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Archbishop of Canterbury refuses to clear late Bishop Bell of child sexual abuse

The church has been criticised for “rushing” to believe the complainant.

The Archbishop of Canterbury has refused to declare the late Bishop Bell innocent of sexually abusing a young girl in the 1950s despite calls from his supporters to clear his name.

A review published in December criticised the church for rushing to believe the alleged victim’s allegations “without serious investigation or inquiry”.

It emerged that the original investigation had failed to seek out witnesses who had known or worked with Bishop Bell during his time as Bishop of Chichester between 1929 and 1958.

Claims made by a woman known only as “Carol” of abuse by Bishop Bell when she was aged between five and eight in the 1950s led the church to issue an apology and pay more than £15,000 in compensation in 2013.

The review, led by Lord Carlile of Berriew, found that the Church had “rushed to judgment”.

But on Monday, Justin Welby refused to deem Bishop Bell innocent despite the failings of the original investigation.

He said: “Our history over the last 70 years has revealed that the church covered up, ignored or denied the reality of abuse on major occasions. I need only refer to the issues relating to Peter Ball to show an example.”

He said that the Diocese of Chichester had been given legal advice based on the civil standard of proof, the balance of probability, and not on the criminal standard of proof, which is beyond reasonable doubt.

He continued: “As in the case of Peter Ball, and others, it is often suggested that what is being alleged could not have been true, because the person writing knew the alleged abuser and is absolutely certain that it was impossible for them to have done what is alleged.

“As with Peter Ball this sometimes turns out to be untrue, not through their own fault or deceit but because abuse is often kept very secret.

“The experience of discovering feet of clay in more than one person I held in profound respect has been personally tragic.

“But as I said strongly in my original statement the complaint about Bishop Bell does not diminish the importance of his great achievements and he is one of the great Anglican heroes of the 20th century.”

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Archbishops on Global Radio

Bishop Bell was famous for helping to rescue Jewish children transported out of Germany during the Second World War and criticising the blanket bombing of German civilians.

Following the publication of the review, the archbishop said: “No human being is entirely good or bad. Bishop Bell was in many ways a hero. He is also accused of great wickedness,” he said.

“Good acts do not diminish evil ones, nor do evil ones make it right to forget the good. Whatever is thought about the accusations, the whole person and whole life should be kept in mind.”

In a letter published in the Telegraph on January 18, Professors Sir Ian Kershaw, Charmian Brinson, Andrew Chandler, John Charmley, Michael J Hughes, Jeremy Noakes and Keith Robbins called for the archbishop to retract his comments.

They wrote: “The statement of Dec 15 2017 seems to us both irresponsible and dangerous.

“We therefore urge you, in all sincerity, to repudiate what you have said before more damage is done and thus to restore the esteem in which the high, historic office to which you have been called has been held.”

They added: “The allegation is not only wholly uncorroborated but is contradicted by all the considerable, and available, circumstantial material which any historian would consider credible.”

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