Church of England Unfair to Dead Bishop, Abuse Inquiry Finds

In 2016, the Church of England asked Lord Carlile, a lawyer and former adviser to the government on terrorism legislation, to review the case. He sent his 74-page report to the church two months ago but it was not made public until Friday.

“It was not part of my task to consider the truth of the allegations, and I have not done so,” Lord Carlile said in his report. But, while he had concluded the Church of England figures charged with investigating the accusations had “acted throughout in good faith,” their inquiries had been “deficient in a number of respects.”

“It is axiomatic that, in appropriate cases, the church should be ready to acknowledge sexual abuse committed by the clergy,” he said. “However, that does not mean that the reputations of the dead are without value.”

Church of England Unfair to Dead Bishop, Abuse Inquiry Finds
Church of England Unfair to Dead Bishop, Abuse Inquiry Finds

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In the case he was asked to review, he said, the available evidence did not suggest there would have been “a realistic prospect of conviction” in court, the standard that prosecutors in England and Wales use in deciding whether to pursue a case.

Rather, he said, “there was a rush to judgment: The church, feeling it should be both supportive of the complainant and transparent in its dealings, failed to engage in a process which would also give proper consideration to the rights of the bishop. Such rights should not be treated as having been extinguished on death.”

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Church of England figures rejected one part of Lord Carlile’s report, which urged that the names of those accused of abuse should in some circumstances be kept secret unless there are “adverse findings of fact” and “it has also been decided that making the identity public is required in the public interest.”

The Most Rev. Justin Welby, the archbishop of Canterbury, who is the leader of the Church of England and the spiritual head of the broader Anglican Communion, disputed the case for confidentiality, saying the church was “committed to transparency and therefore we would take a different approach.”

But, referring to the processes by which Mr. Bell’s case was investigated, he said in a statement: “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 apologize for the failures of the process.”

He also seemed to offer a more nuanced view of Mr. Bell than the bishop’s critics have been prepared to countenance, calling him “one of the great Anglican heroes of the 20th century.”

“No human being is entirely good or bad,” Mr. Welby said. “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.”

According to the accusations made against him, Mr. Bell took the young Carol to secluded parts of the palace, and had her sit on his lap. He performed acts that he told her showed that she had been “chosen by God as a special child but that I must not tell anyone or God would be angry,” she said in an email sent in 1995 to one of Mr. Bell’s successors as bishop of Chichester.

Mr. Carlile’s report was published on the same day a panel in Australia uncovered what it described as an epidemic of child sexual abuse going back decades, with tens of thousands of cases of in schools, religious organizations and other institutions.

This case, however, also reflects a particular British reckoning with past sexual abuse. The country has been grappling with evidence of widespread malfeasance in past decades since 2012, when Jimmy Savile, a television personality who had died the previous year, was revealed to have been a serial sexual predator. A subsequent police investigation, Operation Yewtree, questioned many entertainers and other prominent people, and secured several convictions.

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