Thinking Anglicans

Dean of Christ Church Oxford latest

Updated 6 March

We reported on the suspension of Martyn Percy, the Dean of Christ Church Oxford, here.

Harriet Sherwood writes for The Observer this weekend that ‘Gossip and secrecy’ fuel Oxford row over suspended dean. Her article starts:

Prominent clergy linked to Oxford’s Christ Church cathedral are in revolt over a complaint against its dean which they say is “surrounded by secrecy and fuelled by gossip”.

In a row that has convulsed one of the university’s most venerable institutions, the Very Rev Martyn Percy, head of Christ Church – the college founded by Thomas Wolsey in 1546 – as well as dean of the cathedral, has been accused of “immoral, scandalous and disgraceful behaviour”. He has been suspended by the college’s governing body pending a tribunal led by a retired High Court judge later this year.

More than 30 honorary canons headed by Sue Booys, the chair of Oxford diocese house of clergy, wrote last week to Sir Andrew Smith, the former judge, to register concern about the handling of the complaint.

Their letter extolled the “dean’s personal integrity”, and criticised a “sad and cruel delay” before the college’s governing body publicly acknowledged that the unspecified charges against Percy did not relate to safeguarding issues. “The issues relating to this charge seem to be surrounded by secrecy and fuelled by gossip,” it said.

The article also states:

The college’s governing body wrote last month to alumni to say the dispute did not concern safeguarding, gender bias, access issues or the pay of academic staff: “We are not able to discuss the detailed basis of the complaint except to say that it relates to issues surrounding the dean’s own pay and how it is set.”

Update

Camilla Turner The Telegraph Oxford dean accused of trying to remove tutors from salary committee after pay rise request was refused

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Jeremy
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Jeremy

“The dean’s own pay and how it is set.” Isn’t that the job of whoever hires and evaluates the Dean?

Rowland Wateridge
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Rowland Wateridge

It is enormously complex, and was discussed at considerable length in an earlier thread with excerpts quoted from the Christ Church Oxford Statutes. Uniquely, The Dean of Christ Church is appointed to be Head of “the House” and Dean of the Cathedral Chapter by the Governing Body of the College and the Cathedral Canons who are members of the Governing Body. Also uniquely, the Bishop of Oxford is not the Visitor in his own Cathedral and so, as far as I am aware, has no say in these matters. The problem with using prescribed words like “immoral scandalous and disgraceful”… Read more »

Richard W. Symonds
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What is “enormously complex” about a governing body which accuses someone of “immoral, scandalous and disgraceful behaviour” – and suspends them – then later says it only relates to “pay and how it is set”.

That’s much like accusing someone of being a paedophile – thus destroying their life and reputation – then later saying “Sorry, we didn’t mean what we said about you being a paedophile”

In both this, and Bishop Bell’s, case, there’s not even a “Sorry”.

Rowland Wateridge
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Rowland Wateridge

The enormous complexity is not in the words used to frame the ‘charge’ but the uniquely complex set up at Christ Church Oxford. This is the third thread on TA on this subject. The matter was discussed in great detail in the second thread last year to which you, Kate and I all contributed. There is currently an ‘independent internal tribunal’ set up under the Christ Church Statutes and there isn’t yet a decision on which to comment. (The Statutes have force of law and were ‘approved’ by HM the Queen in her Privy Council.) As mentioned in my reply… Read more »

Kate
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Kate

This is a two-edged sword. It is quite hard to win harassment cases under the Equality Act because “intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment” is seen as a high threshold. The same applies to Martyn: the phrase in the Statutes can make the accusations against him sound bad but equally the worse the words are, the higher the threshold his accusers have to prove.

Rowland Wateridge
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Rowland Wateridge

I, at least, am reassured by the fact that this time there is a High Court Judge at the helm of the internal enquiry.

Richard W. Symonds
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“the worse the words are, the higher the threshold his accusers have to prove”

Not in the Bishop Bell case – and at the helm of that original Bell enquiry were a bunch of amateurs.

Rowland Wateridge
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Rowland Wateridge

The Bishop Bell case: On this, Mr Symonds, we agree! The incompetence was astonishing, all the more so because (however unsavoury some people might find the subject-matter) there is a substantial body of available legal expertise in dealing with these sad cases which it simply doesn’t seem to have occurred to anyone as being essential to have on board.

Kate
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Kate

I don’t know about that. I think the process was a total mess.

Father Ron Smith
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Any statement made by the governing body of Christ Church, Oxford, that presumes to offer calumny against the Dean must surely be substantiated in law. Until his presumed ‘guilt’ is established, the cloud that hangs over the Very Rev Martyn Percy, head of Christ Church – and which is causing him and his family considerable personal stress (shades of the family of former Bishop George Bell) – is nothing less than a scandal for the Church he serves. When will the authorities move to overturn this disgraceful situation – which is being observed by, not only the Anglican Communion Churches… Read more »

Rowland Wateridge
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Rowland Wateridge

The University has been wrongly, and unfairly, blamed in some of the press reporting and sensationalist articles. This is 100% an internal matter of Christ Church. But you are right that inevitably mud will stick. The ‘internal tribunal’ is being chaired by a retired High Court Judge (also still active as a Deputy High Court Judge).

And, yes, I also saw some parallels with the initial media reporting about Bishop Bell.

Kate
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Kate

In general I would agree but not as far as 100%. The University and colleges are co-dependent rather than truly independent.

Rowland Wateridge
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Rowland Wateridge

It really is important to understand that the process was started by the Governing Body of Christ Church and is entirely internal to Christ Church under the provisions of the Christ Church Statutes (apologies for so much repetition). There cannot have been any input from outside bodies. I agree with you and Father Ron that in people’s perceptions there is an unfortunate spin-off for the University.

Kate
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Kate

Rowland you accurately describe the situation as is but I don’t believe that exonerates the University’s failure to, for instance, stipulate a maximum term for which heads of houses may be suspended from duties.

Rowland Wateridge
Guest
Rowland Wateridge

Kate, the answer, again, is the Christ Church Statutes. The University has no say.

This is even more complicated as the Cathedral is effectively without a Dean – it’s not just the ‘College’ – the Dean’s role in “The House” is a dual one.

Kate
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Kate

The University decides which colleges and Permanent Private Halls meet the criteria for recognition by the University. Heads of Houses have status in the University and consequently the University would be entitled to place limits on the duration of any suspension. Moreover the reputation of the University is affected and for that reason alone the University is not an uninterested party and could impose broad restrictions on Colleges wishing to keep their recognition.

It is far too convenient, and not at all convincing, for the University to say that they are uninvolved.

Rowland Wateridge
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Rowland Wateridge

I am not aware that the University has said that it is not involved. It is my interpretation, based on the Christ Church Statutes, that this is solely a Christ Church matter. Whether or not we individually like it, a procedure has been instigated under the chairmanship of a High Court Judge and we must await the outcome.

If you were to write to the Vice-Chancellor, I suspect that the reply would be that the matter is sub judice.

James
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James

Financial Times today: https://t.co/onpBHd7Tu9