Thinking Anglicans

Christ Church Oxford to consider new tribunal action against Dean

We reported on 19 November 2020 A new complaint about the Dean of Christ Church.

Since then we have also linked to several comment articles published on Surviving Church  and Archbishop Cranmer relating to this, in particular (and in reverse date order) on 9 January, 2 January, and 9 December. Some of the linked articles contain fragments of information about developments in this case.

Today and yesterday, two news articles have appeared in mainstream media, both unfortunately behind paywalls, but here are the links, with their headlines, anyway:

Telegraph Camilla Turner Dean of Christ Church faces fresh attempt to be ousted

Times Andrew Billen Oxford college accused of ‘toxic’ bid to paint dean Martyn Percy as a sex pest

Both Christ Church and the Oxford diocese have issued statements (full texts copied below)

The Christ Church statement contains no reference to this incident still being treated as a Safeguarding matter, contrary to earlier reports. The Diocesan statement confirms that a CDM action is still proceeding.  TA understands that Oxford diocesan officials, including the bishop, have recused themselves from participation in that action.

The Telegraph reports:

The College’s governing body and the chapter of the cathedral are due to vote on Monday on whether Dr Percy should be taken to an internal tribunal that could see him removed from office. This… follows an alleged incident which took place in Christ Church cathedral in October, where it is claimed that he stroked a woman’s hair and complimented her on her appearance.

The Times article includes this:

Few in the Church of England have voiced their concerns about a complicated affair over which the church has little say. Many, including the Bishop of Oxford, the Rt Rev Steven Croft, appear satisfied that Christ Church has acted responsibly over the latest complaint.

But Rev [Angela] Tilby told The Times: “The difference this time is that the patient machinations of those on the cathedral chapter who have consistently plotted against the dean have now borne fruit with other cathedral clergy apparently actively working for his sacking on the grounds of him being a ‘sex pest’. The mixture of malevolence and naivety is toxic and extremely disturbing in an institution supposedly dedicated to education, learning and holiness.”

Christ Church confirmed yesterday that the governing body would review its investigator’s report alongside the advice of an independent QC.

Both news reports mention that Jonathan Aitken has written to the Cathedral Chapter about the latest developments. In his letter he explains that if the Chapter endorses the Governing Body’s action (expected on Monday) to proceed with a new tribunal, he will seek a Judicial Review in the High Court. and outlines the legal and financial risks involved, both for the Chapter and its individual members. He also makes three suggestions for alternative courses of action by the Chapter.

Christ Church statement:

Updated January 9, 2021

In response to ongoing media speculation, Christ Church has issued the following statement:

“Christ Church unequivocally condemns sexual harassment in any form. When a current member of Christ Church staff made an allegation of sexual harassment against a senior member in October 2020, we followed our formal internal processes. It is important that every member of our community has the right to come forward and make such a complaint.

“Christ Church, as an employer, a charity, and an educational institution, will always treat such an allegation with the utmost seriousness. There have been attempts to suggest that this allegation is connected to historic matters at Christ Church. There is no truth in this and to suggest otherwise is an insult to the victim.

“Christ Church appointed an independent investigator to look into this incident, to interview all relevant parties and witnesses, and to produce a report. Governing Body will now consider the report, and the advice of an independent QC, to decide whether an internal disciplinary process should follow to consider the allegation and decide upon any subsequent sanctions. Christ Church’s statutes state the form this process must take.

“We regret that any public statement is required at this stage, before a decision has been reached. However, since the complaint was made, there have been numerous attempts to identify, intimidate and gaslight the victim both directly and through the media. The victim showed great bravery in coming forward, and we have provided appropriate support in the face of the further harassment they have faced.

“Some, through the media, have also accused Christ Church of taking the allegation too seriously, claiming the matter should be disregarded or treated more leniently. We believe such suggestions are highly inappropriate, and would collude with cultures which aim to silence victims of sexual harassment.”

The Diocese of Oxford has also issued a new statement which can be found here.

Oxford Diocese statement:

9 January 2020
Following further media reports, the Diocese has issued this statement

Bishop Steven continues to hold the difficult situation at Christ Church in prayer and, where possible, is in regular contact with all involved. We are disappointed that anyone should seek to downplay the severity of the complaint. It is entirely right that allegations against clergy and church officers are properly investigated when they are made, and all parties supported — particularly those who have brought the complaint.

