Former Bishop of Chichester acknowledged to have been a child sexual abuser

One of the most influential Anglican bishops of the Twentieth century, the Rt. Rev George Bell — who is commemorated in the Calendar of the Episcopal Church on October 2 — has been revealed to have been a pedophile.

One of the most influential Anglican bishops of the Twentieth century and a founder of the modern ecumenical movement, the Rt. Rev George Bell — who is commemorated in the Calendar of the Episcopal Church on October 2 and whose feast day in the Church of England is October 3 — has been revealed to have been a child sexual abuser. 

On 22 Oct 2015 the Bishop of Chichester, the Rt. Rev. Martin Warner, released a statement acknowledging Bell’s crimes and apologizing to his victims.The news of Bell’s crimes “has brought us a bewildering mix of deep and disturbing emotions. In touching the legacy and reputation of George Bell, it yields a bitter fruit of great sadness and a sense that we are all diminished by what we are being told,” the diocesan statement said.

Born in 1883, George Kennedy Allen Bell, was educated at Westminster School and Christ Church College, Oxford, and trained for the ministry at Wells Theological College. Ordained in 1907, he served his curacy at an inner city parish in Leeds before returning to Oxford as a tutor. In 1914 he was appointed chaplain to the Archbishop of Canterbury Randall Davidson. Bell was appointed Dean of Canterbury in 1924 and then Bishop of Chichester in 1929–a post he held until his death in 1958.

A delegate from the Church of England to the World Council of Churches first meeting in 1919, Bell quickly became one of the leading figures in the ecumenical movement. In 1933 Bell met German theologian, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, and on 1 June 1934 he signed the Barmen Declaration, thel manifesto of the Confessing Church in Germany, which proclaimed that Christian belief and National Socialism were incompatible, and condemned pro-Nazi German Christianity as “false teaching”, or heresy. In the House of Lords Bell warned of the dangers of the Nazi regime and in 1936 became chairman of the International Christian Committee for German Refugees and was actively involved in helping anti-Nazi Germans and German Jews to escape the regime.

During the Second World War, Bell maintained his ties to the Confessing Church in Germany and was one of the key links between the anti-Hitler resistance and the British government. However, Bell’s public opposition to the government’s conduct of the war hindered British support for Bonhoeffer and other anti-Nazi plotters. 

In 1941 in a letter to The Times, Bell he called the bombing of unarmed women and children “barbarian” which would destroy the just cause for the war, and in 1943 he urged the House of Lords to resist the War Cabinet’s decision for area bombing, stating that it called into question all the humane and democratic values for which Britain had gone to war. In 1944 he asked the House of Lords to force the government to end the area bombing of German cities saying the government’s “policy of annihilation” was a crime against humanity.

Following the death of William Temple in 1944, Bell was considered a likely candidate to become Archbishop of Canterbury. However, Bell’s political activism disqualified him from the post in the eyes of Prime Minister Winston Churchill and the post given to Geoffrey Fisher.

Following the war Bell resumed his ecumenical work, helping the German church rebuild after the Nazi era. He also forged a personal friendship with Cardinal Giovanni Montini of Milan, later Pope Paul VI, helping lay the foundations for what became the ARCIC movement. Bell also continued his anti-war activism, opposing Britain’s nuclear armament campaign and lending his support to the predecessors to groups such as the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament. 

On 22 Oct 2015, Bell was revealed to have been a pedophile In a statement acknowleding Bell’s guilt, Bishop Warner wrote: 

The Bishop of Chichester has issued a formal apology following the settlement of a legal civil claim regarding sexual abuse against the Right Reverend George Bell, who was Bishop of Chichester from 1929 until his death on 3rd October 1958.

The allegations against Bell date from the late 1940s and early 1950s and concern allegations of sexual offences against an individual who was at the time a young child.

Following settlement of the claim the serving Bishop of Chichester, the Right Reverend Dr. Martin Warner, wrote to the survivor formally apologising and expressing his “deep sorrow” acknowledging that “the abuse of children is a criminal act and a devastating betrayal of trust that should never occur in any situation, particularly the church.”

Bishop Warner paid tribute to the survivor’s courage in coming forward to report the abuse and notes that “along with my colleagues throughout the church, I am committed to ensuring that the past is handled with honesty and transparency.”

Tracey Emmott, the solicitor for the survivor, today issued the following statement on behalf of her client:

“The new culture of openness in the Church of England is genuinely refreshing and seems to represent a proper recognition of the dark secrets of its past, many of which may still not have come to light. While my client is glad this case is over, they remain bitter that their 1995 complaint was not properly listened to or dealt with until my client made contact with Archbishop Justin Welby’s office in 2013. That failure to respond properly was very damaging, and combined with the abuse that was suffered has had a profound effect on my client’s life. For my client, the compensation finally received does not change anything. How could any amount of money possibly compensate for childhood abuse? However, my client recognises that it represents a token of apology. What mattered to my client most and has brought more closure than anything was the personal letter my client has recently received from the Bishop of Chichester.”

The survivor first reported the abuse to the then Bishop of Chichester, Eric Kemp, in August 1995. Bishop Kemp responded to the correspondence offering pastoral support but did not refer the matter to the police or, so far as is known, investigate the matter further. It was not until contact with Lambeth Palace in 2013 that the survivor was put in touch with the safeguarding team at the Diocese of Chichester who referred the matter to the police and offered personal support and counselling to the survivor.

In his letter to the survivor Bishop Warner acknowledges that the response from the Diocese of Chichester in 1995, when the survivor first came forward, “fell a long way short, not just of what is expected now, but of what we now appreciate you should have had a right to expect then.”

In accordance with the recommendations of the Church Commissaries’ report into the Diocese of Chichester in 2012 the settlement does not impose any form of “confidentiality agreement” restriction regarding public disclosure upon the individual. In this case the survivor has expressed the desire to remain anonymous.

Following a meeting between the survivor and Sussex police in 2013, it was confirmed by the police that the information obtained from their enquiries would have justified, had he still been alive, Bishop Bell’s arrest and interview, on suspicion of serious sexual offences, followed by release on bail, further enquiries and the subsequent submission of a police report to the CPS.

A formal claim for compensation was submitted in April 2014 and was settled in late September of this year. The settlement followed a thorough pre-litigation process during which further investigations into the claim took place including the commissioning of expert independent reports. None of those reports found any reason to doubt the veracity of the claim.

The Church of England takes any allegations of abuse very seriously and is committed to being a safe place for all. Any survivors or those with information about church-related abuse must always feel free to come forward knowing that they will be listened to in confidence.

In an explanatory note, Bishop Warner highlighted the fact that the abuse was first reported in 1995.”There will no doubt be some who allege a cover-up by the Church. We acknowledge that the response then would not be adequate by today’s standards, although that falls far short of a cover-up. In the present context, the diocese of Chichester has worked with Police and other agencies to ensure that we have sought the fullest understanding possible of what happened.”

Bishop Warner asked for prayer “ for all who are affected by this news, especially those who are our ecumenical partners, those unable to comprehend its implications, and those whose faith is damaged by it. Please pray for the diocese of Chichester, for each other, lay and ordained, as we seek to remain faithful to our apostolic mission in spite of much that could discourage and deter us.”

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