Thinking Anglicans

Two reports about the Christ Church Oxford dispute

Updated

Two news articles about the dispute concerning the Dean, Martyn Percy, have appeared on the same day. Each contains new information, but there is surprisingly little overlap. Do read both articles all the way through. (Warning: the FT piece is very long.)

Church Times Christ Church continues to struggle to find peace

A NEW row is brewing in Christ Church, Oxford, despite the exoneration of the Dean, the Very Revd Dr Martyn Percy (News, 30 August). The Cathedral Chapter has now sought its own legal advice about the actions of a group of senior dons who accused the Dean of “immoral, scandalous, and disgraceful behaviour” (News, 5 November 2018).

As a consequence, there are reports that members of the Chapter have, in turn, been harassed and threatened with legal action. On Wednesday, Dr Percy declined to comment.

The small group of dons used an estimated £1.6 million of college funds to pursue the Dean, who is also Head of House (i.e. Master of the college) after he raised questions about governance and pay scales, including his own. He was cleared of all charges in August, in an internal inquiry led by Sir Andrew Smith, who produced a judgment of more than 100 pages. It is this document that is at the centre of the new row…

Financial Times Scheming spires: trouble at Oxford’s Christ Church

Update: this second article, which was available freely earlier today, has now gone behind a paywall. I am sorry about the inconvenience. See comments below about possible ways around this.

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peter kettle
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peter kettle

I think the FT piece is behind a paywall

Anthony Archer
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Anthony Archer

This is a stunning piece of journalism by the FT. I don’t feel I should cut and paste it here, for copyright reasons. It gets right to the heart of the matter. This was a quite unnecessary procedure initiated by recalcitrant dons who basically smelt an opportunity to get rid of the Dean. I had thought about commenting on TA regarding the intervention by Jonathan Aitken recently and I now do this. “This is an important intervention by the Revd Jonathan Aitken, not least as he is an alumnus of the College. It has been suggested to me that the… Read more »

Anthony Archer
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Anthony Archer

I should add that the reason the FT piece is so good is that they have a copy of the Smith Tribunal Report!

Rowland Wateridge
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Rowland Wateridge

Well, there are two obvious questions. (1) Is Sir Andrew Smith’s report addressed to the Governing Body which (subject to correction) includes the members of the Cathedral Chapter? (2) To whom, and how, was the report delivered? We discussed this recently on another thread when the point was made that all of the members of the Governing Body are the charitable trustees of Christ Church. It’s not readily apparent how any individual or group can have taken steps independently of the other trustees. However, seemingly the Charity Commission don’t perceive any illegality, but have only expressed concern over the large… Read more »

John Swanson
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John Swanson

I wouldn’t describe the FT piece as “stunning”. It struck me as quite biased in favour of the Governing Body.

Rowland Wateridge
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Rowland Wateridge

Now read, courtesy of Google. There is rather more to this matter than has been revealed previously. The FT article sheds quite a lot of light, but one would like to be able to see the Tribunal Report for the balanced findings and reasoning of an impartial former High Court judge. I suppose that is unlikely to happen, although the report has already been leaked.

Anthony Archer
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Anthony Archer

Yes, and the statutes don’t seem that clear on the important point as to whom the Tribunal Report is addressed. It may be that the strict position under the statutes is that it is only addressed to the complainants. That seems to be at the heart of the current internal controversy (one of many) as to who can see a copy. It would be better that the Governing Body simply decide that its findings should be made public. Lots of stakeholders want to know, not least alumni, some of whom have, or will, suspend their donations. I should add that… Read more »

Rowland Wateridge
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Rowland Wateridge

Well, if the leak is only an assumption, that changes things somewhat. But I’m quite sure that the Tribunal can only have been instituted by the Governing Body and the Canons corporately and not by any self-appointed complainants. There are now several TA threads about this (sadly not cross-referenced), but in earlier ones we analysed in great detail “Part VII – Removal of the Dean from office” which says this: “42. If it appears both (a) to the Governing Body; and (b) to the Chapter on the available material that the complaint is supported by sufficient evidence which could, if… Read more »

Rowland Wateridge
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Rowland Wateridge

From habit, I reverted to referring to the Canons instead of “the Chapter” – but the effect is exactly the same.

John Scrivener
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John Scrivener

I don’t know whether it’s biased or not, but certainly Percy doesn’t emerge very well from it.

Susannah Clark
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Susannah Clark

As my relative Charles Dodgson would have said, ‘curiouser and curiouser’.

Kate
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Kate

This will take years to play out fully. In most colleges, fellows face re-election every ten years. In the case of those deemed by their peers to be responsible for this fiasco, that might prove difficult.

