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Dean of Oxford, Martyn Percy, faces removal from office

05 November 2018

David Hartley/Church Times

The Dean speaks at the Church Times Festival of Preaching, held at Christ Church, Oxford, in 2017

The Dean speaks at the Church Times Festival of Preaching, held at Christ Church, Oxford, in 2017

A FORMAL complaint has been made against the Dean of Christ Church, Oxford, the Very Revd Dr Martyn Percy. He will have to appear before a tribunal to defend himself, and may be removed from office.

The Cathedral Chapter and the college’s Governing Body, having seen the evidence presented by the complainants, have agreed that there is a case to answer, which, if proved, could constitute good cause for the removal of the dean from office. It is understood that there is a range of views on the issue in the Chapter.

No details of the complaint have been made public, but it is believed to relate to an issue of poor governance raised by Dr Percy, including the setting of senior salaries at Christ Church, among them his own.

The tribunal process itself raises further questions about governance. It is understood that Dr Percy was given no opportunity to challenge any of the evidence against him. Dr Percy is not talking to the press, but a college insider said: “Chapter and Governing Body did not invite the Dean to give any response to the complaint, or put forward any documents of his own before making their decision.”

On Monday, the Sub Dean of Christ Church, Canon Edmund Newey, said: “We are clearly aware that a complaint has been made against our Dean. The Governing Body of Christ Church has now referred this complaint for adjudication by an independently chaired internal tribunal. It is obviously not appropriate for Chapter to comment further while the matter is ongoing.

“Our Dean has been absent from the Cathedral and College in recent weeks on sick leave. We wish him a speedy recovery to full health and are currently awaiting an update on when he will return to work.

“Martyn and his family are much in our thoughts and prayers. Meanwhile the Cathedral’s primary focus on the worship of God and the service of his people remains undiminished, all the more important in testing times such as these.”

It was reported in The Sunday Times that the Dean’s lawyers had raised concerns that he was being bullied.

A spokesman for the Bishop of Oxford, Dr Steven Croft, said: “While this is a primarily a college matter, the Bishop is aware of a complaint made against the Dean, who is a close colleague, and has been monitoring the situation carefully. Any allegation of bullying in Christ Church is extremely concerning and would need to be followed up by appropriate authorities.

“The Bishop is praying for all those involved in this difficult situation and awaits the outcome of the independent tribunal.”

The Governing Body of Christ Church comprises 64 members, including the Dean and Canons. The vast majority are teaching staff. The statutes state that any seven may make a complaint to the member of the Governing Body who longest ago held the office of Censor Moralis Philosophiae (Senior ex-Censor), seeking the removal of the Dean from office “for good cause”.

The complaint is then referred to both the Governing Body (excluding the Dean and those making the complaint) and the rest of the Chapter.

If both bodies agree that the complaint is “supported by sufficient evidence which could, if proved, constitute good cause for the removal of the Dean from office”, then they jointly appoint a tribunal to hear and determine the matter. In such a case, the Senior ex-Censor may suspend the Dean until the tribunal can meet, “if he or she considers that the House might otherwise suffer significant harm”.

The tribunal will be made up of equal numbers from the Chapter and the Governing Body. A chair has yet to be appointed.

The only recommendation that the tribunal may make is whether or not the Dean should be removed from office. It is likely that Dr Percy will also ask the tribunal to consider the treatment he has received during the complaint process.

Support for Dr Percy has been building since the complaint was made public at the weekend. The Bishop of Liverpool, the Rt Revd Paul Bayes, posted on Twitter: “Martyn Percy is a decent, kind, infuriating, magnificently mistaken, splendidly articulate, rightly and helpfully prophetic Christian theologian. Many prayers for his resilient flourishing.”

Dr Linda Woodhead, Professor of Sociology of Religion at Lancaster University, said: “I know Martyn well as a colleague and a friend. The irony is that he’s a thoroughly decent, old-fashioned establishment man — but he believes in holding the establishment to account by the highest standards.”

A statement from the Charity Commission said: “We are aware of issues around the governance and leadership at Christ Church College Oxford. The charity has reported the matter to the Commission in line with our guidance on reporting serious incidents, and we are currently assessing relevant information.

“Allegations of bullying are taken extremely seriously by the Commission. We expect the trustees to take meaningful steps to address the issues and keep us updated on developments. Governance issues go to the heart of a charity’s culture and can have a significant impact on public trust and confidence in a charity.”

A GoFundMe page has been created this week in support of Dean Percy. “Friends and colleagues” are invited to contribute to “funds [which] are needed in the near-future to off-set high legal bills. Martyn and his family are deeply grateful for all the support and kind donations.”

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