10 Ruth Hildebrandt Grayson


Thank you, Richard, for organising this meeting; and thanks to all of you for showing your support by being present today. By way of introduction, I am the older daughter of Franz Hildebrandt. My father was a very close friend of the late Bishop George Bell from 1933 until the latter’s death in 1958.

When I was first asked to do this talk, in December 2018, we were awaiting the publication of the Briden report and were therefore in a very different situation regarding the George Bell affair. But the report, with its welcome but unsurprising statement that the latest allegations against the Bishop were unfounded, has not changed the essence of what I want to say today. I was concerned then, as I have been for well over a year now, to find a way of making good come out of evil. And I still am. If anything, it has become even more urgent. For we are now concerned with a great deal more than restoring George Bell’s reputation. We are concerned with enhancing it, so that more people will know who he was, what he did, and why he is still important to us today, both here in Chichester and further afield.

The words ‘ecumenist and peacemaker’ that are currently used to describe the late Bishop, when the anniversary of his death is observed every year in the Church of England calendar, are in my opinion frankly inadequate in today’s world. What do those words mean? What might they mean?

The word ‘ecumenist’ is not likely to strike a chord with many people these days. Unlike ‘ecumenism’ and ‘ecumenical’, it isn’t even in the dictionary! Bell was so named because of his belief that it was Christianity, not politics, that could unite even the most divided nations. This was demonstrated especially by his support for and his work with the Confessing Church in Germany before and during the war, and his role in helping to found and promote the World Council of Churches from 1948 onward. Perhaps neither of these sound particularly significant to us now, when the various denominations in this country do so much together these days and when there are so many partnerships, and ‘twinning’ arrangements, between them on an international level as well. But in the 1930s and 1940s, and even later, this was truly pioneering stuff. It required a fair amount both of energy and of courage, especially in view of the enmity that existed between this country and Germany at the time and subsequently between other countries in the Cold War that was to follow, with the new barriers that sprang up between east and west, and between orthodox and other churches. These lasted well beyond Bell’s own lifetime, into the 1980s and even beyond.

And then there’s ‘peacemaker’. This always sounds – wrongly, I know – as a very passive type of person. I know from my own experience at a domestic level that it can be very hard work (as in the case of warring teenagers in our home), often unrecognised, usually thankless. And as with ‘ecumenism’ in the 30s and 40s, it too required a lot of courage. The courage to speak out against the blanket bombing of civilians in German cities such as Dresden. The courage to proclaim the fact that not all Germans were Nazis. These things alone not only made him unpopular among many of his contemporaries in the Church, in political circles, and among much of the public, who branded him a Nazi lover, but probably cost him a well deserved promotion to the highest ranking post the Church of England could offer.

So what terms might we use instead? Other words might be equally inadequate. Instead of playing around with words, let’s ask what George Bell might be doing if he were alive today.

One reason the word ‘ecumenist’ has lost some of its resonance today is perhaps that so much progress has been made on the ecumenical front, at least among the mainstream denominations in this country. We have Churches Together in England, and at local level up and down the land. We have innumerable ecumenical partnerships, and grassroots projects, such as those working together to address homelessness, hunger and debt. Ecumenism is no longer the abstract goal it once was. It is a visible and tangible fact. Christians have learned in recent decades that if the Church as a whole is to survive, we need to set aside our doctrinal differences and work together, even if we still can’t always worship together. George Bell would have applauded this, while he might have been sad at the decline in numbers and the living circumstances of many people that has prompted so much of it.

But what about the role of the World Council of Churches today? It still undoubtedly has a major role in keeping communications open between national church bodies in many countries. Yet there is one area in which much remains to be done. That is in promoting interfaith relations. We should note that as we meet here today (4 February 2019), the general secretary of the WCC is joining the Grand Imam, together with Pope Francis, in attending a Global Conference of Human Fraternity in Abu Dhabi. I believe that were George Bell alive, he might be playing an active role in promoting such work. So many of the crises the world faces today are due to lack of understanding and co-operation between the various faiths: especially Christianity, Judaism, and Islam. Look at the problems of the Middle East in general, and the Holy Land in particular. Look at the rising tensions here in our own country. And above all, look at the current refugee crisis. If ever a time were needed for interfaith dialogue leading to a World Council of Faiths, that time is surely now. And I am sure that George Bell would have been at the forefront of it.

As for the word ‘peacemaker’, the late bishop was called a peacemaker for more reasons than one. He not only denounced the gratuitous bombing of German cities – for which in turn he was himself denounced – and reached out to a large number of Germans, who were not and never were Nazis. He befriended many individually, beginning with Dietrich Bonhoeffer – and with my father – and helped many escape and find a home in this country, in some cases initially here in Chichester. He demonstrated, through his own example, that peacemaking begins not with international treaties but in our own homes. Again, his work with refugees played a huge part in this. Without such concern for one’s neighbour in the broadest sense (as in the parable of the Good Samaritan), lasting world peace does not stand a chance, especially in these days of impending environmental disaster and the need to share all that we have with those who have nothing and those who have lost everything.

So to me it is striking that the words used to describe George Bell in the church calendar make no specific reference to his work with refugees, although they do perhaps subsume it. From a personal point of view, of course, that is the most important aspect of all his works. He probably saved my father’s life, and I probably therefore owe my very existence to him. He already knew my father, who had been introduced to him by Dietrich Bonhoeffer in 1933. They became firm friends, all actively engaging in the struggles of the embryonic Confessing Church; and Bell referred to both of the younger men as ‘his two boys’, the sons he had never had. When my father found himself a refugee in this country in 1937 on the grounds of his non-Aryan parentage and of his own front line involvement with the Confessing Church in Germany, it was to Bell that he repeatedly turned for support, not only in terms of hospitality – with which both George Bell and his wife Henrietta were unfailingly generous – but also for help with confronting bureaucracy, insensitivity, ineptitude and often hostility on the part of those from whom he might have expected more support. Bell personally intervened on his behalf on a number of occasions, not least when he was interned in 1940 as an ‘enemy alien’ in the Isle of Man; and he did the same for many others in similar situations. He personally sponsored several dozen non-Aryan pastors to come to this country, and we know that the Bishop’s Palace here in Chichester was often full of refugees during those years.

