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Sorry's not enough for Church's betrayal of a hero falsely accused

Sorry's not enough for Church's betrayal of a hero falsely accused

By Jules Gomes
December 17, 2017

Thou shalt not bear false witness against your neighbour. The Church of England defiled the ninth commandment by shamefully bearing false witness against one of its most saintly and heroic bishops. Over a decade later, it has been forced to swallow its pride and cough up a feeble apology for the way it handled accusations of sexual abuse against Bishop George Bell.

The CofE slandered, smeared and destroyed the impeccable reputation of a cleric who had the courage of his convictions to stand up to Adolf Hitler. This is the conclusion of the Lord Carlile review published this week. It points a damning finger at the CofE for failing 'to follow a process that was fair and equitable to both sides'.

The CofE condemned Bishop George Bell exclusively on the basis of a single entirely uncorroborated witness decades after the alleged sexual abuse was said to have occurred.

It violated the sanctity of one of the most hallowed tenets of jurisprudence dating back to the sixth century Digest of Justinian and held sacred in Canon law, Islamic law and English common law. This is the presumption of innocence -- that a defendant is innocent until proven guilty.

It refused to recognise the fact that the defendant had been dead for decades and could not defend himself.

It infringed Bishop Bell's human rights as set out in Article 10 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Article 6 of the European Convention of Human Rights and the Sixth Amendment to the United States Constitution by denying the defendant the right to a fair trial.

It debased the humanity of the alleged victim 'Carol' by letting her accuse Bishop Bell under the cloak of anonymity and paying her compensation in an out-of-court settlement.

It made a mockery of centuries of legal precedence by allowing the accuser to remain anonymous. The right of an accused to confront his or her accusers is enshrined in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the European Convention of Human Rights, the American Convention on Human Rights, the Statute for the International Criminal Court and Statutes of the International Criminal Tribunals for the Former Yugoslavia and Rwanda.

The right to face your accuser has been described as 'basic to any civilised notion of a fair trial' and 'one of the fundamental guarantees of life and liberty'. It dates back to ancient Rome. The Emperor Trajan declared in AD 112: 'Anonymous accusations must not be admitted in evidence as against any one, as it is introducing a dangerous precedent.' Geoffrey Robertson QC condemned the use of anonymous witnesses as 'a fundamental breach of the right to a fair trial', stating that 'no trial can be fair if the defendant is not allowed to know his accuser'.

The Church of England played fast and loose with the due process of the criminal justice system by failing to let the accusations and evidence be rigorously tested through cross-examination, a system regarded by the jurist J. H. Wigmore as 'the greatest legal engine ever invented for the discovery of truth'.

It prioritised political expediency and public relations spin-doctoring over a quest for truth and justice. Like the Gadarene swine rushing down the hillside, its Child Protection Gestapo went on a cleansing spree and adopted a scorched earth policy on buildings, schools and other institutions named after Bell.

It turned a deaf ear for quite some time to columns written in the media by honourable journalists such as Peter Hitchens and to the voices of respected historians such as Andrew Chandler and faithful laity such as Richard Symonds, who persevered while working tirelessly to see justice done and the good name of Bishop Bell restored.

It was totally blind to the cognitive dissonance between the towering ministry and godliness of Bishop George Bell and the credibility of those who had borne witness to his sterling character on the one hand, clashing with the cacophonous note of a lone voice making an accusation completely out of sync with the moral fibre exhibited by Bishop Bell throughout his life and ministry.

Last year, I wrote a column on how the Church of England smears saints and shields scoundrels. I followed up with another column on how the Church of England had mastered the art of the non-apology, after the embarrassing revelation that bishops were instructed only to give partial apologies -- if at all -- to victims of sexual abuse to avoid being sued. Earlier this year, I pointed out how the Safeguarding industry in the Church of England has become a witch-hunt.

There is one factor that sticks out like a sore gangrenous thumb in all these incidents. It is the unconcealed contempt the CofE has displayed for the fundamental principles of justice and fairness laid down in the canonical texts of the Bible that have been at the heart of much of Western jurisprudence.

If only the CofE had stuck its nose into the yellowed pages of this consecrated collection of jurisprudence [from the Latin iuris (of law, of right) + prudential (knowledge, wisdom, foresight, discretion)] it would not have egg on its face and ignominy in its chronicles. The Bible is bursting with legal principles that were staring the bishops in the eyeballs.

'You shall not spread a false report. You shall not join hands with a wicked man to be a malicious witness. You shall not fall in with the many to do evil, nor shall you bear witness in a lawsuit, siding with the many, so as to pervert justice,' says the Book of Exodus. The CofE sided with the 'many' by siding with the dominant orthodoxy of the day that rushes to the rescue of every boy who cries 'Wolf!' and every girl who cries 'Abuser!'

'If a malicious witness arises to accuse a person of wrongdoing, then both parties to the dispute shall appear before the Lord, before the priests and the judges who are in office in those days,' says the Book of Deuteronomy. Even if Bell's accuser was not a malicious witness, there was no way both parties could appear in court.

'A single witness shall not suffice against a person for any crime or for any wrong in connection with any offence that he has committed. Only on the evidence of two witnesses or of three witnesses shall a charge be established,' states Deuteronomy. 'Do not admit a charge against a presbyter except on the evidence of two or three witnesses,' writes the apostle Paul to Timothy. The CofE did not bother to corroborate accusations against Bell.

