It is quite unnecessary and truly sad that the Archbishop of Canterbury has painted himself into a corner over the case of George Bell, the heroic, long-dead Bishop of Chichester. Last week, several historians who have studied Bell wrote to him to say that the Carlile report (which the Archbishop had himself commissioned) had clearly shown that the church’s procedures in finding that Bell had abused a girl in the late 1940s were shockingly deficient. Archbishop Welby replied to them this week, emotionally, but without answering their point. He compared the case of Bell with that of Peter Ball, the former Bishop of Gloucester, who had many powerful defenders who thought they knew him well, but was rightly convicted of abusing young men and sent to prison. There is no similarity, because the evidence against Ball was huge, and that against Bell is negligible. The Archbishop says how important it is to take accusations of child abuse seriously. It certainly is, but the key question (which he evades by saying only that the church ‘acknowledges’ the accusation against Bell) is whether the accusation is true. Does he believe that it is? If he does, he must say why. He has to use the methods of justice. The Carlile report shows that even the civil law’s threshold of belief — the balance of probabilities — is not reached in this case. The Archbishop reveals his anxieties by referring in his letter to the church’s forthcoming appearance before the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse, where he fears accusations of ‘cover-up’. By condemning a man without proper evidence, he is not showing the ‘transparency’ which he says the church seeks. He is covering up the scale of the church’s mistake.
This is an extract from Charles Moore’s Spectator Notes, found in this week’s magazine