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Justin Welby apologises for comments about bishop accused of sexual abuse

by Kelly Valencia

The Archbishop of Canterbury has apologised for comments made about late Bishop of Chichester George Bell. 

Most Rev Justin Welby said he no longer believes there's a "significant cloud" over the bishop's name after being accused of sexual abuse. 

Archbishop Welby made the original comments after a woman said Bishop Bell had sexually abused her.

The woman had made the allegations in 1995 but these were only taken to the police in 2013 after the woman wrote to Archbishop Welby. 

The Church of England then settled the case in court and issued an apology in 2015. 

But in 2017 groups arguing that the case had been mishandled pushed for a review and this later revealed that the Church had "rushed to judgement" in assuming Bishop Bell's guilt. 

In a statement, Archbishop Welby admits he was wrong not to retract his words sooner and apologised. 

"What I say today that is new and should have been said sooner is this: I do not consider there to be a 'significant cloud' over Bishop George Bell's name.

"Previously I refused to retract that statement and I was wrong to do so. I took that view because of the importance we rightly place on listening to those who come forward with allegations of abuse, and the duty of care we owe to them. But we also owe a duty of care to those who are accused.

"I apologise for the hurt that my refusal to retract that statement has caused to Bishop Bell's surviving relatives, colleagues and longstanding supporters. They have all raised this issue, often powerfully, and I have recognised my error as a result of their advocacy."

Speaking to Premier, historian Dr Andrew Chandler who is the author of a biography of George Bell and has campaign for the Church of England's accountability in this case said the statement came as a surprise. 

"I think, a sense of surprise combined with a sense of, well, relief in certain ways, because many people who've taken a serious interest in what had been a deplorable case, have looked for something of this kind to be said, for a very long time, and have waited in vain. So, I think that the importance of saying broadly the right thing, even at a surprising time, is very clear to many people." 

Dr Chandler went on to say he believed it had taken a long time to the Church of England to own up to its mistakes. 

"At no point has the church or have any of the authorities of the church been eager to concede, or to recognise, that justice may actually be on the side of their critics. It's really been like pulling teeth, quite frankly. And so six years is a very long time indeed in which to find the right words, to respond to controversy that need not have been created in the first place," he continued. 

Archbishop Welby also announced a statute of Bishop George Bell will be erected at Canterbury Cathedral, where he served as Dean "as soon as the extensive repair and maintenance works are complete". 

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