Happy St Valentin’s Day! – Expanding our vocabulary of Love ….

The Eskimos have 50 words for snow. They are deeply interested in snow. Snow matters to an Eskimo.  One word will describe how the snow is falling, softly, hesitantly; another tells you if it is good for sledging over.

They have one word that describes snow that is filled with holes, (like swiss cheese, though less edible). 

The Siberian Russians care passionately about Reindeer. They have 180 different words that tell you everything you need to know about a reindeer and even its personality. 

One describes a female reindeer with strong opinions, and is hard to handle; then there is word for the bull reindeer with just one testicle.

Of course it rather depends on how you count words and suffixes, but some linguists claim that English is the richest language in the world with a vocabulary of 500,000 words compared to Germans 135,000, and  French having less than 100,000.

This came about partly because English is a composite of German, French and Latin.  In which case, as we celebrate St Valentine’s day, how is it that we have only one word for love?

What is even more odd is the way that Valentines’ day, with its celebration of romantic and erotic love (two qualifying words immediately required), is linked to an Italian Christian bishop who lived in central Italy, cared for the poor (another kind of love), and was executed for the love of Jesus (and another) on February 14th, 249 A.D.

So here we have at least four different kinds of love joined together in association with a mysterious Italian martyr about whom little else is known.

There seems to have been some kind of connection with him celebrating marriages in the Roman Empire. In Roman law, Ifyou had recently married, you became exempt for a while from military service. So Valentine may have been the go-to man if you were looking to combine avoiding fighting Teutonic warriors in damp northern European forests with committing to your best woman for life.

How did the martyr bishop famous for his marriage celebrations morph into the symbol of celebration of falling in love with your ideal and idealised ‘other’? It seems it was Chaucer who helped the story along.

However it happened, so far so good. But the prominence we place on romantic love on St Valentine’s day leaves us with two problems. The first is how you stay in love when infatuation begins to fade.  And the second  is how we celebrate and give more emphasis to the many different kinds of love we are capable of as adult human beings?

A problem with romantic love is that it is time limited. After three years (or so) it needs to grow into something different and deeper, or else it fades and jades. 

Love develops new forms and matures, and does so particularly through creating children and families. 

There is the love as a parent and between parents, and then grandparents, different again  After erotic, romantic love has left us so crazily infatuated with each, a new kind of love emerges, marital; it’s a bit less erotic and romantic, but just as fierce, deep and protective. But now it is focussed on the protection and nurture of children. And when the children have grown, the discovery that something even deeper has happened over the years of struggle and trust. It becomes another kind of love.

Louis de Bernieres describes it well in Captain Corelli’s Mandolin:


“That is just being “in love” which any fool can do.

Love itself is what is left over when ‘being in love’ has burned away,

And this is both an art and a fortunate accident.

Those that truly love, have roots that grow towards each other underground,

And when all the pretty blossom have fallen from their branches,

They find that they are one tree and not two.”

We have been badly served by Hollywood and pop songs. Our film culture concentrates on the first romantic hit. There is no development. Happy ever after is assumed, even though we know it is unlikely. 

There are few models for this slow entwining love. Our culture has imposed a filter of sexualisation. ‘If it isn’t sexual, it isn’t love.’ Little to help us understand the gradual shift of tectonic plates together after the first earthquake; or the slow warming after the first fireworks. 

There are other loves we can’t find in our dictionary, for which we don’t have other words, (with the single exception of charity usually prefaced by ‘I don’t want’); the love for the stranger, the love of the vulnerable, the compassion for the crushed, the love given freely without expecting anything in return.

For the religious and spiritual there is the gratitude for the gift of life, and the experience of forgiveness; the promise of knowing as we are known.

If we treasure love more than the Eskimos care about snow, or the Siberians value reindeer, we need a wider lexicon of love, and perhaps even a wider selection of greeting cards in memory of St Valentine, whose life stood for so many more kinds of love than we recognise. Happy Valentine’s Day!


Safeguarding & the presumption of innocence. Welby, Machiavelli and George Bell.

There was something truly shocking about the police leaking the news of their raid on Cliff Richards house to the BBC, who then made sure a helicopter was in the sky filming their break in. The presumption of innocenceuntil proved guilty beyond reasonable doubt is such an important part of our culture. It is a key element in protecting the individual and the standards of public truth.

 It protects me; it protects you; it was supposed to protect Cliff Richard. He wrote 

 “I fear I will forever be tainted by the lurid and intrusive coverage I received. I have had to bring civil proceedings to obtain redress for these appalling invasions of my privacy by the police and the BBC. But that can never undo all the damage I have suffered. It would have been so much better never to have been in this position at all.”

 He wasn’t the only one to suffer from theirresponsibility of people who didn’t understand how important the principle was. 

 It happened also, to Lord Britten, who was alive at the time, and posthumously to Edward Heath. There is a justification, but it is a dangerous one. The reason is that by publicising an arrest evidence can be gathered to convict criminals. I’m sure that is true. But it is also an insidious example of the dangerous idea that the end justify the means.

