This is not for the first time Bishop Bell has been placed under a cloud though the circumstances could not be more different.
His pleading for compassion for our enemies and for the curtailment of the allies bombing offensive against German cities was hugely unpopular.
Anthony Eden, a member of the war cabinet, referred to him as ‘this pestilent priest’, echoing Henry II’s exasperated reference to Thomas a Becket, and we know to what that led.
Bishop Bell in wartime Britain would have been in no doubt as to his unpopularity and the risk he was taking for his own personal safety.
Happily that cloud over his patriotism and memory has long since been lifted.
His moral courage at that time was much to the fore.
Nevertheless, and in fairness, I do think one should attempt to understand Archbishop Welby’s position with regard to Bishop Bell (He has so far not exonerated the bishop). The very serious accusation against the bishop is unsupported by corroborating evidence.
So any adverse verdict, based on that alone, would be deemed unsafe. It has simply not been put to the test and there it seems it must remain.
And Bishop Bell of course has no opportunity to clear his name. But one thing the Church’s apology does not do is make him guilty.
The Church was found to have ‘rushed to judgement’.
But before one does that oneself with regard to the Archbishop’s stance I believe a reading of the independent review by Lord Carlile, commissioned to investigate and report on the Church’s handling of the allegation against Bishop Bell, would be found not only informative but also extremely helpful in one’s own understanding of the difficulties and complexity of the situation.
The current Bishop, Dr Warner is quoted as having concluded that ‘there is an uncertainty which cannot be resolved’.
Lord Carlile’s review would provide an explanation for the Archbishop’s stance and the reason, doubtless in all conscience, why he is unable to take that final step.
Unless that happens, and obviously it is for the Archbishop to decide, unfortunately the cloud over Bishop Bell will remain.
At least however the Archbishop has recognised, and without equivocation, the need for contriteness on the part of the church for its failings in the way it dealt with this hugely difficult matter. Certainly there should be restoration for Bishop Bell. Nothing has been proved against him.
James Kenroy, Prinsted, Emsworth