Child sexual abuse: Bishop George Bell and the Diocese of Chichester, by Jean Calder

I’ve been saddened to see so many people rush to defend the reputation of Bishop Bell – and by implication suggest the elderly woman who accused him of child sexual abuse is a liar. The Church of England has accepted that the abuse took place and given its previous determination to keep abuse by its clergy under wraps, I suspect the evidence is compelling. I was pleased that Bishop Warner apologised for the abuse and defended the alleged victim from criticism.

In respect of prominent abusers, the modern Church of England has done better than the Church of Rome. Eric Gill, the famous artist and Roman Catholic adult convert was the son of a Church of England clergyman, also from Chichester. Over many years, Gill sexually abused his sisters, servants and then his daughters, socially isolating the girls while using them as models for semi-erotic religious art. The abuse is catalogued in his own diaries, but if you visit the Roman Catholic Westminster Cathedral, where his famous Stations of the Cross take pride of place and are publicised in the Cathedral shop, there’s no mention of his history or his victims’ exploitation.

The Churches’ responsibility – and our own, whether we have faith or none – must be to protect the living, defend the powerless (especially children) and treat survivors with compassion.  This being the case, Chichester Diocese should, out of respect to all clergy victims, fulfil its promise to change the name of Bishop Bell House – and ensure people understand its past actions and current position regarding child protection and clergy abuse.

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