 This idea was associated most famously with Machiavelli who was notorious for putting power before principle. At a minor level, people use the idea to justify lying on their CV to get a job; at a major level, it led to the gas chambers of Auschwitz. 

 Of all the places and the people who should understand the need for the presumption of innocence and that the end never justifies the means, the Church should top the list. Sadly, when it came to the reputation of the saintly bishop of Chichester George Bell, the Archbishop of Canterbury sided with Machiavelli.

 It was deeply distressing that an elderly woman (Carol) should have suffered from such disturbing memories of abuse from her childhood. It was quite right that she should be taken seriously and listened to with dignity and attention. But the memories didn’t make it clear who the man abused her was, (she thought it might be Bishop Bell) and all the psychiatric evidence is that memories, however we cherish them or are even disturbed by them, are not as reliable as we think they are.

 On the basis of this allegation they destroyed Bell’s reputation in public.

 The strategy was partly justified in order to see if there were any other allegations out there, and partly, tragically, because it hoped that by sacrificing George Bell it might make up for the Church’s appalling record of failing to take sexual abuse seriously.

 As a result widespread protest against this, Lord Carlile was asked to examine the process by which the Church evaluated the evidence. He came to the conclusion that it was both flawed and seriously incompetent. He also appeared to want to exonerate Bishop Bell completely but was restrained by his terms of reference

 That was when the ‘safeguarding’ response moved from incompetence to something much worse. 

 On being exposed in this way the Church safeguarding authorities started to insist that there were other allegations which justified their judgement. But when they were challenged as towhat weight they might have, they refused to say what they were. Eventually, again after widespread protest, another investigation was commissioned to see what they were, this time by Timothy Briden. He has just published his report.

 It turns out that none of them stood up to a moment’s scrutiny. The most dramatic, which was as so often, hearsay, came from a man who said hismother, a cleaner in the Palace once told him she had answered the phone and gone looking for Bishop Bell, only to find him engaged in energetic sex with another man in the garage over the bonnet of his Rolls Royce. It turned out that cleaners never answered the phones, Bell didn’t own a Rolls Royce, would not have frequented the garage and had been dead 20 years at the alleged date. So the accuser arbitrarily changed the date to another one – at which point Bell was elderly, in poor health and had trouble walking let alone what he was being accused of.

 Another allegation came from a reporter who had written in a local paper that she had interviewed a psychiatric nurse who claimed she had been abused by Bell as a child. Both Lord Carlile and Timothy Briden tried to find the reporter and the nurse. Both had disappeared and couldn’t be found.

 And so it went on.

 Finally the Archbishop has been forced, by the facts, to give a kind of apology. But he couldn’t bring himself to lift entirely the cloud of suspicion he and his colleagues has poisoned poor George Bell’s reputation with. What was offered was a ‘qualified apology’. The Bible however is stuffed with advice about the sanctity of the reputation and the sin of bearing false witness. 

 Perhaps both he and the safeguarding officials might bear in mind that safeguarding cuts both ways. The presumption of innocence is itself a safeguarding as well as a moral principle. Machiavelli is as dangerous as he is alluring, and that applies to bishops and anyone else in public office as much as it does to politicians.

Briden on Bishop Bell:- Apologies that sit awkwardly with a church that refuses to believe in ‘innocent until proved guilty.’


One cannot believe in the probity of an organisation or institution that fails such a vital test and core value of innocent until proved guilty.

Perhaps the greatest shock in reading Timothy Briden’s report is the extent to which the additional accusations raised by people other than Carol, were so evidently suspicious  at first sight, and became transparently false on further sensible investigation.

One witness has his mother saying to him (hearsay of course) that she interrupted Bishop Bell having energetic sexual intercourse with another man over the bonnet of a large rolls Royce in the garage after she answered a telephone call for the bishop and went looking for him.

Not only had the bishop been dead for 9 years (until he later revised the date on being told that) but the bishop at the revised date would have been 72, and in rather frail health. His capacity for engaging in energetic sodomy over the bonnet of a Roll Royce (which he didn’t in fact own) was as unlikely as someone other than a secretary or chaplain answering the phone and then looking for the bishop in the garage.

Briden concludes rather pithily “Bishop Bell was physically incapable of the misconduct attributed to him.”  (31).

A woman named ‘Alison’ also accuses Bishop bell of interfering with he sexually while purportedly sitting on his knee. The difficulty with her evidence 70 years after the event was that she wandered off at tangents, self-contradicted, and crucially when asked if she really had been touched in the crotch replied “..it was round my tummy and I suppose sort of in my crotch, but that’s about as specific as I could be.”

So the tummy, not the crotch then?….

Briden referred back to the Psychiatrist Professor Maden quoted at paragraph 178 of the Carlile review.

“Memory is not reliable over such long periods of time, Recall is an active mental process in which memories become distorted with time to fit the individual’s beliefs, needs and values.

Both the content and the meaning of recollections change with time. Events can and do acquire significance years later that they did not have at the time.”