So I am positive that George Bell would be doing something at a very personal and grassroots level to help refugees in this area now. Hence the proposal that we ourselves do something about it, in his name. At this point I would like to hand over to Roger Pask to say a few words about the work of the organisation he founded, Sanctuary in Chichester.

[Roger Pask’s talk included the background to SiC, together with case studies of a few individual ‘appeal rights exhausted’ asylum seekers whom the organisation has been able to help. He introduced a proposal to develop an international centre for refugees and asylum seekers in the Chichester area which would be a living memorial to George Bell’s own work in this field]

Thank you, Roger. In conclusion, I am grateful to all those who have done so much to defend, and to restore, the memory of George Bell. I am grateful both on my father’s behalf and on my own. Moreover, I am grateful in a strange sort of way because this whole sorry episode, which has sought to discredit a man who was not only one of the greatest bishops, but possibly one of the greatest public figures of the 20th century in this country, has given me the incentive to find out more and personally engage with the reality of the man who until a few years ago was little more than something of a legend in my immediate family. It has given me the opportunity to make new friends here in Chichester and elsewhere, whom I would have been unlikely to have got to know otherwise. And it has – probably inadvertently – challenged me, as indeed a church should, to seek to bring good out of what I believe to have been the very great wrong that has been done to George Bell’s reputation. It is now for us to begin to put that right. Professor Andrew Chandler, in the current [1 February 2019] edition of the Church Times, wrote under the heading ‘George Bell: the life matched the legacy’. Let us ensure that from now on, the legacy matches the life of this great man, and helps him to live on in the lives and the memories of many generations to come.

My final message to this meeting is one of invitation. I pray that all of us here will find some way not only of continuing the efforts toward restitution of names of buildings and other material memorials to George Bell, but will join with us in helping to create a living one in which I am certain he would have been involved and would have rejoiced. And I pray that the message that will go out from this place will be one of invitation also, that others may feel drawn to join us. Thank you very much.

Ruth Hildebrandt Grayson

03 The Resolutions

Sandra Saer: Now the resolutions. You have them on the other side of your agenda. After each resolution …. Peter Mullen sent a note about the significant cloud. He said the only significant cloud is the one over the two heads of our church – without naming names!

We will vote after each one.

Number 1: Archbishop Justin Welby to apologise for his “significant cloud” remark concerning Bishop Bell.
Those in favour? I think it is clear.

New speaker: May I ask you ask those against?

Sandra Saer: Anyone against? That is unanimous then.

Number 2
Bishop of Chichester, Martin Warner, to invite Barbara Whitley, Bishop Bell’s niece, for a face-to-face meeting. (She has already requested such a meeting.)

New speaker: I know from Barbara Whitley directly, and correspondence with Jimmy James, that she does not want such a meeting prior to an apology. She does not want to meet with him unless he apologises and retracts. You might want to amend resolution 2.

Sandra Saer: If you can leave it to me to reword it. Are you in agreement? Thank you for that.

New speaker: Is it not a contradiction?

Sandra Saer: Can you suggest the rewording of 2? [reads text] : Bishop of Chichester, Martin Warner, to invite Barbara Whitley, Bishop Bell’s niece, for a face-to-face meeting. (She has already requested such a meeting.)

New speaker: Can you leave this with me. I will come back to you before the end of the day.

Sandra Saer: Is that OK? Ruth and I can sort that afterwards.

Number 3
Chichester Cathedral’s Dean, the Very Rev’d Stephen Waine, and Chapter to restore the name of 4 Canon Lane to George Bell House
Those in favour? Anyone against? Don’t let them dare say they are against!

Number 4
Chichester Cathedral’s Chancellor and Canon Librarian, the Rev’d Dr Anthony Kane, to permit the reinstatement of Bishop Bell’s portrait and plaque

New speaker: The chancellor is on the point of leaving.

New speaker: Next week. He is going to Portsmouth.

Sandra Saer: Do we have a new person?

New speaker: It is the decision of the Dean and Chapter, not the chancellor.

Richard: The chancellor has presented the picture in the Bonhoeffer room today. That resolution has been half achieved as he has had the grace to take the picture down from the private Cathedral library and bring it here today.

Sandra Saer: I think we want to get the wording of these right. I think we will say the permanent reinstatement.

New speaker: Don’t address it to someone who is leaving. Address it to the Dean and Chapter.

New speaker: Maybe in George Bell House. That is where we want it.

New speaker: We want clarity.

Sandra Saer: Chichester Cathedral’s Dean and Chapter. Can’t we put his name in? To permit the permanent reinstatement of the portrait and plague in George Bell House. Those in favour?

Number 5
Chichester Cathedral’s Chancellor and Canon Librarian, the Rev’d Dr Anthony Cane, to permit the reinstatement of Bishop Bell’s portrait and plaque

Can anyone help me with the wording of that?

New speaker: It would be better to put the wording in.

New speaker: It just mentioned him without saying there is a cloud over his name.

Sandra Saer: What should we do?

New speaker: The guide book isn’t available at the moment. We want Bishop Bell’s position to be reinstated to how it was. Those in favour?

Sandra Saer:
Number 6
The General Synod to undertake a Full Debate at the earliest opportunity, regarding the serious implications arising from Lord Carlile’s Report and Timothy Briden’s Report

We have been promised that. It should stay as a resolution.

New speaker: They are trying to get 100 signatures.

Sandra Saer: It says undertake.

New speaker: It won’t be on there if there aren’t 100 signatures.

New speaker: To aim to.

Sandra Saer: Is that ok?

New speaker: I have a further suggestion.

Richard: We can take action ourselves in writing to our General Synod’s representatives. I think it would be a good idea for us all to write directly to our representatives. I didn’t know who they were until yesterday. As it is on 28th – the General Synod. I think Martin and David are saying please urgently write. Then something may happen.

