After seeing a tweet from Ruth Gledhill, I clicked through to this sobering article about Chichester bishop George Bell.
My first thought was, of course, “October 3rd, George Kennedy Allen Bell, Bishop of Chichester, and Ecumenist, 1958.“
Bell was one of the figures added into Holy Women, Holy Men in 2009 and brought from there into A Great Cloud of Witnesses. If you do the math, you’ll note that he was included 51 years after his death. Historically there has been a “waiting period” on including people in our calendar of commemorations; usually the criteria mention 2 generations and/or 50 years. On of the reasons for such a waiting period was to give sufficient time for scandals to air out. HWHM was significant for the number of recent entries who hadn’t fulfilled this waiting period. There is a certain grim irony, then, that Bell technically met the criteria even though not all of the facts were yet out in the plain light of day.
I don’t know what we’re going to do about Bell yet. GCW is not an official church document since it was only “made available.” Since it hasn’t been printed yet, I’ve sent a note to the powers that be indicating that we need to think through what ought to be done here. My vote is for removing Bell.
But—this raises bigger issues that still need to be addressed. Are there more revelations like this still yet to come from some of our 20th century inclusions? Are there skeletons like this in the closets of some of our earlier choices? One of the central differences between GCW and HWHM was that we explicitly altered GCW to say that it wasn’t a sanctoral calendar and therefore the issue of sanctity was formally off the table. But, as many argued at General Convention, it will likely be viewed as a sanctoral calendar informally.
What do we do here to address this issue and to address wider and deeper issues about grace, merit, sanctification, and models of the sacramental life?