Then there was the journalist Sian Hewitt who purported in the local newspaper to have interviewed a former psychiatric nurse, who supposedly knew adults who had been abused by Bell. Having written and published this, she disappeared and no one has been able to contact her.

What is seriously alarming reading these accusations is how they act to corroborate the original accusation but without any merit whatsoever. Is it really possible that such a reputation, of a bishop like Bell, or anyone in fact, could be posthumously discarded on the basis of these fits of septic imagination and false memory?

Which brings us to Carol, the basis of the assassination of Bishop Bell.

The Bishop of Chichester forbad Timothy Briden to consider Carol’s evidence. There are indications in his report that he was itching to deal with it, but was forbidden and didn’t want to have his findings in defence of Bell undermined should he have allowed himself to.

The issue with Carol’s evidence is that it is seriously fragile to several accusations. The first is the unreliability of anyone’s memory over that period of time; the second is that there may possibly have been a sexual predator in the close who wore some kind of uniform, and there are any number of reasons adduced in the Carlile report why it would not have been Bishop Bell.

An impartial analysis of the Church of England’s handling of this is that the Core group were simply appallingly shoddy and incompetent. And on the basis of their negligence and incompetence in a fit of self-righteous virtue signalling chest thumping, the Church sacrificed Bishop Bell’s reputation on the altar not only of political correctness (to put it at its most succinct) but also because this acted as a cheap way to by virtue signalling credit in the public space.

It might well have been the right thing to do to listen courteously to Carol, so sympathise deeply with the pain of her apparent memories, and to pay her the utmost sincere attention in her distress, such as it was.

But not then to have publicly discarded Bishop Bell’s posthumous reputation without due process, proper investigation and against the burden of proof of either criminal or civil liability.

Even now Bishop Bell deserves to be wholly and complexly exonerated. His memory deserves to be cleared. And the failure to do so threatens every official member of the Church of England as an organisation from the present (and future) Archbishops down to the humblest Lay Reader or Church Warden.

Different voice in the Churches still fail. Martin Warner (one might say almost ‘unusually’) appears to me to be the only one to gain some, if not much, credit.


Cannot bring himself to exonerate Bell. He apologises fulsomely over process failures, but his fixation on the virtue of victimhood traps him fatally.

“We did not manage our response to the original allegation with the consistency, clarity or accountability that meets the high standards rightly demanded of us. I recognise the hurt that has been done as a consequence. This was especially painful for Bishop Bell’s surviving relatives, colleagues and supporters, and to the vast number of people who looked up to him as a remarkable role model, not only in the Diocese of Chichester but across the United Kingdom and globally. I apologise profoundly and unconditionally for the hurt caused to these people by the failures in parts of the process and take responsibility for this failure.

However, it is still the case that there is a woman who came forward with a serious allegation relating to an historic case of abuse and this cannot be ignored or swept under the carpet. We need to care for her and listen to her voice.”


No Archbishop, read Lord Carlile’s report again and more carefully.

Despite the obvious contradiction which is neither a dilemma and certainly not a paradox, the Archbishop wants to have his self-righteous cake and eat it:

“This very difficult issue therefore leaves the church with an impossible dilemma which I hope people with different perspectives on it will try to understand.

Finally, I want to make it very clear that Bishop George Bell is one of the most important figures in the history of the Church of England in the 20th century and his legacy is undoubted and must be upheld.”

The Safeguarding Team lapse into standard progressive mea culpa which means nothing:

“Lessons have already been learnt from this case and we have apologised for mistakes made in our processes.”

How they have the insensitive crassness to resort to that broken and redundant phrase beggars belief. But they do.

Warner comes closest to a judicious, sensible and honest apology, but in the very end can’t bring himself to make a distinction between an innocent reputation and an ancient, if deeply felt, unreliable memory.

“In particular, we have learned that the boundaries of doubt and certainty have to be stated with great care, that the dead and those who are related to them have a right to be represented, and that there must be a balanced assessment of the extent to which it would be in the public interest to announce the details of any allegation.

We recognise the hurt that has been done to all who have been directly involved, including the family of George Bell and those who continue to respect his achievements, as a result of the areas where we have fallen short. We apologise profoundly and sincerely for our shortcomings in this regard

“We have all been diminished by this case. The legitimate quest for certainty has been defeated by the nature of the case and the passage of time. Bishop Bell cannot be proven guilty, nor can it be safely claimed that the original complainant has been discredited. There is an uncertainty which cannot be resolved. We ask those who hold opposing views on this matter to recognize the strength of each other’s commitment to justice and compassion.”

This is as close as poor Bishop Bell and those who treasure the memory of a good and inspirational bishop who had various types of calumny flung at him posthumously, none of which could outweigh the weight of the precious and vital ethical value par excellence, that any of us are INNOCENT, until and unless we are proved guilty.

It is to the deep shame of the Church of England that it fails to uphold that ancient, Christian and civilised value. One cannot believe in the probity of an organisation or institution that fails such a vital test and core value of  ‘innocent until proved guilty’.





Powered by WordPress.com.

Up ↑