Sandra Saer: Can you take that on board?

New speaker: Not everyone is aware of the omission in the terms of reference.

New speaker: It will come out in the full debate. Someone will make that clear in a debate.

Sandra Saer: We don’t want to get too complicated. We have covered it. The General Synod to aim… Are you off Sir Jeremy? He is one of my authors and he is a friend.

New speaker: I want to say how I agree with what the Bishop has said. I’m not a lawyer. I was supposed to be a diplomat. There were one or two weasley words. It is not quite enough. You are innocent according to things going back in history for a long time, until you are proven guilty. That is that.

New speaker: Could I read out a possible rewording of 2? Subsequent to an apology as in resolution 1 Barbara Whitley to be asked by the relevant church authorities if she would be willing to meet with Bishop Martin.

Sandra Saer: That is better. Can you vote on that? Those in favour? Thank you.

02 Opening messages

Sandra Saer: Shall we start? Shall we begin again? I would like Canon Smith-Cameron to give the opening prayer.

Ivor Smith-Cameron: Let us pray. Eternal God, you called Bishop Bell of Chichester to claim your glory in a life of peace making. Keep the leaders of your church faithful and bless your people through your ministry. Let the church grow through the stature of your son. Amen.

Sandra Saer: We are running behind. I think it was interesting that the Bishop came and talked to us. Although we didn’t agree with everything he said, it was a good gesture.

I’m going to read three statements. One was read by Gavin. I’m not sure everyone heard it. This is the statement from Lord Carlile of Berwick.

“I hope this event will add to the clamour for the church to admit the awful mistakes it has made with unsubstantiated allegations against Bishop Bell. His name should never have been publicised before allegations were investigated. The Church should accept that my recommendations should be accepted in full and Bishop Bell should be declared by the Church to be innocent of the allegations made against him.”

I will read the next one. It is important I read it. It is from the General Synod – Martin Sewell and David Lamming.

“No doubt those who honour Bishop Bell this year will be honoured due process has occurred to bring closure to the sad chapter of life of the Church.

We are glad the reports have brought clarity and rigorous analysis in an unsatisfactory investigation. You will applaud the support from Archbishop Justin for a tribute to Bishop Bell in Canterbury Cathedral Close.

Bishop Martin has been in a difficult position. He has had to support institutional decisions. He was one of the minority who expressed concerns about the sufficiency of the evidence. Dialogue with your local bishop is a good place to begin.

Bishop Bell remains under a significant cloud. When allegations fail to meet the legal standards of proof, however much sympathy we have for the accuser, justice must be fair to all parties.

We will ask members of Synod to sign the Private Members Motion. We need 100 signatures. Inevitably many members await the decision on the later allegations before putting their names to the motion.”

“We wish you a good meeting. We will continue to serve the cause of justice to bring these matters to a satisfactory conclusion. We are sure Bishop Bell would commend us to work towards Christian reconciliation.”

One more statement, from Lord Carey.

“Dear Richard and friends. I’m sorry I can’t be with you. The recent Briden report and the Lord Carlile report makes it clear a miscarriage of justice has been done. A person is innocent until proven guilty. This must be followed in all future allegations – dead or alive. We want to associate Bishop Bell’s name with the buildings and schools. I want to thank Richard Symonds efforts to clear the Bishop’s name. Few have been so industrious. Thank you Richard.”

(loud clapping)
Sandra Saer: Richard is not liking this, but we had to do 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

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:

Letter from Peter Mullen for February 4

Resign, Bishop Warner! Resign Archbishop Welby!

On Thursday 24th January, after an epic of prevarification and sheer evasiveness, the Church of England published the findings of its enquiry into the case of Bishop George Bell who was Bishop of Chichester during the Second World War. The chairman of the Bell Group, made up of the family, friends and supporters of the bishop, has written to ask for my prayers and for my views on how the Group should proceed. Gladly, but first, for those many people who will be unfamiliar with the details of this scandal, I will set out the facts…

Bishop George Bell (1883-1958), Bishop of Chichester, has been judged and condemned without any case brought for his defence. An elderly woman came forward in 1995 and claimed that Bishop Bell had sexually abused her fifty years earlier. The authorities took no action. The woman complained again in 2013, by which time Bishop Bell had been dead for fifty-five years. The police concluded that there was sufficient evidence to justify their questioning Bishop Bell, had he been still alive. Martin Warner, Bishop of Chichester, discussed the matter with Justin Welby, Archbishop of Canterbury and in 2015 the Church of England offered a formal apology to Bishop Bell’s accuser, paid her an undisclosed sum in compensation – later revealed to have been £31,000 – and allowed her to remain anonymous. The Church authorities ordered that memorials to Bishop Bell be removed and institutions – such as the Bishop Bell School, Eastbourne – should change their names. So this highly-regarded wartime bishop was effectually condemned to the status of a non-person.

Unsurprisingly, there was outrage. On 13th November 2015, Judge Alan Pardoe QC described the way the allegations against Bishop Bell had been handled as “slipshod and muddled.” Judge Pardoe’s criticisms were followed by further censure from a group of historians and theologians led by Jeremy Morris, Master of Trinity Hall, Cambridge.

The Bishop of Chichester replied with insouciance and a volley of jargon to these criticisms: “The Church is seeking to move on from a culture in which manipulation of power meant that victims were too afraid to make allegations, or allegations were easily dismissed. We must provide safeguards of truth and justice for all, victim and accused alike.”

But there were no “safeguards of truth and justice” for Bishop Bell who was condemned without a hearing.

The outrage did not subside and a committee of senior church people, distinguished lawyers and members of both the Lords and the Commons calling itself The George Bell Group was formed. On 20th March 2016, this group published a review in which they challenged the Church’s evidence against Bishop Bell and attacked it for failing to find or interview a key witness or examine Bell’s own extensive personal archive.

On 30th June 2016, the case formed a large part of a debate in the House of Lords on historical child sex abuse.

