The Archbishop of Canterbury has admitted that investigating abuse allegations made against Bishop George Bell has been a “very, very painful process” as the church prepares to publish its findings in the case.
Ahead of what it is hoped will be the end to a long and bitter battle between the Church of England and the family and supporters of one of its most revered bishops, Justin Welby said that the tackling of sex abuse cases has been the churches “greatest failure” since the second world war.
The Archbishop has personally been accused of attempting to smear the former Bishop of Chichester’s name by accusing him of being a paedophile when there was “no credible evidence” against him.
An independent review of the handling of the case by Lord Carlile, which was released in 2017, found that Bishop Bell had been besmirched by the church two years earlier when officials released a statement formally apologising over allegations of abuse made by a woman who is now in her seventies.
On Thursday the church will release the findings of their National Safeguarding Team into “fresh information” which came to light after review was published.
The Archbishop has written to Bishop Bell’s surviving relative ahead of the release of the report, the Telegraph understands.
Sussex Police dropped an investigation into the “fresh information” in March last year, three months after it came to light.
The findings of the review have remained a closely guarded secret, but supporters have said that they are hopeful that it will restore the good name of Bishop Bell, who died in 1958.
Talking about the case to the Spectator ahead of the publication of the report, the Archbishop said: “It has been a very, very painful process. Not least because Bishop Bell was — is — one of my great heroes. Probably the greatest failure of the C of E since the second world war has been our failure to deal adequately with disclosures of abuse. When I came into this role, I didn’t have any idea how bad it was.”
He admitted that “we have not found a way of caring for those who have been accused or complained against — or their families.”
Frank Field, the Labour MP who has been part of the fight to clear the bishop’s name, said: “I hope that the report brings the whole sorry affair to a good-ish end.
“I would hope that they have now decided it is totally proper to restore the man’s great name and I would hope that a statement from the Archbishop will be followed by the reversal of a series of other changes which were made on the basis that the allegations could be true.”
In the wake of the church naming Bishop Bell as an abuser a school in Chichester and rooms in the cathedral were among the places to be stripped of his name.
A statue celebrating his work in helping rescue Jewish children from Germany during the Second World War which has been planned for Canterbury Cathedral was also scrapped.