Archbishop of Canterbury apologises for comments about late bishop

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The Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby has apologised (Aaron Chown/PA) (PA Wire)
The Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby has apologised (Aaron Chown/PA) (PA Wire)

The Archbishop of Canterbury has apologised for comments he made in response to an independent review undertaken over how the Church of England handled allegations against a late bishop.

Justin Welby said he was “wrong” for not retracting a statement which said a “significant cloud is left” over Bishop George Bell’s name.

Mr Bell, the former bishop of Chichester who died in 1958, was accused of abusing a woman in the 1950s when she was aged between five and eight.

The claims led the Church to issue an apology and pay £15,000 in compensation.

A report into how the Church handled the allegations, led by Lord Carlile of Berriew, was published in December 2017 and criticised the Church for being too quick to accept the allegations of the complainant “without serious investigation or inquiry”.

After the report was published, the Archbishop of Canterbury issued a statement which said: “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.”

Mr Welby has now apologised for the comment.

In a new statement issued on Wednesday, he said: “[The]…posthumous allegations made against Bishop George Bell were taken seriously and investigated fully.

“I do not apologise for that, but as I have said before, we did not manage our response to the original allegation with the consistency, clarity or accountability that meets the high standards rightly demanded of us. I recognised the hurt that has been done as a consequence, and I have apologised unreservedly for the mistakes made in this process.

“What I say today that is new and should have been said sooner is this: I do not consider there to be a ‘significant cloud’ over Bishop George Bell’s name.”

Bishop George Bell (PA) (PA Archive)
Bishop George Bell (PA) (PA Archive)

He added: “Previously I refused to retract that statement and I was wrong to do so. I took that view because of the importance we rightly place on listening to those who come forward with allegations of abuse, and the duty of care we owe to them.

“But we also owe a duty of care to those who are accused. I apologise for the hurt that my refusal to retract that statement has caused to Bishop Bell’s surviving relatives, colleagues and longstanding supporters.”

A second review was launched after the Church of England handed “fresh information” to Sussex Police about Mr Bell in January 2018.

It was carried out by senior ecclesiastical lawyer Timothy Briden, the vicar general of Canterbury.

The Church’s national safeguarding team published its findings of the second inquiry in January 2019 and said the new allegations were “unfounded”.

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