On 28th June 2016, the Church of England announced that it would hold an independent review of the procedure used. On 22nd November 2016 it announced that Lord Carlile QC would chair this review.

Meanwhile, the George Bell Group declared: “In view of the evidence that we have gathered and examined, we have concluded that the allegation made against Bishop Bell cannot be upheld in terms of actual evidence or historical probability.”

Lord Carlile’s report was eventually handed to the Church authorities and they kicked it into the long grass.

So much for Bishop Martin Warner’s vaunted “…safeguards of truth and justice for all, victim and accused alike.” All along, the only interests being safeguarded here were those of the Bishop of Chichester and the Archbishop of Canterbury. We know very well why these authorities leapt so precipitately to condemn Bishop Bell out of hand: it was because they had previously had to admit to the existence of so many perpetrators of sexual abuse among the senior clergy – especially in the Diocese of Chichester. Warner and Welby, to salvage what remained of their reputations, wanted desperately to appear to be doing something.

Thus the name of the safely-dead Bishop George Bell was tarnished because the Church’s highest authorities sought to cover their own backs.

Let us be in no doubt as to the seriousness of the Church’s misconduct so eloquently criticised in Lord Carlile’s report. He said that Bell had been “hung out to dry,” he added that the Church’s procedures were “deficient, inappropriate and impermissible”; “obvious lines of enquiry were not followed” and there was “a rush to judgement.”

In the light of this scandalously incompetent behaviour, the least that might have been expected from the Archbishop of Canterbury was a profuse apology to Bishop Bell’s descendants, family, friends and numerous supporters for the distress his decisions have caused them. Was there such and apology? There was not. Instead Justin Welby persisted in his mood of arrogant vindictiveness, saying, “A significant cloud is left over George Bell’s name. No human being is entirely good or bad. Bishop Bell was in many ways a hero. He is also accused of great wickedness. Good acts do not diminish evil ones…”

This is outrageous. True, Bishop Bell was “accused of great wickedness” – but he was not found guilty of any wrongdoing. And there is no “significant cloud” over his name. There is, however, certainly a very dark cloud over Welby’s name after his lamentable performance in this matter.
Lord Carlile didn’t mince his words: “The Church operated a kangaroo court.” He added that the church authorities have “besmirched.” Bishop Bell’s name. Sussex police have repeated their judgement that there is “no evidence” against him.

Welby has described the church’s enquiry as “Very, very painful.” For him yes, as indeed it ought to have been owing to his disgraceful and dishonourable conduct of this issue from the start. So to answer the question put to me this morning by the Bell Group, “How should we proceed?” There is only one answer and it is clear: the Bell Group should call for Warner and Welby to resign – as indeed they ought to have done once Lord Carlile’s report had been published.

Letter from Anne Dawson for February 4, 2019

Keep Rebuilding Bridges 4th February 2019 Chichester

Rebuilding a bridge is a delicate, and at times hazardous, undertaking. Repairing a bridge over troubled waters is not a task for the faint hearted. The issues around Bishop Bell are complex, but the intention of the church authorities is straightforward, to come out appearing in the best possible light. On a trajectory intending to reverse the decades of harm the C of E inflicted by indifference and denial concerning sexual abuse, the result is that the balance is tilted too far towards favouring claimants. The policy of the NST that allegations will be believed and accepted without evidence, has had catastrophic consequences.

The sequence of decisions leading to settling ‘Carol’s’ claim has entrenched the NST in a position from which it is difficult to back track. It is tragic to have reached this point, which could have been avoided, by a more fair-minded approach from the NST.

Memories of a child reported after a time lapse of over four decades are NOT facts. However, I think that ‘Carol’s’ uncorroborated memories have a kernel of truth in them. Believing her account in its entirety is unsafe, as there is too great margin of error to uphold such a serious matter as destroying the reputation of Bishop Bell.

Reconstruction of childhood events over a long passage of time are viewed through the lense of subsequent life experiences. Carol, or anyone looking back on their childhood many decades ago, has ‘anchor points’ for memory reconstruction that are highly subjective. Working with children for many years, I have seen children easily get confused about the  hierarchy of who is in charge. It is common error to ascribe the lead person associated with a place or institution with other adults. What I mean is, Carol may have thought a man was a bishop because she came across him in the bishop’s house. With this hypothesis, a random cleric would not even have deliberately feigned to be Bishop Bell but have assumed that character in the mind of Carol. This theory maintains Carol’s credibility and her personal truth as she understands it.

Having raised this with hypothesis with Richard, he put me in touch with Geoffrey Boys whose account is compelling, concerning mistaken identity. Mr Boys has given evidence to the Core Group which I understand is in the Briden report, if he wishes to share it.

The NST maintain they place a high priority on transparency but do not conduct themselves with transparency. The following statement by Colin Perkins demonstrates this.

From my point of view, from the perspective you just described, that would have
effectively been saying, “We are not accepting your claim. We are not going to apologise. We are going to perhaps provide some monetary settlement and we are
going to require you to sign a non-disclosure agreement”. That is exactly the opposite of where I think the church should be on this issue

IICSA Transcript – March 16 Page 30

There was a simple solution by stating, ‘we have heard the claimant’s story and believe she has suffered abuse. We admit admission of liability and apologise, but we cannot determine the identity of the abuser. We have made a settlement on this basis and wish to maintain the reputation of Bishop Bell. We have nothing to hide.’ The NST just needed to come clean about saying as it is; there are no facts, but they compensated Carol because they believe she was abused, albeit without proof of by whom.

