New allegations of sexual abuse against Bishop George Bell cannot be proven on the balance of probabilities, a new report from the Church has concluded.
Current Bishop of Chichester Dr Martin Warner issued an apology and said that the 70 years since Bishop Bell’s death have ‘defeated the quest for certainty’.
The report by Timothy Briden was conducted at the request of Bishop Warner and examined allegations of misconduct against the late Bishop Bell.
However the Church-sponsored inquiry did not include the original allegations made by a woman known as Carol.
Highlighted in the report was a claim by a woman known as Alison that Bishop Bell abused her and told her: “This is our secret.”
She recalled feeling uncomfortable afterwards and being told that it would be ‘impossible to have the bishop up’ because nobody would believe her.
There is an uncertainty which cannot be resolvedCurrent Bishop of Chichester Dr Martin Warner
Mr Briden concluded that her account was ‘not proved on the balance of probabilities’ and said her account was unreliable.
Witness evidence from as many as 12 witnesses were examined in the new report.
Bishop of Chichester Dr Martin Warner said: “We recognise how damaging and painful this has been.
“Bishop Bell cannot be proven guilty, nor can it be safely claimed that the original complainant has been discredited.
“There is an uncertainty which cannot be resolved.”
The report can be read in full on the Church of England’s website.
Any allegations relating to a woman known as Carol were excluded from the report and were not discussed.
Bishop Warner said: “The judgement from Tim Briden on the new information about Bishop George Bell which came to light at the end of 2017 brings to an end a lengthy examination that has drawn on the recommendations by Lord Alex Carlile in his report on the Church of England’s handling of this matter from the outset.
“The diocese of Chichester has rightly been called to account for its safeguarding failures of the past – shocking and shaming as they were.
“We hope that the culture of the diocese has changed. We believe that it has been essential to demonstrate a capacity to respond appropriately to any allegation of sexual abuse by a member of the clergy, no matter how senior, or by any person who holds office in the church. We remain committed to this.
“The Carlile report, and this subsequent investigation, have however shown how much we have had to learn about dealing with cases from the distant past.
“In particular, we have learned that the boundaries of doubt and certainty have to be stated with great care, that the dead and those who are related to them have a right to be represented, and that there must be a balanced assessment of the extent to which it would be in the public interest to announce the details of any allegation.
“We recognise the hurt that has been done to all who have been directly involved, including the family of George Bell and those who continue to respect his achievements, as a result of the areas where we have fallen short. We apologise profoundly and sincerely for our shortcomings in this regard. The responsibility for this is a shared one, as are the lessons learnt from it.
“For the future, we recognise how damaging and painful this has been. We have all been diminished by this case. The legitimate quest for certainty has been defeated by the nature of the case and the passage of time.
“Bishop Bell cannot be proven guilty, nor can it be safely claimed that the original complainant has been discredited. There is an uncertainty which cannot be resolved. We ask those who hold opposing views on this matter to recognize the strength of each other’s commitment to justice and compassion.
“Moreover, we continue to believe that the good things that George Bell did in his life will stand the test of time.
“His prophetic work for peace and his relationship with Dietrich Bonhoeffer are only two of the many ways in which his legacy will go on being of great significance to us in the Church and we hope and pray we can go on learning from what he has given to us.”