This article is based on the record of an electronic note taker (ENT) hired to provide deaf attendees with a rendering of what people said in real time. It is a phonetic account, first and foremost, taken down in the heat of the moment. An echo of what was said rather than a reflection of what might have been written before or since.
Sandra Saer: I would like to extend a very warm welcome and we are glad that Martin Warner, the Bishop of Chichester is here. I have a couple of comments before we continue.
In October 2008 the Cathedral hosted a weekend of events to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the death of Bishop Bell. A huge congregation heard Rowan Williams dedicate George Bell House as a centre for vocation and education. Doctor Williams said; “May the wisdom and tradition of Bishop Bell always be honoured in this place.”
How aptly this describes our aspirations here, and how fitting it is to be held here. All the supporters have never swerved from their intention of restoring Bishop Bell to his place in history.
Bishop of Chichester, Martin Warner: I would like to begin by reiterating some of the things I said when the report from Judge Timothy Briden was released. I said – referring to the Carlile report: ‘We have learnt that the boundaries of doubt and certainty must be stated with great care and how it is in the public interest…’ We recognise the hurt done to Bishop Bell’s family and those who support him. We apologise for our shortcomings in this regard. In the future we will recognise how painful this has been. The quest for certainty has been defeated by the passage of time. Bishop Bell cannot be proven guilty. We ask those who hold opposing views to recognise the strength of commitment to justice. The good things Bishop Bell did in his life will stand the test of time. I cited just two examples from that.
The Briden report indicated there was no substance requiring any further action. The publication gave us an opportunity to go back and make an apology in the light of the Lord Carlile report and I hope it also indicated that the process of investigation into the new information, that some of the failures have been highlighted and lessons learnt. It was at least a step in the right direction. That’s what we wanted to put on the public record, our failures in the original investigation, where they were identified, and our hopes that the good work of Bishop Bell will stand the test of time.
I was invited to come this morning because of the great concern existing among you for the question of Bishop Bell’s reputation and how it will be marked, observed, or celebrated. To go back to the question of what it is that establishes a reputation – how does a person become outstanding in the regard of those who know them, and more widely? It seems to me that one of the major factors is that people speak well of a person. It is report that makes a person famous for their good deeds. There are other things, which a person may have built or created. But it is essentially the report that creates a reputation. So, it seems that for us in the diocese and the Church of England at large, it is important that we are able to speak of the achievements, the good things that Bishop Bell did. There have been a number of occasions when this has happened – in 2017 for the preparations and celebration of the 500th anniversary of the Reformation, with celebrations in Coburg, linked to this diocese. I was invited there. Celebrations included the Roman Catholic church and the Lutheran church. In the address I gave, I spoke clearly about our presence there being part of Bishop Bell’s legacy.
At home, we have the paintings at St Michael’s Church in Berwick – there is a campaign for those to be made more accessible. I went to the anniversary of their dedication, and preached quoting his words and praising his contribution to the arts. These things have been reiterated subsequently. It seems the capacity to speak in this way is important for us. It’s also important not just for people like you, but also for the vast numbers of people for whom Bishop Bell is not a familiar figure. Why should this matter which has touched his reputation be so important? The ability to speak well of him and who speaks to many of the issues which touch our own day, like our relationships with Europe. There are relationships which touch the communication of the Christian faith. There are issues touching the life of this diocese in this regard. This is where I believe history will tell the good deeds of Bishop Bell and I believe they will stand the test of time.
There is one more thing to add, about this house. A number of people, including some of you, have written to me about the renaming of the house. You are all aware that this is not my direct responsibility – it is a matter for the Dean and Chapter. You may say that bishops have influence, and that’s certainly true. My encouragement to the Dean and Chapter would be – the original grant for this house was discussed originally in 2006. It came from a religious community – the three remaining sisters wanted the bulk of the assets to be used as a grant and buying this house, particularly for support and education of the clergy, for retreats, and for the work of reconciliation which Bishop Bell had been so instrumental in. It was very evident to me that the very noble expectations and the terms on which the grant was made, and its origin, had been lost in the short-term mists of time. Who speaks about the community of the Sisters of the Cross? Very few people, and that seems a very serious oversight. They said they would like the patronage of Bishop Bell to be associated with their community fund. I said to the Dean that I think this is a moment to relaunch what was paid for with that money. They gave all they had left for this wide-ranging set of purposes. Looking at the accounts – this runs as a pretty bijou B&B and makes quite a good profit. The profit is used across the cathedral in a range of contexts for the purposes the sisters gave their money for. There is a range of teaching opportunities in the lectures, an arts programme. We as a diocese occasionally use the facilities here for the teaching of curates in the first four years of formation. These purposes seem to be important for recovery. I would encourage them to undertake a relaunch for the purposes for which the money was given and place very clearly the whole of that work under the patronage of Bishop Bell, and to narrate here the gift by the sisters, and to make a clear connection. I don’t think simply renaming it George Bell House will just do the job. We cannot rewrite history, but we must do better. The re-examination of the grounds for which this house was based.
New speaker: Do you carry the views of the Dean and Chapter too?
Martin Warner: I can’t speak for them in terms of decision-making.