The historian, Herodotus, 2,500 years ago, observed that of all rites performed by humans, those concerning the dead are most sacrosanct. This holds true for all people throughout all ages. I was shocked that Archbishop Welby, as head of our national church, has it within him to hurt Bishop Bell’s legacy so grievously (statement dated 22.1.2018.) A person’s worth does not diminish by death, unless you are the Archbishop of Canterbury and you feel empowered to say what you like about the dead. Defaming George Bell without evidence reverses the universal value in all cultures and faiths, of honouring forefathers, which is one of the defining features of humanity

Archbishop Welby:

I think the greatest tragedy of all these cases is that people have trusted, very often, those who were locally, in diocesan terms, or nationally Titanic figures, and have then found that they were not worthy of their trust. The fact that someone is a titanic figure doesn’t tell you anything at all, except that they have done remarkable things in one area. It doesn’t tell you about the rest of their lives. And it is not something that we can take into account”

IICSA Transcript – Wednesday March 21

The Archbishop is entitled to his opinion, even if it controversial and incongruent with many within the church. But his words are not backed by investigating the facts. IF the Archbishop had invited he historian, Andrew Chandler, (author of Bell’s biography 2016) to the Core Group and IF there was legal representation of Bishop Bell’s family (whom the Core Group failed to trace,) then the Archbishop could claim some validity to his statement. However, the lack of representation on behalf of the George Bell’s reputation and his niece Mrs Barbara Whitley, demonstrates that Archbishop Welby has no authentic understanding of the man he demolishes. His rigorous dismissal of the collective wisdom of the scholars and theologians who have written open letters to the Archbishop (letters 16/17/24.1.2018) suggest reckless defamation. I am reluctant to criticise the Archbishop, but he has sidestepped fully examining George Bell’s life.

In conclusion I do want to be angry or sad but celebrate the life of Bishop Bell, despite the efforts of Archbishop Welby and the NST to destroy his legacy. The case of Cliff Richard displays how disproportionally empowering claimants has caused deep trauma. Thankfully Sir Cliff has been fully cleared of abuse, but the toll on his physical and mental health has been very high. The Archbishop’s statements about George Bell are spoken with the authority of his role, but entitlement does not equate with truth and justice.

Anne Dawson, 19th January.2019

October 2018 proceedings

Sandra Saer, who chaired the Keep Rebuilding Bridges Conference, at Church House, Westminster, on 5 October 2018, waiting with Lord George Carey, former Archbishop of Canterbury, a key Speaker at the Conference, to hear a question from the floor.

The second Rebuilding Bridges conference on October 5 marked the 60th anniversary of George Bell’s death and continues the process of restoring his place in history.

An Opening Prayer was said by the Rev’d Ivor Cameron-Smith, who was made Deacon, and later ordained, by Bishop Bell, (and whom, as he said later, he had always revered).
As first Speaker, Bishop Dr Gavin Ashenden put, succinctly, the reason for this Conference, which was held in Church House, Westminster, on Friday, 5 October, 2018:
‘Our interest and concern today is the value and importance of reputation, specifically the reputation of Bishop George Bell.’
Significantly, during his speech, Bishop Gavin said: ‘George Bell was not a saint. There is no movement to canonise him. Such mechanisms do not exist in the Church of England, but there is plenty of evidence that Bell himself was a Christian whose whole life was orientated to the practice of self-restraint, self-giving and self-sacrifice.’
This was agreed with, and expounded upon, by former Archbishop of Canterbury, Lord George Carey of Clifton, and supported by the Rev’d Canon David Jasper, Professor of Literature and Theology, and Head of the Department of Theology and Religious Studies at Glasgow University. Indeed, Lord Carey noted, after the three had spoken, that the Conference had become more of a Seminar, with the interaction of comments.
That magical interaction of all the Speakers continued, with Questions and Answers throughout the proceedings, and with the contributions of Vasantha Gnanadoss, a former member of the General Synod, and the Rev’d Patsy Kettle, a former Minister in the Diocese of Guildford.
Rev’d Kettle made special mention of Richard Symonds who, from the time he organised, on 2 December 2017, a Bell Petition, supported not by hundreds, as he expected, but by thousands (see details on The Bell Society website), had worked tirelessly in the cause to remove the ‘significant cloud’ placed over Bishop Bell by the present Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, which he has never retracted.
The last speaker was Ruth Hildebrandt Grayson, whose father knew George Bell and Dietrich Bonhoeffer, and she spoke of their friendship and work together. Mrs Grayson also spoke about ‘Sanctuary in Chichester’, the project to acquire a place in Chichester to act as a Centre for work with refugees and asylum seekers, and to commemorate Bishop Bell’s precedent of similar work in the years around WW2. Email for information.
Lord Carey closed the gathering with a heartfelt Prayer.

The following transcript has been edited to respect the Chatham House rule and contains links to attributable contributions made from the platform, framed within the words addressed to the meeting by the Chair.

Sandra Saer (Chair): Not everybody is here, but I think we should start proceedings, because we have an agenda, which we don’t have to keep strictly to, but we want to try and keep to it as much as possible.

I would like to start by warmly welcoming those of you who are here

(Opening Prayer)

Before the apologies for absence, I want to say a few words. My eldest son has told me that I mustn’t say too much! So, I must do as I am told!

As I was preparing to speak to you as your chair today, something came into my mind which I think resonates: ‘Let’s turn ‘For whom the Bell tolls’ into ‘For whom the Bell chimes’. That is surely why we are here at this second Rebuilding Bridges Conference, to work towards the day, and I believe it will come, when George Bell, a great Bishop and an outstanding humanitarian, will get back his place in history, to be remembered and revered.

Before I introduce the first Speaker – I don’t think he needs much introduction, actually! – I would like to say a few thank-you’s, in case people need to leave, before the end. My thanks to the stenographers during the day, for their amazing work (in fact, only one stenographer was present). Thanks to Richard Symonds for organising this, and to the person who contributed so generously to their cost. Thanks to the staff of Church House. I know we paid to be here, but you don’t pay for the sort of kindness and helpfulness we have received – they have been quite wonderful, especially Katie, who looked after the catering arrangements. Coffee has been laid on, and you will be provided with a good, what Katie called ‘afternoon tea’, that is a light lunch, at one o’clock.

Most of all, I must thank Richard Symonds. He has worked long and tirelessly on this second Rebuilding Bridges Conference. If he had not organised the first, in February, we would not be here today. He and I have paid for your refreshments, so if anyone would like to make a contribution to the costs, we would be very grateful.

