Thinking Anglicans

Charity Commission calls for urgent mediation at Christ Church

Updated again Sunday (scroll down)

The Charity Commission has issued this press release: Christ Church Oxford – mediation required by charity regulator.

The Charity Commission has told both sides in the dispute at Christ Church, Oxford, to enter into a mediation process.

The Commission is concerned that the very protracted and public dispute between the College’s governing body and its Dean is damaging to the reputation of the charity, and affecting its ability to govern itself.

The situation risks harming the reputation of charity more generally, in the eyes of the public.

Both parties in this dispute have called on the Charity Commission to intervene further. However, any regulatory intervention can be effective only if relationships between all parties are stable. The Commission has therefore today told the parties to the dispute that it expects them to enter into formal mediation within a limited time frame, with a mediator selected by the Commission, and without delay.

Helen Stephenson, Charity Commission Chief Executive, said:

It is not our job, as charity regulator, to referee disputes. Our role is, instead, to ensure that charities are governed effectively, charitable funds are properly accounted for, and trust in charity is maintained. In these exceptional circumstances, we have told the parties to the dispute to enter mediation, without which it is difficult to resolve issues in the charity in any reasonable timescale.

The Commission will not comment further on the case until the mediation has been completed.

It has also asked both sides to refrain from public, or private, commentary whilst the mediation process takes place.

Notwithstanding the clear request in the last sentence above, Christ Church promptly issued this Statement about mediation:

25 June 2020
The ongoing dispute between Christ Church and the Dean has undoubtedly gone on for far too long. Its impact on Christ Church’s daily life, its staff, students, teaching and research, all risk being affected without the prospect of a resolution. We were therefore delighted to learn at our meeting with the Charity Commission today that it has now agreed to intervene. For some time, we have sought to address the impasse through independent mediation, but that process was unfortunately put on hold earlier this year. We hope that the Dean responds quickly and positively to the Commission’s announcement and we look forward to attending the mediation it is facilitating as soon as possible.

In other shenanigans, the Regius Professor of Hebrew has been convicted in France (where he lives) of sex offences, see this in the Guardian Oxford professor sentenced to jail in France over child abuse images and also this in the student newspaper Christ Church professor sentenced to jail over child abuse images.

Christ Church has published a statement on its website, now changed from the version published on 22 June.
It appears from this that the French authorities had made no contact with anyone in Oxford prior to the court’s decision.  However, it has today been admitted by the college that Professor Joosten was one of the 41 signatories of the letter to the Charity Commission which the Church Times described as accusing Dr Percy of “sacrificing the best interests of Christ Church to his own”.

And the Financial Times carries this: Oxford college rocked by allegations of leaks and blackmail.

Updates

The Bishop of Huddersfield has written a letter to the Church Times which has also been published on the CofE website:

Sir, — In response to your report “C of E is ‘being used’ in campaign against Dean of Christ Church” (News, 19 June), I would like to point out that the National Safeguarding Team (NST) has no view about, and is not involved in, the wider issues relating to the College and the Dean.

When a referral is made alleging that a senior member of the clergy has not fulfilled his or her safeguarding responsibilities, the NST has a duty to consider the management of any safeguarding risk. In this case, an independent safeguarding person has been asked to investigate and report back.

As I am sure your readers would agree, the Church must take all safeguarding issues very seriously, and all this is being done in accordance with the House of Bishops guidelines. For reference, the Dean of Christ Church is a “Church officer” within the definition contained in the House of Bishops practice guidance.

There is no agenda behind this and we hope that with the cooperation of all concerned this matter can be concluded quickly.

Further media coverage:

Guardian Bitter row ruining Oxford college reputation, says watchdog

Telegraph Christ Church row is ‘affecting its ability to govern itself’, charity watchdog warns

Sunday update

Archbishop Cranmer has Christ Church’s PR agency colludes with FT journalist (and alumnus) to defame Dean. This is a long and detailed discussion focusing initially on the Financial Times article linked above, but do read all the way through, and in particular note the letter from the Senior Censor which replies to questions from an abuse survivor.