New speaker: May I ask about the ambiguity? The complete innocence of Bishop Bell has not been established, it was said – but there is no ambiguity. I felt you felt there was a possibility of guilt.
Martin Warner: Briden was about new information. There was nothing in there which required further action and that can be dismissed. He made no statement about the original allegations. Lord Carlile’s report opened up new areas revealing failures from the past. The phrase I used is that ‘we are not able to speak with any certainty in any direction’.
[From the floor – That’s not right, that’s unacceptable]
New speaker: First of all, the original issue about Carol wasn’t in the Briden report, but that was the Church’s decision. It was clear from the Lord Carlile report – he said the case would not have gone to court, let alone for him to be found guilty. Under those circumstances – and the weakness in Carol’s account is seen in the accounts covered in the Briden report. The legal figures made their position clear. The established church seems to say – if an ordinary person… that’s a basis for very serious discrimination against people and miscarriages of justice. Salisbury Cathedral celebrated the Magna Carta, but we undermined it. In terms of the house name, the Sisters would be remembered in terms of this building being given over. Just renaming it doesn’t change what happens here, but to call it George Bell House reminds people what it is for. 4 Canon Lane doesn’t mean anything. The fact that profits may be used for things that were close to Bishop Bell’s heart get lost in the accounts. People think money coming in here goes to the church roof. They’re not aware of other things going on here. Renaming the house will put under people’s noses what a fine man he was.
Gavin Ashenden: Lord Carlile has just released a statement. He says; Bishop Bell’s name should never have been publicised [reads from press release]: “Those terms of reference were imposed on Lord Carlile and Briden. Lord Carlile speaks up quite clearly saying that Bishop Bell was innocent.”
Martin Warner: If you read Lord Carlile’s statement he talks about due process but doesn’t say what it is. He touches on a critical issue, publication – and we are clear on how wrong we were on publicising the process. One difficulty for us is that differences between criminal law and a civil claim are difficult to understand, and talking about innocent or guilty is easier. But these categories are not used in law. The crucial issue was publication, for which I think he points to us getting this wrong.
New speaker: The legal distinctions are very clear; it must be beyond reasonable doubt for criminal law. Carol’s claims balanced against the idea that everyone is innocent until proven guilty – Lord Carlile is not talking about the process. Bishop Bell is innocent – most here are troubled because the idea of innocence until proven guilty touches everyone. We are defending a tradition here.
Sandra Saer: I think you have answered a lot of questions, but we do have to get on with the programme. One man has been waiting patiently.
New speaker: I am grateful for the Bishop’s attendance – I am Peter and my wife and I were devout members of the Cathedral until this matter arose. We have been in exile since that time. We felt the moral authority of this cathedral has been so damaged. We felt the reputation of Bishop Bell had been tarnished without due cause. The Dean and Chapter said unequivocally that he was guilty. We have done everything we can to enter into a dialogue. We have not had any communication in three years. A friend told us that on Sunday, when an apology might have been appropriate, nothing was said. I respect the Bishop for coming here, but I hope you can see that those of us who have continued to struggle – for us fine words are not enough. The renaming of this house would be an important first step.
New speaker: One way would have been to include Carol – why was she excluded from the terms of reference?
Martin Warner: On the basis of her terms of reference. In consultation with her – Gemma Wordsworth who worked with her, and one thing which became very evident was the immense pressure put on Carol because of the case. We believed we could not allow any further burdening. She has suffered at least three times at the hands of the Church. When she related the child sexual abuse in the 1990s, the Bishop’s response at the time was inadequate. She was clearly suffering. When these were reported again, and the cataloguing of multiple occasions of those abused – in 2013, it was nearly two years of constant enquiry and investigation before any settlement was made. None of us know what that is like, to be interrogated as if you were the perpetrator. To revisit these dark times and tell them again to more than one person – so we believe that she must be spared any further damage. The fault lies with us as the institution and it is clearly identified in Lord Carlile’s report as having gone public. We have to own up to that and face it. I’m very clear about that. I take part of the responsibility. If you want to know about justice, it’s not about guilty or innocent, but what is made public. Had we said nothing about a settlement with Carol, had there been a confidentiality clause, none of this would have reached the public domain. On that note, that is where we are at present. I have no further mandate to be able to make statements to take us into further territory. Lord Carlile directs our attention here.
New speaker: You are taking responsibility for the wrong blame!
Sandra Saer: One more question – will you forgive me? We all want to have a plaque which is already made, and we would like it on the door. Is there any way in which you could persuade the Dean about that? It doesn’t impinge on anything else.
Martin Warner: It has to be their decision. He and the Chapter must make it.
The following presentations, many of them based on records made by Electronic Note Takers (ENTs) are available from the list below:
- 01 The Bishop of Chichester, Martin Warner
- 02 Opening messages
- 03 The Resolutions
- 04 Pam Dignum – cathedral guides
- 05 Christopher Hoare, for David Hopkinson
- 06 Geoffrey Boys: ‘Mistaken identity?’
- 07 Bishop Gavin Ashenden
- 08 Peter Billingham: the Drama of Faith
- 09 Marilyn Billingham: Bishop Bell and Gustav Holst
- 10 Ruth Hildebrandt Grayson
- 12 Conclusions