Now, without further ado (my son would be pleased I am stopping), I would like to ask our first Speaker, Bishop Dr Gavin Ashenden, to come and address us.

Bishop Ashenden

Sandra Saer (chair): Thank you very much indeed.

Sandra Saer: The error of my ways has been pointed-out to me – I haven’t given the Apologies.

We have had apologies from Margery Roberts, Barry Sheerman, MP Sister Frances Dominica, the Bishop of Chester, who has been very supportive, Lord Carlile, Baron Rowan Williams, the Duke of Richmond, Christopher Hill, and Ian Hislop. Ronald Crane and Jackie Ottoway, of Portal, have also sent their apologies.

The other thing, again, error of my ways, is that I have not spoken of the Resolutions, and what we are going to do about them. I will do that now. You will see that Richard has very thoughtfully put the Resolutions on the back of your Agenda, and it gives you a chance to look at them.

It has been decided that, in view of the Bell 2 Report being organised at present, it would not be politic to vote on these Resolutions today. I hope that is in order with all of you? I think it would be wrong in a way; it would be ‘jumping the gun’, which is something we certainly don’t want to do.

Vasantha Gnannadoss

Lord Carey


Sandra Saer: I have two Speakers here for 3.15 but we are nowhere near that time, and it looks as though we might finish rather earlier than expected to. We have the Rev’d Patsy Kettle and Canon Professor David Jasper. Which of you would like to speak first?

Canon Professor David Jasper

Revd Patsy Kettle

Sandra Saer: Thank you very much. (applause). Now may I call on Ruth?

Dr Ruth Hildebrandt Grayson

Sandra Saer: I wonder if you would allow me to say a few words, before we finish what has become a seminar, as Lord Carey has called it.

Some time ago, when Pope Francis visited Ireland, I thought I would get  The Independent i, a well-written and well-edited newspaper, to see what they wrote about the visit. But even The Independent i, as well as other newspapers, really went to town on the Pope, as being someone who hasn’t done anything – and what was he doing in Ireland? – and he has got to forgive, and so on… Well, that of course is exactly why he went: to ask forgiveness on behalf of his Church. I got so hot under the collar that I wrote a letter, and sent it to The Tablet, The Church Times, The Independent i, and to The Spectator (one of whose writers had brought up the Pope and forgiveness subject in The i’s Matrix feature.

At the end of my letter, I put that, if somebody, like the Pope, or some organisation, sincerely asked for forgiveness, we have to forgive. By doing so, we are halfway to forgetting.

And I really do hope that, in the context we have heard and enjoyed (if that is the word) today, those words will stay with you.

Summing up

Sandra Saer (Chair): Well now I have got the job of summing up. That’s what it says here: Summing up – Sandra Saer.

Just a few words, before I ask Lord Carey if he will say the Closing Prayer. Various people here, including two of our Speakers, have talked about the literature of the Bible, and literature in general.

Words came into my mind.

‘A hard coming we had of it’, and that is to paraphrase T S Eliot’s words in ‘The Journey of the Magi’, one of the finest poems ever written.

We have come a long way – and many of you have travelled a long way to be here – towards achieving our common goal today: To restore Bishop Bell to his rightful place in history, and in living history.

With that, I declare this meeting closed, and would ask Lord Carey to give the Final Prayer.

Shall we stand?

(Final Prayer)


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).

