Address given by Vasantha Gnanadoss

I am Vasantha Gnanadoss. I begin by referring to the review by Lord Carlile of the process followed by the Church of England in its response to the allegation against Bishop George Bell. In his report, Lord Carlile concludes that there had been a rush to judgment in accepting the allegation without proper assessment of the evidence and in taking action which implied that Bishop Bell was guilty. This rush to judgment is in line with a pattern which the Archbishop Cranmer website has criticised. An article on that website points out that while the Church of England is becoming a safer place for children, it has become hell for those wrongly accused of abuse. In a comment article appended to Lord Carlile’s report as Appendix C, Charles Moore has written earlier: The key legal principle, the presumption of innocence is being set aside. I note the description of the Church’s response as a rush to judgment, particularly because of other incidents in recent years. In several cases, Church actions or pronouncements have been followed by media reports that the Church has been implicated in things it has criticised.
Some five years ago, the Church of England criticised Wonga, and then the media reported that the Church had invested in Wonga. The Church criticised organisations that do not pay the minimum wage, and the media found out that there were instances where some parts of the Church of England were not paying the minimum wage. The Church of England recently criticised Amazon and the media found out of the Church’s investment. The Church of England has criticised zero hours working contracts and the media found that the church uses zero hours contracts. This is incompetence.
The Church of England has been critical of people who put money overseas to avoid taxation, yet it commissioned Lord Greene to review the training of Ordinance. Lord Greene has come under investigation as a former head of HSBC amid claims that the bank’s Swiss arm facilitated tax dodging whilst he was in charge. The appointment of Lord Greene is an example of authoritarianism. This was not put to General Synod for debate, and many, many heads of theological colleges criticised the appointment because if it was a business-based attitude. They were ignored.
Another example of this authoritarianism is that the Bishop of Oxford made a decision based on his own experience and this was overruled by the Church of England. So rushing to judgment has been a repeated feature in recent times.
Another issue for the Church is that of consistency. In the case of the allegation against Bishop Bell the Church in 2013 has done all it could do to meet the accuser’s wishes, mindful, no doubt, of the failures to take adequate action in earlier years. Lord Carlile used a metaphor from sailing when he calls this “Oversteering.” By contrast the church has made very little response to those who suffered from John Smyth’s abusive behaviour. An open letter in February last year from one of the victims, endorsed by 7 others, makes it clear that there had not been a meeting to hear their concerns, let alone any acceptance of those concerns. Running through all these examples is a failure of the church in recent years to learn from its mistakes. This failure was evident again when in late January this year just before our meeting on 1 February, the church announced that a second person had made allegations against Bishop Bell. The timing of this announcement arrived aroused suspicion because coming as it did shortly before the February session of the General Synod, the announcement could be used to avoid answering any questions about the Bishop Bell case.
When it came to an investigation of the second complaint, the Church failed to learn from Lord Carlile’s review. Lord Carlile had said that the earlier process was deficient in a number of respects. He went on to say that the most significant deficiency was that it failed to follow a process that was fair and equitable to both sides. Yet Bishop Bell’s niece was not allowed her own choice of a person to represent her interests in the second investigation. This is where rebuilding should begin.
Mindful of the publication of the second Bishop 2 Bell report, Bishop Bell’s niece should have been allowed to choose her own representative. This would have facilitated a fair and equitable process and the Church could then hold its head high and accept the outcome of the investigation with confidence. Lord Carlile, when he was asked about Archbishop Justin’s response to his report, he said the Archbishop had been less than adroit , and that is quite a serious sentence from somebody of Lord Carlile’s standing.
What actions could we take to help the rebuilding forward? Well, as Sandra said, we are deferring passing the resolutions today, but could we find a way for all of Bishop Bell’s supporters to give their backing to the resolutions? The resolutions could be the basis for an article in the Church Times. Stronger actions may be possible. Is there a parliamentary or legal committee which could question the Archbishop of Canterbury about the miscarriage of justice? Could there be a Private Members Bill about the standard of evidence needed before alleged perpetrators living or dead or identified publically? Could a motion be put through General Synod to ensure that the Church’s safeguarding policies and procedures are amended to take account of the possibility that innocent people have been falsely accused? I hope there are people here today who can advise us where stronger action may be possible, and advise us who could set such actions in motion.
Just an aside, I have noticed today a letter in the Church Times about safeguarding. Again, it does not mention the wrongly accused. I hope to respond to that letter. If any of us want to write a response to the letter in the Church Times today ideally we would have to send in a letter to Church Times by Monday and if you want to know the content of today’s Church Times letter, Richard has it on his phone and that could be read out by somebody. Thank you. (applause).