Andrew
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Andrew

The FT piece is fascinating because it is written from such a very different perspective from that of the religious or even the mainstream press. The paper has no interest in academic or church politics. From the FT’s perspective, this is partly a story about corporate governance, partly a story about charity law, but mainly a story about money. The key quote comes near the end: “Splitting the college from the cathedral would solve several headaches. But it would create one big one: who would get the endowment, now worth £550m?” Descending from the lofty sphere of money to the… Read more »

John
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John

Some people who already dislike the Dean (whether rightly or not I cannot say) are determined to present everything he does and says in the worst possible light. Just last week in a speech to a group of about 250 alumni who arrived in the late 60s, he spoke at length and very strongly of the need for reconciliation and bridge-building in order to move ahead. Not all present heard it as sincere, but those were already disposed against the Dean.

Richard Ashby
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Richard Ashby

There is surely one clear lesson from this extraordinary situation. College and Cathedral need to be separated. Certainly legally and perhaps physically. Do the Church Commissioners support this cathedral as they do the others, and are the lay congregation, from outside the University expected to make their contribution too? Perhaps the best thing to do would be to make the whole of the responsibility for the building, reduced to the status of a college chapel, over to the university and designate somewhere else in the diocese as its Cathedral. It’s time to bring this Henrican anomaly to an end.

Rowland Wateridge
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Rowland Wateridge

The Church Commissioners do not financially support Christ Church Cathedral. As in much else, it is the only cathedral exception.

american piskie
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american piskie

Lay canon-professors seem to be quite acceptable nowadays, so perhaps a lay Dean is the way to go.

Rowland Wateridge
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Rowland Wateridge

The Dean of Christ Church, like other cathedral deans is appointed by the Queen. The Dean is a very senior person in Holy Orders and, again, like all other cathedral deans is head of the Cathedral Chapter. The unique set-up at Oxford is that the Cathedral Dean is at the same time Dean of the College, ‘Head of the House’ on the same premises. The Cathedral and College are united as a single charitable body. Obviously a lay Dean is a complete impossibility in a Cathedral and, it follows, at Christ Church Oxford. The governance of Christ Church is under… Read more »

Anthony Archer
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Anthony Archer

The secular Governing Body, if left to them, would not want the appointment to be a Crown appointment, nor thereby one requiring a person in Holy Orders. They participated to a much greater extent over Dean Percy’s appointment compared with previous appointments, which is somewhat ironic given relationships now. However, it would require at the least, I assume, an Order in Council to change it and arrangements made for there to be a Dean of the cathedral, the Bishop of Oxford’s seat. The current Sub-Dean essentially runs the cathedral, not the Dean. I can’t see much changing in the years… Read more »

Rowland Wateridge
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Rowland Wateridge

I can’t really add much. My post was largely intended for “american piskie” to assist explaining the present set-up which is complex enough to baffle any outsider. I think that Richard Ashby makes a valid point that in all this we hear hardly anything about the non-College congregation, and, expanding on that, how well the present arrangements work for the wider Diocese. It would be good to have their views on these matters. I don’t necessarily support his proposal for the separation of Cathedral and College. I have no connection with either Christ Church or the Oxford Diocese and consider… Read more »

Simon Kershaw
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Actually, I think “american piskie” is very well aware of many of the details of Ch Ch.

Rowland Wateridge
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Rowland Wateridge

I’m pleased to hear that. I wouldn’t spend so much time and effort trying to explain things if people were more open about themselves when posting on TA. There are much wider issues involved if Cathedral and College were to separate – particularly if the Cathedral was relocated as some have suggested here and on an earlier thread. Just as one random question, what would happen to the choral foundation? I think it would be helpful to hear from the people I mentioned – the Cathedral’s lay congregation and church members from this very large diocese. How do they feel… Read more »

John Swanson
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John Swanson

Separating College and Cathedral would be a further cementing of the trend, much lamented in multiple threads here, for the CofE to withdraw from serious academic engagement, would it not? My best understanding is that the root of this tragedy was the resistance of a conservative institution to reform proposed by a more liberal leader. I don’t see that the combined foundation was much of a contributing factor to that? Several Oxford Colleges have appointed Heads with liberal leanings and a brief to lead reform. Some have no doubt navigated the process better than others, and it’s no great surprise… Read more »

Charles Razzall
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Charles Razzall

What a sad state of affairs..just been reading WH Auden’s “A Toast” written in 1958 for a Christ Church Gaudy.Would that there were poets around these days
“God bless and keep out of quarrels
The Dean,the Chapter and D,
The censors who shepherd our morals,
Roy,Hooky,Little and me.
May those who come up next October
Be anstandig,have esprit and nous:
And now,though not overly sober,
I give you a toast-to THE HOUSE!”