Address given by Dr Ruth Hildebrandt Grayson

I won’t be very long. Good afternoon and thank you specially to Richard for giving me the slot and indeed for organising this meeting. Thank you to everybody who contributed to the discussion, we certainly had a great deal to think about and I’m sure we will go away and chew it all over, and hopefully begin maybe to start coming to some form of ideas in our own minds as to where we have got to, and how to move things forward.
I would like to pick up on the words that David actually used in his talk just now, resolution and healing. In one sense, you are right, there hasn’t been a lot said about it today; but on the other hand, that is the reason for today. It has been implied if not actually spoken out loud. That gives me a very good starting point for what I have to say this afternoon, which will be brief and not academic. I am not a theologian and I’m not a member of the clergy, I’m not even a member of the Church of England, for which I’m sure the Church of England is extremely thankful!
My starting point really is a wrist band that doesn’t exist with these words on it but which does exist with other words on it, we will all have seen them. It says: What would Jesus do? My question is: What would George Bell be doing in this situation? I actually started thinking about this more than 3 years ago, more than a couple of months before that devastating announcement that emanated from the diocese of Chichester in October†2015.
I started thinking about it during the summer, the preceding summer when the refugee crisis in the Mediterranean was hitting the news big time, you remember the pictures, the little boy washed up on the beach, the boatloads of people drowning in the Mediterranean, the politics of countries saying, “Not my problem, not my responsibility, let the EU sort it.” Well then, let Germany sort it, well, here we are and it is still not sorted.
I was waiting, I suppose, for some statement from the church, and I do mean the Church of England in this case, I was waiting for some statement from the powers that be at Lambeth to give some indication as to how the Church in this country might address that situation while our own government was vaccillating and driveling on about whether to take a thousand people or 20,000 people, the Church as a whole, as an institution was being very silent.
At that point I wrote to a friend of mine who despite the fact that he is very young was very senior in the hierarchy of my own home diocese of Sheffield and has latterly moved on elsewhere, and I said, “Where is the George Bell among you?” A well educated young man had never heard of him. And I began to think what can be done to further George Bell’s work in the present day and in the present crisis, humanitarian crisis, that is facing so many hundreds of thousands of people in the world today.
Then came the statement from the diocese of Chichester in October†2015 and to begin with I thought it was a misprint. I read that in the Church Times and I thought they are not talking about George Bell, they must mean Peter Ball and have got the two names confused. Anyway it became clear that that was not the case, and in the following winter I got in touch with Andrew Chandler and one way and another gradually became more involved in open campaigning, became a member of the George Bell group, started attending meetings, started attending events in Chichester, and became much more engaged in the pursuit of justice for George Bell.
Let me backtrack for a minute. For those of you who don’t know, my father was Franz Hildebrant, he was a very, very close friend of two men who have featured largely in today’s discussions, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, whom he knew long before he knew George Bell because they were students together in Germany, and it was Dietrich Bonhoeffer who introduced my father to George Bell in 1933 when my father was spending a year working with Dietrich Bonhoeffer in Forest Hill in London.
The three of them obviously talked a great deal about the situation in Germany and Bell referred to Dietrich Bonhoeffer and my father as his 2 boys. It was that close a relationship. They were the sons that he himself had not had. When in 1937 my father, who had returned to Germany in the meantime, came back to this country as a refugee, he came back for two reasons: First of all, he was by then openly and avowedly a member of the “Confessing church” which was set up in 1934.
But secondly, and perhaps even more dangerously, he was half Jewish. My paternal grandmother was Jewish, she was a non-practising Jew but to the Nazis that didn’t make any difference whatever. So my father came to this country having fled persecution in Germany, he was imprisoned by the Gestapo, he narrowly missed getting rounded up by the SS and taken off to a concentration camp. And the first person he went to see when he got to safety in this country was George Bell, who became his mentor in addition to being his friend. He advised him on many things, gave him practical help.
It was because of the situation that faced many Pastors in Germany like my father, who were of non Aryan descent that George Bell became aware that he needed to help many more people and he personally sponsored 40 such Pastors to come to this country and for some time he had some living in his Bishop’s Palace in Chichester. As you know he then got involved in kindertransport hosting children when they came to the country, he became very active in helping internees, again including my father in the Isle of Man, because after Dunkirk, as you probably know, many people were rounded up as enemy aliens of this country and sent off to “a place where they couldn’t do any harm , like the Isle of Man. Through the good offices of George Bell my father and others obtained early release, Bell persuaded the authorities that my father was infinitely more use ministering to the German congregation in Cambridge than he was making a nuisance of himself in the Isle of Man. Hence my interest in George Bell’s work with refugees.
So the two things began to come together in my mind and as the events of the last year didn’t exactly go the way we hoped they would with the publication of the Carlile report and we hoped the acceptance of that report by the church authorities, and the issuing of an apology and the beginning of restitution restoring Bell’s name to various institutions and places in Chichester and elsewhere, when none of that happened and when the Church clearly began to stall for a time about delivering this apology, which I think everybody feels must come in some form or another, I began to think how can we move it forward? What can be done that would be positive? What would George Bell himself be doing? He wouldn’t be sitting back waiting for the church to do nothing, that’s for sure, any more than he sat back and waited for the authorities to act in the 1940s.
On the contrary, he got on with his work. In his time he was called a name which is almost equivalent, almost as bad in those days as being a paedophile now, he was called a Nazi lover. He was called a Nazi lover because he opposed the bombing of German cities like Dresden but it didn’t stop him continuing to work with German refugees. He was one of the very few people who spoke up and said not all Germans are Nazis. And he began to bring about the beginnings of the reconciliation which took place very, very slowly in post war years, but it was a cultural change, if you like for those days, which was badly needed because many people in this country persisted in thinking that all Germans were Nazis.
In the Church of Scotland book shop in Edinburgh in the 1970s, someone turned round to my father on hearing his German accent which he retained all his life and you could cut with a knife and called him a Nazi. The Church of Scotland book shop. In Edinburgh. So old feelings die hard and we needn’t expect that everybody is going to accept an apology if and when it ever comes from Lambeth.
In the spring of this year, at the instigation of Marilyn Billingham, who is from Chichester, I went with her to the annual general meeting of a group in Chichester called Sanctuary in Chichester, a new organisation set up just a few years ago to help refugees and asylum seekers in the area. Subsequently, I started corresponding with the chair of that organisation, Roger Pask, very cautiously to begin with because I didn’t know where he stood in all this, I didn’t know if he was a member of the Church of England, if he was closely related to someone in the diocese, I didn’t know how he felt about Bell’s situation. And I was delighted to get the warm and enthusiastic communication back from him saying “Let’s get together and think this out.”
There has been more correspondence and a couple of meetings, and we finally, with the consent of the committee of Sanctuary in Chichester, which has approved this leaflet, have put together this declaration of intent. It is nothing more than a declaration of intent at the moment, but we are hoping that within the next few months Sanctuary in Chichester will have received its status as a registered charity, at which point we propose to launch a fund to plan and develop and build, if new building is necessary, or open a centre for asylum seekers and refugees in Chichester which will embrace a lot of the individual bits and pieces of work that this group are already doing.
They provide drop in facilities, they provide English language courses, they provide help for people who are in this country and just don’t know basically what to do and how to turn for help. These are very, very early days. But I persuaded the Committee that I should speak about it today, I mentioned it briefly on Wednesday at the George Bell group and gave out these flyers to people who were at that service. It was far too good an opportunity this week to let it pass by, because let’s face it, it could be some months before these groups meet again in whatever venue takes place. And time goes by and people’s lives are at stake here. This is about furthering the work and the memory of George Bell with regard to refugees yes, but it is primarily about saving lives and helping the people whom George Bell himself gave so much to save and to help.
So, I would like you to take this away with you, think about it and if you are interested, I’m not saying if you are thinking of giving us £50,000 today, you don’t have to tell me that right now, even if you want to give me £5, don’t do it today. I would like you to go away and think about it, think prayerfully in what way or ways you may be able to help and support this project. I believe, it is urgent, and I believe it is what George Bell himself would be doing. He would not be sitting down under a terrible burden that the Church has put on him, he would be moving forward and if we really want to honour his name, and his memory, I believe this is one way to do it. I believe that would be part of healing, I also do believe it could be part of a possible resolution to the gulf that has appeared between people like ourselves and the authorities in both Lambeth and Chichester because, even if they don’t apologise and they may not, they could support this venture with some money and that would be one way of saying they are sorry. They might even have a suitable building or premises that could be used for such a project. Hope springs eternal but it is more possible than pigs might fly! So thank you very much.