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David Lamming
David Lamming
3 months ago

The FT article is behind a pay wall. Are you able to reveal it?

Richard W. Symonds
Richard W. Symonds
2 months ago

The FT article succeeds in ‘muddying the waters’ of blame. Martyn Percy’s enemies must be delighted.

Richard W. Symonds
Richard W. Symonds
2 months ago

Just to be clear…   “In Sept 2018, the Dean wanted to set up a staff pay review. Seven of his colleagues, (Christ Church college trustees), took against him and accused him of ‘conduct of an immoral, scandalous or disgraceful nature’. This is the justification for removal by the college statutes. A tribunal set up with a retired High Court judge as chairman completely rejected all the charges against the dean. In the process the college, which is a charity, is alleged to have run up 7 figure legal bills. The Dean has had to pay for his own legal… Read more »

Rowland Wateridge
Rowland Wateridge
2 months ago

I suppose we must now desist from further discussion, but one seriously wonders about the quality of much newspaper reporting in church matters generally and about Christ Church in particular. The truth is that in our increasingly secular society it is apparent that some reporters and editors don’t really know their subject, and the public readership is unwittingly misinformed.

Richard W. Symonds
Richard W. Symonds
2 months ago

As I understand it, we are not not required here to “desist from further discussion” – nor should we. Only those who are directly involved have been legally ‘muzzled’.

Richard Pinch
Richard Pinch
2 months ago

As an alumnus of Christ Church, this is probably the least worst option. Like many former members, I’ve been distressed to see two institutions to which I owe gratitude, college and cathedral, locked in this self-destructive spiral. In fact, the closest analogy I can come up with is seeing an old friend in the grip of some terrible addiction such as alcohol or gambling. What does a well-meaning friend do under those circumstances? Not much. The only I can think of is that the destructive behaviour has to just stop: oh, and friends don’t give friends in the grip of… Read more »

Kate
Kate
2 months ago

I am surprised that the Bishop of Huddersfield’s statement hasn’t attracted more comment. Firstly, can anyone provide the formal definition of Church Officer? Secondly, there is the usual overreach. ‘For reference, the Dean of Christ Church is a “Church officer” within the definition contained in the House of Bishops practice guidance.’ The bishops again seem to be confusing guidance and rules. I don’t see, as a matter of fact, that the Dean as a Crown appointment to an independent third party was obliged to follow Church of England guidance rather than the formal rules of that third party, ie Christ… Read more »

Rowland Wateridge
Rowland Wateridge
2 months ago
Reply to  Kate

Kate: Although I wanted to keep out of this, you have raised many points which I believe have all been dealt with on earlier TA threads. Uniquely the Dean is Dean and head of the Cathedral Chapter in the conventional way and simultaneously Head of the House, equivalent to, e.g., a Master or Warden in other colleges. The Christ Church Statutes set out the Dean’s functions in great detail. Now as to the Cathedral, the Statutes (I 5.) say this:   5. The powers reserved to the Dean and Chapter (a) There shall be excepted out of the powers assigned… Read more »

NJW
NJW
2 months ago
Reply to  Kate

I’m afraid that your statement that the cathedral is primarily the chapel of a college that just happens to be used as a cathedral is the reverse of the actual legal case. The formal legal body of Christ Church is the Dean and Chapter, who happen to be responsible for an Oxford college. This is well-recognised in the various statutes (and it is their peculiarity that mean that Church Church is generally exempted from normal cathedral legislation). The Dean is a crown appointment in the same way as any other cathedral dean (excepting two former parish-church cathedrals). Therefore, the cathedral… Read more »

