.
From the Revd Alan Cooke
I can only sympathize deeply with the Revd Graham Sawyer and other victims of Bishop Peter Ball (ND, Oct 2016). At the same time, it is equally important to remember those who have been falsely accused of sexual abuse, among them Lord Bramall, the late Lord Brittan, the late Sir Edward Heath, Sir Cliff Richard, and many others who have been reviled and condemned without trial, because there was simply no evidence to bring to court. Unlike their accusers, these unfortunate people had no right of anonymity.
I imagine that, like me, many of your readers will strongly disagree with Fr Sawyer’s assessment of the accusations made (by only one person) against the late Bishop George Bell. His reputation has been courageously upheld by Charles Moore, who has pointed out that Bishop Bell has been condemned on the untried evidence of one single individual, and is no longer alive to respond to the accusation made against him. The “lack of transparency” of which Fr Sawyer complains has been amply displayed in the treatment meted out to him by the Diocese of Chichester and its Bishop.
The fear of compensation claims in civil proceedings (which require a lower standard of proof than the criminal courts) has led to the suspension and sometimes the dismissal of good and dedicated people in Church and State who are at the mercy of disturbed, greedy, or malicious individuals (sometimes all three put together). The treatment of Bishop Bell and the attempt to airbrush him from the history of the Diocese of Chichester and the Church of England is deeply unjust in its presumption not of innocence but of guilt.
From the Revd Canon John Hervé
It would seem that Safeguarding in general is reaching hysterical levels (Editorial, ND Nov 2016). A number of recent cases demonstrate what occurs following the violation of natural justice and basic human rights, when “innocent until proven guilty” becomes “no smoke without fire”. In the interests of safeguarding children and vulnerable adults the church is creating a new set of victims – the falsely accused.
Decisions are made about the accused in committee or by individuals, without any opportunity for representation or refutation and often using misleading information. Notes are added to personal files and to the so-called “soft box” on Disclosure and Barring Certificates. This effectively prohibits much secular employment and any future ministry. Licences are withdrawn or denied, and there is no mechanism to challenge or appeal. Bishops need to remember that Safeguarding Advisors are just that – advisors, and not adjudicators. It is totally unacceptable that the Church, of all institutions, should be perpetrating such injustices.
I would refer your readers to the website of Falsely Accused Carers and Teachers (www.factuk.org). They will see reference to the autumn edition of its newsletter, FACTion, in which its Secretary states that he is “mindful of the many people who have been treated with contempt and hostility from their respective churches, whose policies appear to be stricter than the law”. On the website readers will also be able to see (and access) the recent report by the University of Oxford’s Centre for Criminology, The Impact of Being Wrongly Accused of Abuse in Occupations of Trust: Victims’ Voices. It makes grim reading.
False accusations are deeply traumatic, and destructive of reputations, careers, and relationships. They are also severely challenging to personal faith. The falsely-accused can do without being denied the care of a Church that is afraid that they will do again something that they haven’t done in the first place.
From Mr Thomas Sutcliffe
Fr Graham Sawyer (ND, Oct 2016) treated the allegations made by “Carol” against Bishop George Bell as a proven crime and sin. He also praised Bell’s present successor, Dr Martin Warner, for treating the accusation like a criminal conviction – with all the concomitant consequences, such as the destruction of Bell’s reputation and the removal of his name from public display.
But there was neither trial nor conviction, and in fact nobody can prove Bell’s guilt beyond reasonable doubt. We are asked to accept the identification of Bell as the perpetrator of sexual offences by a complainant who was aged at the time (perhaps) between 6 and 10, and whose identity has been rigorously guarded from public exposure. We are asked to believe that nearly 40 years later and many years after his death she remembered him uttering the cliché “it’s our little secret”, which many paedophile accounts reproduce, and that she remembered his usually wearing gaiters. Can we trust memories from so long ago? Can we trust the feeling Carol must have that she suffered abuse way back then, though false and mixed memories are not unusual from early childhood? The involvement of a specialist “abuse” lawyer in the settlement of Carol’s complaint with a substantial cash payment is taken as proof of guilt, or at least acceptance by the Chichester authorities that something may have happened which may have involved George Bell.
As a cathedral choirboy of almost the same age as Carol I can state with certainty that Dean Arthur Duncan-Jones, Archdeacon Lancelot Mason (formerly a chaplain to Bell), and the Treasurer, Charles Mortlock, commonly wore gaiters when I was there. I am convinced, along with many others, that Bishop George Bell is an extremely unlikely if not impossible candidate for this crime, if such really took place. The Diocese of Chichester’s investigation did few of the necessary checks on who was in the Bishop’s Palace at the relevant period.
