Un-justin Welby and the innocence of George Bell


Un-justin Welby and the innocence of George Bell


Gavin Ashenden

Hypocrisy is the  application of  one rule for yourself, but a different one for others,- to their detriment.

The case of the historic accusation of Bishop George Bell has uncovered a nasty side to the Church of England, and for that matter, to Lambeth Palace.

Lord Carlile, in his recently published review, has been highly critical of the shambolic, unkind and unjust procedure that led to the improper naming and shaming of one of the most outstanding Anglican bishops of the last century. But in fact it wouldn’t have mattered if he had been one of the most inept curates of the last century, the demands of justice and truth ought to have been enough.

He was not asked to determine whether or not the troubled memories half a century old could be relied on; and nor are we. But he did point out that paedophiles almost always have form, and in his Palace Bishop Bell was surrounded by the German child refugees of the Kinder Transport who shared his Palace as a matter of generosity. Other little girls who lived there like the elderly witness called ‘Pauline’ (in teh report)  who never saw Carol, and who spoke glowingly of the probity of the bishop.

Not only were there no other accusations, or any kind of corroboration, but neither ‘Pauline’ nor his chaplain, who was by his side in the closest proximity at the time, were interviewed. The Core Group comprised of people with inadequate expertise, (with one or two exceptions) whose membership failed to attend all the meetings and also  fluctuated with the seasons. Misleading statements were put out by the Core Group about the probability of Bell being arrested if he were alive with the false implications of criminal guilt.  One of the most significant pieces of evidence, a psychiatric report which raised serious and unexamined questions about false memory syndrome, was redacted and misrepresented by some members of the Core Group to the others who then simply discounted it.

In 2016 Justin Welby defended the Church’s process in public. He tried to close down the mounting tide of concern and criticism at what was later to be described as a ‘Kangaroo Court’.

The ‘George Bell Group’ welcomed the Lord Carile’s findings. His “devastating criticism of the church’s process shows that Archbishop [Justin] Welby was wrong in 2016 when he described the investigation as ‘very thorough’ and the finding of abuse as clearly correct on the balance of probabilities”, it said. The report “thoroughly vindicated the reputation of a man revered for his integrity across the Christian church”.

So was Justin Welby wrong in 2016 because he didn’t actually know much about the process, or was he wrong because he lied about it?

If he didn’t know, if he wasn’t actually familiar, but was relying on what he was told by other people, then he was misled. But the answer to that is simple. He can fire or reprimand the people who misled him, and he can apologise for misleading the country and withdraw his remarks.

If he doesn’t do that, we are left with the deeply unpleasant possibility that he knew the Core Group’s performance was less than it should have been and was seeking to cover it up.

Equally problematically after Lord Carlile’s report was belatedly and apparently reluctantly made public, he continued to leave the shadow of his own unexplained prejudice hanging over George Bell.

Welby maintained that despite the fact that Lord Carlile insisted that Bell’s innocence should not have been publicly tarnished in the face of the uncorroborated accusations, it nonetheless left a  “significant cloud is left over his name”.

He added: “No human being is entirely good or bad. Bishop Bell was in many ways a hero. He is also accused of great wickedness. Good acts do not diminish evil ones, nor do evil ones make it right to forget good.” In other words, Welby repudiated Lord Carlile’s findings and acts as personal judge and jury against George Bell, in direct contradiction of the analysis of the Church’s failure of process.

Whilst not formally adjudicating on their reliability, the truth of the  accusations were called into serious question by Carlile who insisted that in the face of the evidence Bell would be pronounced innocent. Welby is simply morally wrong to continue them, and his judgement is flawed.

But in another way we have been here before.  Welby decided that George Carey had made a mistake of judgement in not being more rigorous with the evidence he had presented to him about Bishop Peter Ball. Welby felt that Carey ignored the evidence and forced him to pay the price and resign retrospectively.

George Carey is deeply wounded by what he considers to be treatment by Welby that was both unfair and draconian. He has written recently that Welby will eventually be judged for his ruthless and what many considered to be disproportionate behaviour.

Carey is right.

Welby, as with the rest of us, will be judged. But there remains accountability.

But Welby himself is now ignoring the evidence. The real difference in the two situations is that one deals with attribution guilt and the other deals with the clearing of guilt.
To be consistent, and to avoid the charge of hypocrisy, Welby should apply the same standards to himself. And this is without even holding him accountable for the misleading statements  in 2016 that now look like a cover up.

If Justin Welby does not accept that Lord Carlile has cleared George Bell’s name, apologise for his role in making that more difficult and withdrawing his spurious remarks about integrity of the ‘kangaroo court’ that released George Bell’s name into the public domain, then he should be called upon to resign. His judgement, his pride, and his much prized ‘management skills’ have proven to be flawed.

Let him live by the same standards that he imposed on the elderly  George Carey.

If he fails to do so, he make get a nasty surprise when Dame Sarah Mullally, should she succeed him as seems entirely likely, forces him to step down from episcopal office for the same reasons that he imposed on George Carey.