I see the Church of England has thrown Bishop Bell to the wolves – one allegation of sexual misconduct with a child and he’s busted. That’ll teach anyone to stand out for their principles and oppose area bombing in a war where to do so singled him out for abuse from the press – best stick with the consensus – after all, what else is the C of E for? If we’re house-clearing for the C of E, it’s clearly time now for it to make a handsome apology to Harold Davidson, the Vicar of Stiffkey, who didn’t, it seems do anything more than try to rescue prostitutes and fall foul of a bad-tempered old Bishop of Norwich.
Despite being based out on the North Norfolk coast where he was supposed to be ministering to the locals, Davidson decided his real calling was in Soho, where he became known as the ‘Prostitutes’ Padre’. When he was eventually charged with committing ‘immoral acts’ in 1932, the Press had a field day. On the one side were a set of charges which showed that, at the least, Davidson had behaved unwisely and gained himself a reputation as a ‘sex pest’ in Soho where, as we would now surely admit, he had simply been trying to understand the lives of the local sex workers? But to the press of the day this was not clear, any more than it was to the Consistory Court, which took the judgmental view that a photo of the rector with a young woman showing her bare backside to the photographer suggested he was guilty as charged; how judgmental of them? Perhaps she was cold and he was just clothing the naked?
Poor old Davidson, after his defrocking, protested his innocence and raised money to pay his legal bills by exhibiting himself in shows at Blackpool in a barrel, and later, at Skegness, posing with lions in a cage. When the inevitable happened, Davidson went to a version of a martyr’s death; he should surely be recognised as a martyr to the cause of progressive Christianity?
It more than time that the C of E reexamined this scandalous miscarriage of justice. It’s pretty clear that some of the girls were lying, and there’s every reason for the Church to reexamine the case, admit it got it wrong, and do justice to poor old Davidson. It may, of course, be that he actually believed in the literal truth of the Resurrection, but that was not uncommon then, even in the C of E, and it should be overlooked in favour of the fact he was a victim of persecution by Norfolk toffs and narrow-minded clergymen. He was a victim of prejudice, and even if he was not up with the latest thinking that there is nothing from which sex workers need rescuing, he had a clear leaning to the poor and needy.
Who are we to judge? If a Rector based in Norfolk wants to spend his week ends in Soho helping sex workers, who’d be narrow-minded enough to say he’d be better off doing his day job? It is another example of the need for historical justice – don’t know about ‘Rhodes must fall’, but ‘Harold must rise’ seems to be the way to go.