Address given by Revd Patsy Kettle

I want to explain why I’m here. My name is Revd Patsy Kettle. I have been in church ministry from 1968 and started in the Chichester diocese. It was nearly 20 years before I was allowed to be a deacon and then I was ordained a priest in 94 and I’m now currently in the Guildford diocese and I have retired a couple of times because of an interregnum in my village.
Again, the main reason I am here is because I have known Richard’s mother and therefore Richard for nearly 50 years and I have stayed in contact with them.
And I can’t remember now how long ago it was that Richard started to talk to me about George Bell. I might have heard his name but if I had, it was very peripheral. But what I detected in Richard, who is a political animal, in the right sense, was that he was sniffing out an injustice. He wasn’t sure of his facts, because he hadn’t looked into it sufficiently, but he sensed that something was amiss. Why should the school not be named after him any more? Why should the streets be changed and so on, and it was really a bit of a hunch.
Then Peter Hitchens picked it up which was I think Godsend. Because he had a journalistic flair and a wide respected readership. And word got out. And then others of you, eminent people, joined and then there was Lord Carlile himself, so the whole thing from a very, if I can put it like this, humble beginning, someone who didn’t know a lot has actually become a very important force and it has already been said here, but we should all be really grateful to Richard that he sniffed it out in the beginning.
So that is why I’m here. And being an Anglican priest, obviously I am concerned with my church that I love.
Now, the whole safeguarding thing, as the Bishop has indicated has so changed everything and a couple of times my present incumbent has called me aside and said “Patsy, you can’t do that now, “Patsy, every visit you make you have to document. “Oh but I only..”. It has to be documented.”
And I was saying at lunchtime, I was officer of the clergy widows but because of data protection I am not allowed to know of any widows who are coming into the diocese. How can I welcome them? How can I send Christmas cards to them? How can I visit them? I don’t know how many letters I wrote to the pensions board† can’t do anything about it. It is my own Bishop.
Where retired clergy are concerned on their own or not, there is more of a grapevine, but to follow the widows is impossible and the jobs gone and that applies to other diocese as well. Data protection is stopping pastoral care. Now where sexual abuse is concerned, in my younger days, 30, 40 years ago, when one heard, well one didn’t actually hear of this sort of thing that we hear about today, but on the rare occasions you did, my understanding then was if this was a man of God (and it was always men), if this was a man of God who was truly repenting, then you could take that seriously, you could believe him, maybe he should change jobs, but I had no understanding of the perversity and the power and the deviousness that addictions lead to.
I thought the Christian repentance and a new person in Christ and grace could mean a change in a person. So if today I was told of someone who was guilty of and of course more recently since of some sort of sexual abuse, I would treat it so differently from the way I would have done then, when I had, not a young man, now a man in his 50s, come to talk to me about John Smyth, I said to him, “I have got to take this to our safeguarding officer of the diocese. Either stop talking or can I do that?”
I wouldn’t have known that 10 years ago. So the way it is dealt with is different and those priests who in bygone days didn’t deal with it in a way that now would seem to be right, they weren’t doing anything that was perverse, they weren’t trying to distort justice in any way. They were doing what they were doing in the light of the knowledge they had then with a certain innocence, a certain, they were naive, and therefore they let things go which now they wouldn’t, but they didn’t know. We were all children of our time.
Now, I think for me, the biggest thing about the George Bell case is what it is doing to present clergy. George Bell died some years ago. To many people out there they haven’t heard of him. If something is said about him, oh, okay, so what? But today there are clergy who are being accused of some sort of abuse and they have no redress for it because of the attitude of the church currently.
I actually feel sorry for Justin Welby, I like him and I respect him and I think for him to have this barrage of what clergy in the past have done must have been absolutely horrific. He must have had so many sleepless nights when he thought of what his church had done to innocent people and covered it up. And he was going to put that right, he was going to show that everything he got he was going put a different emphasis. We as a church, this matters! We will not cover up clergy any more! In the midst of all that, the George Bell pops up, someone called Carol says: This man did this to me. To be true to what was in his head then, this is how I see it, oh, right, let’s put it right for her. We didn’t put it right for ‘n’ others, let’s put it right for her. Quick, far too quick. Wrong, for acting on the spur of the moment because of the climate of opinion. And then of course it has come up to bite him and Lord Carlile said what he said, and I sincerely hope and pray that Justin Welby will actually have the grace to say there is no cloud, because we know all of us know now that where there is a case of abuse it is never one, and in the early days of Richard when we had our chats about everything, I said I am going along with your theory because publicity is getting out a little bit and no one has come out of the woodwork. If there is abuse there is not just one, which is why Cliff Richard has been able to say: I am innocent; which is why Jimmy Saville was not innocent.
No one has come out, although there was the opportunity, they tried to say there is something. So, because of the present climate, a clergyman accused doesn’t know where to go, he goes to his Bishop. The Bishop, well the climate of opinion is we believe the called victim, and I agree with the report and Carlile, ‘victim’ is the wrong word, it is claimant.
And therefore, oh well, I don’t know if I can help you because actually you may be guilty. All those were guilty and they covered it up, I don’t know that I can cover you up, I will go to my safeguarding officer. Oh, not sure about this. And there are people out there who are without a ministry, without a salary because of being falsely accused. And there is no one at the moment to take it up.
Now this is what concerns me, and our friend here is a key person. The reason I think you are a key person is because you are not within the Church, but you are hearing from people who are within the Church who are saying this is happening to me. And I think for you to somehow get this out there, so that our Bishops hear it, because the pendulum has swung so far, those that we were covering wrongly we are now not covering when they should be. And that is where I think this whole George Bell is absolutely key. If this can be put right, then it gives the opportunity for our Bishop, safeguarding officers and the like to put it right for those that come to them. At the moment they are floundering, they don’t know how to deal with it, because there is no clear lead. It has gone the wrong way, well it has gone too far. That is the main thing I wanted to say.