Rowland Wateridge
Rowland Wateridge
2 months ago
Reply to  NJW

On my reading of the Christ Church Statutes responsibility for the College vests in the Governing Body of which the Dean is concurrently Head. I quoted Statute I 5., above, not so much to make that point but to provide evidence of what you correctly say, that the Cathedral (also note the choral foundation, Cathedral clergy and the buildings they occupy) not only vest in the Dean and Chapter but are expressly excluded from the Governing Body’s powers. This incidentally makes a nonsense of the idea of moving the Cathedral to a new site, e.g., Dorchester Abbey, as was suggested… Read more »

Froghole
Froghole
2 months ago

Thank you for citing the statutes. There is another factor which I think worth mentioning and which is arguably of no less importance than the provisions to which you refer.   It is this: the dean is vulnerable to economic attack by the students, because his stipend is approved by the Governing Body as a whole (i.e., dean, canons and students). When the Ecclesiastical Commissioners were established by the Melbourne ministry there were extensive expropriations of capitular assets and revenues (Sections 49 and 50 of the ‘Dean & Chapter Act’ 1840). In return, capitular clergy would be funded by the… Read more »

Froghole
Froghole
2 months ago
Reply to  NJW

“The Dean is a crown appointment in the same way as any other cathedral dean (excepting two former parish-church cathedrals).”   It was my understanding that all twelve parish church cathedrals (plus St Albans) were in the gift of the diocesan bishop, saving Bradford (Simeon’s Trustees) and Sheffield (Sheffield Church Burgesses’ Trust). Of course, the concept of a ‘parish church cathedral’ became obsolete pursuant to Section 12 of the Cathedrals Measure 1999.   You mention King’s Canterbury. The dean and chapter of Canterbury ceased to be the governing body in 1946 when Fred Shirley secured a royal charter with the… Read more »

Froghole
Froghole
2 months ago
Reply to  NJW

Though I should add that St Albans has been parochial since 1553: https://www.british-history.ac.uk/vch/herts/vol2/pp510-515.

Rowland Wateridge
Rowland Wateridge
2 months ago
Reply to  Froghole

As has been Romsey Abbey and those other monastic houses which survived the Dissolution and were acquired or purchased by the townspeople (as in the case of Romsey in 1544) as their parish church. My understanding is that this was the status of St Albans until 1877 when it additionally became a Cathedral, as contrasted with, say, Gloucester and Peterborough, both Abbeys which became Cathedrals of the New Foundation, and non-parochial, under Henry VIII.

Kate
Kate
2 months ago
Reply to  Froghole

Thank you to everyone who has contributed to improving my understanding. I think it is relevant that even fairly well-informed people here struggle with the complex nature of the role of Dean of Christ Church. Phrasing it very carefully, were I an undergraduate/ graduate member of Christ Church who approached the Dean in confidence on a matter, I would expect him to follow Christ Church’s policies on respecting that confidentiality. If it transpired that my confidence was broken based on the rules of some third party because of obscurity in the Dean’s role, not only would I feel betrayed but… Read more »

David Exham
David Exham
2 months ago
Reply to  Kate

Kate, thank you for your post, and I am glad that your understanding has been improved. I have to confess that the Byzantine complications of the Christ Church governance remain something of a mystery to me, but people have provided valuable clarification. I was not aware that the dispute was a matter of confidentiality: I may have missed something. But confidentiality is a challenging topic, and one that I have had to engage with, as a school head, a school governor, a lay minister and chaplain to a youth organisation. In the scenario your present, an undergraduate/graduate member of Christ… Read more »

Froghole
Froghole
2 months ago

I read the Mance report in the FT with increasing despondency.   This concatenation of scandals reminds me of those dark days in the history of modern Ireland – in 1982 – when Conor Cruise O’Brien, a propos ‘C.J.’ Haughey, coined the acronym ‘GUBU’: grotesque, unbelievable, bizarre, unprecedented.   Leaving the ghastly Joosten conviction to one side, what now is the Percy affair really about? Is it about ‘justice’ or is it about the money? Increasingly, it seems to me that these briefings and counter-briefings – which have been going on for nearly twenty months – are a particularly repugnant… Read more »