The right to face your accuser is best illustrated in the Acts of the Apostles. Paul is awaiting trial and is brought before King Agrippa II and Porcius Festus, Procurator of Judea. The chief priests and the elders petition the Roman rulers for a sentence of condemnation against Paul. Festus reports to Agrippa his response to the Jewish leaders: 'I answered them that it was not the custom of the Romans to give up anyone before the accused met the accusers face to face and had opportunity to make his defence concerning the charge laid against him.'

It is a devastating indictment of the CofE that the judicial process conducted by the pagan administration of ancient Rome against the apostle Paul proved to be more just and fair than the judicial farce and charade conducted by the CofE against Bishop George Bell. An apology will not suffice. The CofE needs to repent.

(Originally published in The Conservative Woman)

Publication of Bishop George Bell independent review

Church of England Media Centre
Dec. 15, 2017

The Church of England's National Safeguarding Team (NST,) has today published the key findings and recommendations, along with the full report, from the independent review into the processes used in the Bishop George Bell case.

The review, commissioned by the NST on the recommendation of the Bishop of Chichester, was carried out by Lord Carlile of Berriew. As he writes in the introduction, his purpose was not to determine the truthfulness of the woman referred to as Carol in the report, nor the guilt or innocence of Bishop Bell, but to examine the procedures followed by the Church of England. The objectives of the review included "ensuring that survivors are listened to and taken seriously", and that recommendations are made to help the Church embed best practice in safeguarding in the future.

The report made 15 recommendations and concluded that the Church acted throughout in good faith while highlighting that the process was deficient in a number of respects.

Bishop Peter Hancock, the Church of England's lead safeguarding bishop, has responded on behalf of the Church:

"We are enormously grateful to Lord Carlile for this 'lessons learned' review which examines how the Church handled the allegations made by Carol in the 1990s, and more recently. Lord Carlile makes a number of considered points as to how to handle such cases in future and we accept the main thrust of his recommendations.

"In responding to the report, we first want to acknowledge and publicly apologise again for the Church's lamentable failure, as noted by Lord Carlile, to handle the case properly in 1995.

"At the heart of this case was a judgement, on the balance of probabilities, as to whether, in the event that her claim for compensation reached trial, a court would have concluded that Carol was abused by Bishop Bell. The Church decided to compensate Carol, to apologise and to be open about the case.

"Lord Carlile states that 'where as in this case the settlement is without admission of liability, the settlement generally should be with a confidentiality provision" but respectfully, we differ from that judgement. The Church is committed to transparency. We would look at each case on its merits but generally would seek to avoid confidentiality clauses.

"It is clear from the report, however, that our processes were deficient in a number of respects, in particular the process for seeking to establish what may have happened. For that we apologise. Lessons can and have been learnt about how we could have managed the process better.

"The Bishop Bell case is a complex one and it is clear from the report and minutes of Core Group meetings that much professional care and discussion were taken over both agreeing the settlement with Carol and the decision to make this public. As Lord Carlile's report makes clear, we acted in good faith throughout with no calculated intention to damage George Bell's reputation.

"The Church has always affirmed and treasured Bishop Bell's principled stand in the Second World War and his contribution to peace remains extraordinary. At same time, we have a duty and commitment to listen to those reporting abuse, to guard their confidentiality, and to protect their interests.

"We recognise that Carol has suffered pain, as have surviving relatives of Bishop Bell. We are sorry that the Church has added to that pain through its handling of this case."

Statement from Bishop of Chichester, Martin Warner

"Lord Carlile's Independent Review is a demonstration of the Church of England's commitment to equality of justice and transparency in our safeguarding practice. The diocese of Chichester requested this "lessons learned" Review.

"We welcome Lord Carlile's assessment of our processes, and apologise for failures in the work of the Core Group of national and diocesan officers and its inadequate attention to the rights of those who are dead. We also accept the Report's recognition that we acted in good faith, and improvements to Core Group protocols are already in place. Further work on them is in hand.

"The Report demands further consideration of the complexities of this case, such as what boundaries can be set to the principle of transparency. Lord Carlile rightly draws our attention to public perception. The emotive principle of innocent until proven guilty is a standard by which our actions are judged and we have to ensure as best we can that justice is seen to be done. Irrespective of whether she is technically a complainant, survivor, or victim, 'Carol' emerges from this report as a person of dignity and integrity. It is essential that her right to privacy continues to be fully respected.

"The good deeds that Bishop George Bell did were recognised internationally. They will stand the test of time. In every other respect, we have all been diminished by the case that Lord Carlile has reviewed."

Statement from Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby

"Bishop George Bell is one of the great Anglican heroes of the 20th century. The decision to publish his name was taken with immense reluctance, and all involved recognised the deep tragedy involved. However we have to differ from Lord Carlile's point that 'where as in this case the settlement is without admission of liability, the settlement generally should be with a confidentiality provision". The C of E is committed to transparency and therefore we would take a different approach.

"Lord Carlile does not seek to say whether George Bell was in fact responsible for the acts about which the complaint was made. He does make significant comments on our processes, and we accept that improvement is necessary, in all cases including those where the person complained about is dead. We are utterly committed to seeking to ensure just outcomes for all. We apologise for the failures of the process.

"The complaint about Bishop Bell does not diminish the importance of his great achievement. We realise that a significant cloud is left over his name. Let us therefore remember his defence of Jewish victims of persecution, his moral stand against indiscriminate bombing, his personal risks in the cause of supporting the anti Hitler resistance, and his long service in the Diocese of Chichester. 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 the good. Whatever is thought about the accusations, the whole person and whole life should be kept in mind."


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