Gavin Ashenden confronts the injustice of Justin Welby’s treatment of George Bell and George Carey
A tale of two live Arcbishops, one dead bishop and the practice of hypocrisy.
Welby, Carey and Bell.
Hypocrisy is found when you apply one rule for others to their detriment and a different one for yourself.
The case of the accusation of Bishop George Bell has uncovered a nasty side to the Church of England, and for that matter, to Lambeth Palace.
Lord Carlile 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.
Lord Carlile 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, and other little girls who lived there like ‘Pauline’ who never saw Carol and 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. Misleading statements were put out by the core group about the probability of Bell being arrested if he were alive. The core group changed regularly. 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.
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 review’s findings. Carlile’s “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 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 apologise and withdraw his remarks.
In fact he has made them worse.
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.
He 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, saying a “significant cloud is left over his name”.
Welby 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.”
But the accusations have been called into question by Carlile. Welby is simply morally wrong to continue them, and his judgement is flawed.
How did Welby treat Lord Carey who was Arhcbishop when Peter Ball was (in this case) justly accused of serious misdemeanours? Welby demanded that Carey resign for exercising poor judgement.
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.
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 and frail George Carey.