I personally remember Bell as a very shy man. Though very friendly and welcoming to choristers and their parents at receptions after confirmations, his life was entirely taken up with the work he did at the House of Lords as well as in the diocese – and he maintained extensive correspondence with a vast range of people at a time when that took enormous application and work compared with our ease of communication now. He also had many guests staying at the Palace, which in those days was more a home than an office – Canon Mortlock, for example, who only visited Chichester irregularly.
I found the pious tone in Fr Sawyer’s article and his assumption of Bell’s guilt and sinfulness doubly offensive. I was confirmed by Bell on March 10, 1955, and I can still recall the firm pressure of his hands on the back of my head during that ceremony. Reading Andrew Chandler’s scrupulously researched new biography of Bell, with its surtitle Church, State, and Resistance in the Age of Dictatorship, my certainty of the injustice Dr Warner and others have done to Bell is further strengthened. The implication that because we are all sinners, so was George Bell, is fair enough – but this very specific and nauseating sin is one that would have made a complete nonsense of Bell’s entire life and calling as well as put at risk all the controversial work that he chose to undertake.
There have been no other complaints about Bell, which makes the accusation even more dubious. But it seems doubly unlikely that he would have done anything like this, because what mattered most to him was his stand against fascism and his support in practical as well as vocal terms for suffering Christians and Jews in Europe. To maintain that public stance exposed him to a great deal of fierce criticism, and risk of attack. In speaking in the Lords against saturation bombing of civilian populations, he was implicitly as a Christian criticising Churchill and wartime policy. This sin would have made him a total hypocrite.
Fr Sawyer’s deeply traumatic experience in the Peter Ball case should not incline him or the rest of us to believe what a complainant has to say without appropriate caution. A witness can be true or false – or inadvertently inaccurate. Identification by a child young at the time after the passage of many decades has to be treated with much greater caution than the Chichester authorities appear to have applied. We do not live in a police state, and we cannot accept authorities making a determination of truth and falsehood in private. A complainant must be prepared to stand up in public and be suitably cross-examined by those acting for the defence of the accused. Justice must be seen to be done.
From the Revd Geoffrey Squire
One of the most tragic things about the Church of England in modern times has been the split between Traditionalist Catholics and “Affirming Catholics”. Impaired unity must remain for the foreseeable future; but I believe that there are things that can and indeed should be done together now to the mutual benefit of all. Putting unnecessary distance between ourselves will only let the destruction of Catholic faith and order get deeper and therefore more difficult ever to reverse.
We need to work together to preserve – and indeed advance – as much Catholicity as possible. Evangelicals have made great gains over the last couple of decades, including fudged plans for Anglican-Methodist unity, and now we have priests openly denying that they ordained to a ministerial priesthood, celebrating the Eucharist in business suits or jumpers and jeans, and using grape juice instead of wine. The list goes on. We may be tempted to think that we are safe with our Society priests and bishops; but that I believe to be very unwise and very dangerous to the Catholic future for which we long.
We may have wished for different provisions; but at least what we have provides an excellent platform for re-claiming that which we have lost and gaining that which we never had – which must surely be our task, if we believe it to be God’s will. Of course we need many more priests to do that; but our task will be far easier if as much as possible of the fullness of Catholic faith and order remain and indeed advances, not just with us traditionalists but in the wider CofE.
It is vital that those claiming to be Catholics on the General Synod join together wherever possible to stop the rot, and work together for solid plans for unity with the non-episcopal churches, some better Eucharistic Prayers, the protection of the seal of the confessional, faith-and-order issues, and much else, even though we will not agree on everything. We must also respect – and where possible share or exchange – the gifts that others have.
During the recent past and our time of great uncertainty, we may have needed to express our views by keeping our distance lest any kind of fudge crept in by the back door. Now things are different. We have our provisions that are respected by most, and we have our Society priests and bishops. We can therefore move forward to some limited degree just as we have been happy to work with Free Church ministers in the past.
We will not win the great battle for the Catholic cause in our land, that great revival of the Catholic Movement, if we simply write off most of the Church of England. We must make the fullest use of our great cathedrals and churches and other holy places, and the general establishment or structure of the CofE. And we must watch very closely that a fair portion of senior posts go to traditionalists.
From Mr Thomas Rookes
I write in regard to the articles on human sexuality in the October issue of New Directions. It is sometimes claimed that Jesus said nothing about homosexuality – but of course the word did not exist until the nineteenth century, and the latter part of the Luke 17 emphasises the perils of Sodom and much else. Although we in western society have become increasingly secularised, this is not the case elsewhere. It is argued that Christians need to find a sense of unity; but what comes across to me is people arguing for their rights, rather than the health of the whole Church.
Thomas E. Rookes