Christ Church Oxford is unique as a dual foundation comprising both College and Cathedral. In November last year, the Bishop of Oxford agreed with the Very Revd Martyn Percy, Dean of Christ Church, that Martyn would step back from office while a complaint, which was brought to the Church under the Clergy Discipline Measure (CDM), is investigated. The complaint is also being considered by Christ Church, in accordance with their internal processes and statutes. It is a separate process and independent of the Church.

Christ Church has also issued a statement.

Subscribe
Notify of
guest
38 Comments
Oldest
Newest
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Richard W. Symonds
Richard W. Symonds
5 months ago

In 2018, the governing body of Christ Church accused its Dean of “immoral, scandalous and disgraceful behaviour” – an accusation which proved vacuous.

In 2021, the governing body – and others – might well discover if you point a finger, three are pointing back.

Last edited 5 months ago by Richard W. Symonds
Kate
Kate
5 months ago

I will refrain from commenting on the complaint but make one related observation: when Martyn eventually leaves or retires, a headhunter will really earn their fee finding someone willing to take the post.

Last edited 5 months ago by Kate
FrDavid H
FrDavid H
Reply to  Kate
5 months ago

An astute observation. Who on earth would want to work with such people?

Dominic Barrington
Dominic Barrington
Reply to  Kate
5 months ago

It is a hugely complex process to change anything there, but I wouldn’t mind betting that both the diocese of Oxford and the college might be keen to end the link between head of house, cathedral senior priest and even, perhaps, the chapel of that college having the cathedra.

Richard W. Symonds
Richard W. Symonds
Reply to  Dominic Barrington
5 months ago

That’s as maybe DB, but that does not justify the malicious persecution and near-criminal character assassination of its Dean.

Last edited 5 months ago by Richard W. Symonds
Froghole
Froghole
Reply to  Dominic Barrington
5 months ago

Anecdotally, there are fears within Oxford about the viability of Christ Church. One of the elements of the imbroglio that has become evident of late is that it is not wholly a war between the dean and the students, as an internecine war within the chapter. Painful as this is, it does hold the promise that, as this is not a battle between clergy and laity, the existing system – of Christ Church as college and cathedral – might be preserved. I am not so sure. What I think the crisis has revealed is the inherently unsatisfactory nature of Henry… Read more »

Rowland Wateridge
Rowland Wateridge
Reply to  Dominic Barrington
5 months ago

There are very real problems with this suggestion. I hesitated to respond, but having written about this on another website, I offer these thoughts. Moving the Cathedral elsewhere would bequeath to the college a chapel far greater (larger and more magnificent) than any other, possibly even including King’s College, Cambridge. Would another venue be suitable or large enough for the Cathedral? Would there be available accommodation for the Dean and Canons, having vacated Christ Church? Likewise the choir, which has an international reputation. It actually ‘belongs’ to the Cathedral, as does the ‘organist’ who is, however, also a don. There… Read more »

Rowland Wateridge
Rowland Wateridge
Reply to  Rowland Wateridge
5 months ago

I think I need to add a PS and state that I had not seen Froghole’s comment when writing mine. He is an alumnus of Christ Church, and so has some standing to express a view about it, which I do not. I can think of a far simpler solution which would preserve the Cathedral, the Deanery (the office of Dean, not the building) and the important choral foundation without leaving the present site. However, it isn’t really for outsiders, especially if having no connection with Oxford, to say these things. I have said before on TA that we don’t… Read more »

Froghole
Froghole
Reply to  Rowland Wateridge
5 months ago

Thank you, Mr Wateridge! However, I must respectfully disagree with your contention that having a past connection with a particular institution gives me or any other alumnus a superior right to an opinion. I feel that your very cogent and useful views, which have been based upon much patient research, are as legitimate and as worthy of consideration as those of anyone else, including people associated with Christ Church. Indeed, they might be more useful than those of people associated with Christ Church, since they will be more ‘clinical’ and dispassionate. I don’t consider that my views and my increasingly… Read more »

