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Sunday, December 5, 2021

Archbishop of Canterbury sorry for slur against bishop accused of sexual abuse

The Archbishop of Canterbury has apologised for saying there was a “significant cloud” over the late Bishop George Bell. 

In 1995 a woman, known only as Carol, alleged that Mr Bell – who was the Bishop of Chichester from 1929 until his death in 1958 – sexually abused her as a girl. 

The police were only called in after she wrote to the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Most Rev Justin Welby, in 2013.

In 2015, the Church of England paid £16,800 in an out of court settlement with Carol and issued an apology. 

However, an independent review by Lord Carlile QC in 2017 concluded that the Church had “rushed to judgment” in its condemnation of the bishop, and was highly critical of its decision to name him without substantial evidence. 

He said the bishop had been “hung out to dry” and the “truth of what Carol was saying was implicitly accepted without serious investigation or inquiry”.

Despite this, the Archbishop did not apologise at the time, but said: “We realise that a significant cloud is left over his name. Bishop Bell was in many ways a hero. He is also accused of great wickedness. No human being is entirely good or bad.”

Later in 2018, the Church said publicly it had referred “fresh information” to Sussex Police. Yet another review said there was no evidence behind these latest claims.

‘I have recognised my error,’ says Archbishop 

In a new personal statement published on Wednesday morning, the Archbishop issued an apology and retracted his initial, controversial statement. 

While insisting allegations of abuse “must be taken seriously”, he said: “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. 

“They have all raised this issue, often powerfully, and I have recognised my error as a result of their advocacy.”

In his personal statement, the archbishop said the “Church is on a journey of thoroughgoing repentance” for previously ignoring claims of abuse.

“This is why the posthumous allegations made against Bishop George Bell were taken seriously and investigated fully,” he said.

Debt owed to ‘one of the most courageous, distinguished Anglican bishops of the past century’

Bishop Bell was widely praised for his criticism of the RAF bombing of German civilians in the Second World War, as well as his role in organising the Kindertransport rescue of Jewish children from the Nazis. He was later honoured with an official Anglican holy day dedicated to his life. 

The Archbishop praised Bishop Bell as “one of the most courageous, distinguished Anglican bishops of the past century”.

“The debt owed to him extends far beyond the Church that he served and is one that we share as a society.”

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