Filigree Jones
Filigree Jones
2 months ago

Can the Charity Commission require people to enter mediation? Is mediation something you can oblige others to undertake? My understanding is that mediation (not the same as eg arbitration or conciliation) is something people choose to do. It doesn’t ‘work’ without the personal commitment and willing engagement of both parties. If people feel pressed into mediation they will find ways to thwart the process and the last state of their dispute may be worse than the first. In this case there are legal proceedings pending that perhaps need to be dealt with first. Mediation cannot be a substitute for legal… Read more »

Rowland Wateridge
Rowland Wateridge
2 months ago
Reply to  Filigree Jones

On H M Government website, Policy Paper: “Charity Disputes” published 23 May 2013 (under review) gets as close as one can to answering your question. You will see there the references to the Charity Commission ‘expecting’ the parties to enter into prior mediation. For want of a better term, I think that what the CC has done here is to knock heads together by telling the parties to get on with it. I can’t help about the CC nominating the Mediator, but this goes some way; I think one gets a sense of some exasperation on the part of the… Read more »

Richard W. Symonds
Richard W. Symonds
2 months ago

Let’s not lose sight of the injustice going on here, which continues to be perpetrated by the Church of England hierarchs. There is an unmentioned letter below that of the Bishop of Huddersfield in the Church Times this week: From the Rt Revd Richard Llewellin Sir, — While it makes good sense to suspend a bishop or priest from active ministry while a complaint against her or him is being investigated regarding an alleged abuse, I completely fail to understand why a similar suspension is imposed on such a person whose only possible fault is that she or he has… Read more »

Last edited 2 months ago by Richard W. Symonds
Rowland Wateridge
Rowland Wateridge
2 months ago

I think Bishop Llewellin is probably referring to the case of former Archbishop Carey: he asks “Is there a bishop alive who has never made such a mistake? And how does such a mistake adversely affect their present ministry?”, whereas the Bishop of Huddersfield is referring specifically to Martyn Percy. The cases are similar, but different. I have much sympathy with what Bishop Llewellin says, but the reality is that the Bishops’ Guidelines and the CDM both prescribe when and how suspension is appropriate. In particular, under the CDM the procedure for suspension of a bishop is different and more… Read more »

M Evans
M Evans
2 months ago

I expect the powers that be would say, if someone in authority has displayed poor judgement before, they may still be doing it now, and such a failure to act may allow abuse to take place or continue. A bishop who hasn’t suspended or investigated a cleric who has been accused of harm could therefore be accused of colluding with, even allowing this harm.

Mark Beach
Mark Beach
2 months ago

Much has been written here and in other places about the breakdown in the relationship between Christ Church and its Dean. Much less about Regius Professor of Hebrew and his collection of abusive images of children.
 
And yet Thinking Anglicans links the two stories by describing both as “shenanigans”. Your choice of words does not live up to the high standards of reporting that you have set for yourselves and those who comment.
 
I doubt the victims in either case would us the word to describe their experiences…

Richard W. Symonds
Richard W. Symonds
2 months ago
Reply to  Mark Beach

Mark, there are two distinct and different meanings to ‘shenanigans’:

1. secret or dishonest activity or manoeuvring.
2. silly or high-spirited behaviour; mischief.

Richard W. Symonds
Richard W. Symonds
2 months ago

Hierarchs within the PR agency Luther Pendragon, Ecclesiastical, Christ Church and the Church of England should remind themselves of what Revd Graham Sawyer said at the  IICSA – July 2018    “The sex abuse that was perpetrated upon me by Peter Ball pales into insignificance when compared to the entirely cruel and sadistic treatment that has been meted out to me by officials, both lay and ordained. I know from the testimony of other people who have got in touch with me over the last five or 10 years that what I have experienced is not dissimilar to the experience… Read more »

Last edited 2 months ago by Richard W. Symonds
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