Susannah Clark
5 months ago

I see two priority issues here: (and first of all) The complaint of the woman needs to be professionally investigated. It is unconscionable that anyone’s complaint should not be handled with utmost seriousness and professionalism, and I’m willing to bet that Martyn Percy would share that principle and its importance. Any such investigation should NOT be executed by the governing body of Christ Church, given the very strong suspicion of witch hunt in their continuing actions against the Dean, and the repudiations and perceived malice that have already been demonstrated or alleged against this body. Unless the entire process is… Read more »

Richard W. Symonds
Richard W. Symonds
Reply to  Susannah Clark
5 months ago

“I regard the championing of George Bell as resulting in great support for the reputation of that bishop, but at the harmful cost of a climate of disbelief for the poor woman who may have been abused by him (I say ‘may’ because it is unproven as these cases often are, but she may quite possibly have been). In the same way, while I personally hold Martyn Percy in esteem and respect, his reputation is irrelevant to the objective review of a woman’s complaint” I will reply to this as briefly, and politely, as possible. There are two victims of… Read more »

Janet Fife
Janet Fife
Reply to  Susannah Clark
5 months ago

Susannah, the women’s complaint was investigated seriously by the police, who found no reason to proceed further. The Oxford DSA had also looked at it and decided it was not a safeguarding matter. The Christ Church malcontents would not accept either expert opinion.

Rowland Wateridge
Rowland Wateridge
Reply to  Janet Fife
5 months ago

Janet: Whilst not wishing to monopolise this thread today, we nevertheless have the situation that the C of E has already gone ahead with a CDM inevitably involving a further investigation of its own and, as you know, that was authorised by the Bishop of Oxford who has delegated his functions in the CDM to the Bishop of Birmingham.

Richard W. Symonds
Richard W. Symonds
Reply to  Janet Fife
5 months ago

The professional approach is to neither believe nor disbelieve the complainant and their allegation. There is no right or entitlement for a complainant to be believed, but there is a right and entitlement for a complainant to be treated with respect, to take their allegation seriously, to listen with compassion, and to record the facts accurately. The unprofessional approach is to to believe or disbelieve the complainant and their allegation – regardless of the facts; treat them with disrespect, not take their allegation seriously, not listen with compassion, and not record the facts accurately. Such an approach will inevitably lead… Read more »

Last edited 5 months ago by Richard W. Symonds
Stanley Monkhouse
5 months ago

I have no special interest in Christ Church. I’m not an alumnus, merely an onlooker who has experienced at first hand the workings of third level institutions and the Church of England, and I am mindful of the peculiarities of the foundation. Setting aside the human aspects of the case, it seems to me that Dr Percy can’t possibly have a future there: with a substantial part of the governing body and the chapter agin him, it is unlikely that a working relationship could be resurrected even if judges and tribunals declare in his favour. For the future, who would… Read more »

Richard W. Symonds
Richard W. Symonds
Reply to  Stanley Monkhouse
5 months ago

“Setting aside the human aspects of the case, it seems to me that Dr Percy can’t possibly have a future there…”

Setting aside the human aspects of the case, it seems to me that particular members of the governing body and the chapter can’t possibly have a future there.

Sam Jones
Sam Jones
Reply to  Richard W. Symonds
5 months ago

Whatever the merits of the issue, it has been clear for some time that Martyn Percy has lost the confidence of a majority of the Christ Church governing body. It’s time for a generous payoff including full reimbursement of all his legal costs to date. The Bishop of Oxford and university Vice Chancellor should be banging heads together to ensure this happens.

I agree that the role of cathedral dean should be separated from head of Christ Church. And the university church would make an excellent cathedral.

Richard W. Symonds
Richard W. Symonds
Reply to  Sam Jones
5 months ago

“Whatever the merits of the issue, it has been clear for some time that Martyn Percy has lost the confidence of a majority of the Christ Church governing body”

Whatever the merits of the issue, it has been clear for some time a minority of the Christ Church governing body has lost the confidence of the real, moral world.

Rowland Wateridge
Rowland Wateridge
Reply to  Sam Jones
5 months ago

I’m to some extent baffled by this as it was spelled out in detail on an earlier thread, and specifically in reply to you, why intervention by the Bishop and the Vice-Chancellor would be inappropriate! It’s not really for anyone on TA to say that the Cathedral and college need to separate, but, if that were to happen, why on earth move to St Mary’s? The choral foundation cannot be ignored. Under the present set-up both Cathedral and the college benefit from its presence, but it is part of the Cathedral foundation, as clearly stated in the Statutes, and always… Read more »

Sam Jones
Sam Jones
Reply to  Rowland Wateridge
5 months ago

Apologies Rowland, I must have missed this. And while I am aware of the unique status of Christ Church, I find it difficult to believe that the Bishop and Vice-Chancellor have no influence.

Rowland Wateridge
Rowland Wateridge
Reply to  Sam Jones
5 months ago

New events. See the latest thread: Christ Church now taking separate action. I made the point that the Bishop was instrumental in bringing a current CDM and in that context clearly couldn’t pull any strings as a peacemaker behind the scenes, even if he was minded to. But agreed that Oxford’s reputation has suffered in this.

Caelius Spinator
Caelius Spinator
Reply to  Stanley Monkhouse
5 months ago

“Now that departments of theology are almost completely laicized, there is nobody of suitable age in orders who IMO would be worthy of a senior academic post in theology – and it is unlikely now that there ever will be again.” I profoundly disagree with that statement, because: (a) I can think of one off the top of my head, who I won’t embarrass here; and (b) as an academic in much different field, there are usually 10x the number of people worthy of a senior academic post than have them. Decisions are made on the basis of networking and… Read more »

Stanley Monkhouse
Reply to  Caelius Spinator
5 months ago

We shall see.

Laurence Cunnington
Laurence Cunnington
5 months ago

The repeated use of the word ‘victim’ in Christ Church’s statement suggests that the investigation has concluded that the allegation is substantiated – yet the statement also says : “…the advice of an independent QC, to decide whether an internal disciplinary process should follow to consider the allegation and decide upon any subsequent sanctions.” Surely the words ‘complainant’ or ‘alleged victim’ should be used at this stage to avoid the appearance of having pre-judged the outcome of any disciplinary hearing?

Last edited 5 months ago by Laurence Cunnington
John Caperon
Reply to  Laurence Cunnington
5 months ago

Response to Laurence Cunningham’s comment. Laurence Cunningham’s comment prompts the question, ‘How objective, how even-handed, is the Christ Church statement?’ It begins well enough. The first paragraph is clear and objective. The problem begins at the end of the second paragraph after ‘there is no truth in this …’. The rest of this sentence, ‘… and to suggest otherwise is an insult to the victim.’ comes right off the fence, using the term ‘victim’, where ‘complainant’ would have retained objectivity, and alleging an ‘insult’ to the ‘victim’. Here, the Christ Church statement takes an inappropriately one-sided and emotive turn away… Read more »

Dr Ben Knighton
Dr Ben Knighton
Reply to  John Caperon
5 months ago

That does not follow. Sadly safeguarding literature does use the prejudicial terms ‘victim’ and ‘perpetrator’ at the stage of an investigation, so no aspersions should be cast at the chapter on that basis.

Stephen Griffiths
Stephen Griffiths
5 months ago

I will be in the minority, but I don’t think the relationship between Christ Church/Oxford Diocese/the cathedral should be unravelled over this issue. It seems to go against everything we want the Church of England to be: woven into the fabric of national life in all kinds of ways. And in any case the C off E needs a few historical anomalies to remind us that wheat and tares are sown together. Working relationships break down all the time. Sometimes it leads to organisational restructuring, sometimes people move on. By removing complex jobs like this we lower expectations of the… Read more »

Rowland Wateridge
Rowland Wateridge
Reply to  Stephen Griffiths
5 months ago

Precisely the point I have made that we seldom, if ever, hear the views of parish clergy and laity of the Diocese. Church music doesn’t seem to figure much in people’s thinking on TA. The Christ Church musical foundation is nationally important, but its primary role is to serve the Cathedral in singing the daily Offices. That must be preserved. It will work best if Cathedral and college remain where they are. It is for others, i.e., proper authorities, to decide whether a new ‘management structure’ is needed, and what form it should take. Inevitably the Crown would be involved… Read more »

Simon Dawson
Simon Dawson
Reply to  Rowland Wateridge
5 months ago

As someone brought up in Oxford, but very much on the town side of the town and gown divide, my impression of the Cathedral’s music output is that it rarely touches anyone outside academia and the passing tourist. Most Oxford resident are more likely to access high quality religiously inspired music through secular institutions such as the Oxford Bach Choir or (for children) the County Education Authority’s underfunded music service. Those imposing doors under Tom Tower with their bowler hatted guards are just too daunting, and so the cathedral remains a no-go area for many.

Rowland Wateridge
Rowland Wateridge
Reply to  Simon Dawson
5 months ago

An interesting comment which, to some extent, reflects my experience when I was turned away, admittedly politely, by a porter when I asked to visit the Cathedral briefly, and was told that I could only do so as part of a tour of the college! The Statutes are explicit about the choral foundation and scholars, stating that the Dean and Chapter and the Dean and Canons respectively “shall be subject only to the legal authority of the Visitor”, i.e., the Crown. The undoubted excellence of the Bach Choir (etc.) misses the point that the Cathedral choir’s job is different: to… Read more »

Froghole
Froghole
Reply to  Simon Dawson
5 months ago

Many thanks. This is indeed the case. For music I would (and still do or, rather, did until last year) get much enjoyment from concerts and oratorios in the Sheldonian or recitals at the Holywell music room (owned by Wadham), the latter being my favourite venue after Wigmore Hall. Some of the central parish churches also have fine musical traditions: St Mary the Virgin, St Michael at the Northgate and St Mary Magdalen. Having been around the college chapels in the last few years, I should note that some college choirs are very good indeed (based on my most recent… Read more »

Last edited 5 months ago by Froghole
Anne
Anne
Reply to  Froghole
5 months ago

A point of information. Visitors to Christchurch Cathedral. If the visitor is a resident of the Diocese they are able to apply for a ‘ticket’ which gives them the right to visit the Cathedral (for free) at any time the cathedral is open. I’m sorry, I forget to whom one has to apply.

Froghole
Froghole
Reply to  Stephen Griffiths
5 months ago

Many thanks. I had the pleasure of attending services at the churches in your benefice in NE Oxfordshire whilst you were there, and I also attended services throughout your current benefice several years ago (most recently Brooke in December 2017). I am not certain that moving the cathedral to the university church would subvert the Church’s engagement with national life; perhaps it might be argued that it would put the Church more at the centre of both the city and the university, rather than hiding the cathedral away as the private chapel of a particular college. Indeed, for most of… Read more »

Stephen .Griffiths
Stephen .Griffiths
Reply to  Froghole
5 months ago

Good to be reacquainted. The evolution of the complex relationships that converge at Christ Church is fascinating. I hope there is still chance for them to continue to evolve rather than cease,

Robin Ward
Robin Ward
5 months ago

It is not quite true to say that only two clerical theology professorships remain at Christ Church. The Hebrew chair was separated from its canonry in 1959, but the Lady Margaret chair and the Regius Chair of Ecclesiastical History (19th century additions to the Christ Church set up) remain attached to their canonries and the occupants must be able to undertake the requisite canonical duties, albeit without having to be either ordained in the Church of England or indeed members of it.

Froghole
Froghole
Reply to  Robin Ward
5 months ago

Many thanks, Dr Ward! I referred to them being ‘lost to the clergy’ rather than to Christ Church. As you probably know as well as anyone, the Hebrew chair was detached from the canonry following the appointment of Cuthbert Simpson to the deanery at the behest of Sir Godfrey Driver, though Driver’s father Samuel (whose commentary on Genesis I have), had held the chair and stall (Driver was acting professor in 1959-60 whilst the statutes were changed). Driver was indignant that he and other lay Hebraists be excluded from the opportunity to get the chair. Alas, if he had ambitions… Read more »

Kate
Kate
5 months ago

I am intrigued why people think that the college and cathedral need to be separated. Nothing in the reporting has suggested that the combination is a central issue in the dispute.

Alan Walker
4 months ago

I am sure that Canon Graham Ward, who has led the campaign against the Dean on behalf of the Cathedral chapter, would love to replace him

38
0
Would love your thoughts, please comment.x
()
x