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‘Weaponising’ of abuse victims in Oxford row ‘beyond contempt’ Christ Church dons told

11 March 2020


SENIOR members of Christ Church, Oxford, have been accused of “weaponising” the suffering of abuse victims in a further attempt to oust the Dean, the Very Revd Dr Martyn Percy.

On Wednesday of last week, a message accusing the Dean of safeguarding lapses was posted on the college website (News, 6 March). Dr Percy issued an instant rebuttal. (Elements of his rebuttal were then challenged by lawyers working for the college.)

The Diocesan Canon Precentor, the Revd Dr Grant Bayliss, has written to all members of the Governing Body to object to the message, which was circulated to the press by the PR firm Luther Pendragon. Canon Bayliss, who is not a member of the Governing Body, has filed a complaint against the small “press group” at the college responsible for the rushed and “staggeringly inadequate” consultation process on Wednesday of last week, when the safeguarding statement was posted on the college website.

He goes on: “I find the fact that no comment or mitigating defence from the Dean was included in the House statement bewildering. . . Moreover, how is it that our website has still not been updated with the Dean’s response, and that its existence is only evident in the Guardian and Church Times?”

He concludes by considering the view that the safeguarding statement was an “intentional attack” on the Dean. “Like some colleagues, I have spent many hours supporting and counselling victims of abuse and violent crime, and to ‘weaponize’ such suffering in any way is beneath contempt.”

On the subject of the offending emails (News, 21 February), Canon Bayliss expresses concern at the “absolute failure” of the college to distance itself from what was said about the Dean. The statement issued, putting the emails down to the expression of frustrations, “seems to suggest that the House is defending the comments as in some way appropriate or justified”.

On the same day as the safeguarding statement on the website, a small group wrote to the 60-strong Governing Body repeating the accusation that the Dean had failed to disclose two allegations of abuse because, the letter states, “they were made to him in what he describes as a ‘confessional’ interaction, which he considers to be confidential. The Church of England has clear guidelines about how to deal with confessions of historic allegations of sexual abuse and sexual assault in the case of minors.”

The Church of England’s Guidelines for the Professional Conduct of the Clergy in fact reassert “the canonical duty of absolute confidentiality” in the context of confession and absolution.

On Saturday, Dr Percy circulated a letter in his defence, in which he writes: “I am entirely confident that I will be fully exonerated. To summarise my defence, all four individuals who reported sexual assaults were over 21 at the time of those reports. . . Two of them had already reported the assaults to the police and to other senior managers within Christ Church, who had actively supported them.

“The other two made it very clear that they did not consent to me informing anyone else about what had happened to them, and as they were mature adults, I of course complied with their wishes.

“I was also satisfied that the alleged perpetrators in the latter two cases posed no risk to children or vulnerable adults.”

Since the college had reported the matter to the National Safeguarding Team, Dr Percy writes that he has paused the mediation process until investigations have concluded.

He has also circulated to Governing Body members a 2017 memo that he wrote to the college Censors (senior officers) in which he calls for a reform of safeguarding procedures. The memo states: “The current Junior Censor says safeguarding does not appear on the list-version of duties and responsibilities given to her.” It goes on to criticise the process of inducting Censors by “some kind of ‘oral tradition’, with an opaque list of duties and responsibilities that they then decide how to tackle, and in some cases, to redact or ignore. . .

”Some of those tasks then get picked up by unqualified college officers. But other tasks, that cannot be delegated (e.g., safeguarding, as it is legally a matter of governance) get lost.”

As well as the investigation by the C of E’s National Safeguarding Team, Christ Church has started its own internal investigation. Dr Percy has expressed concern to the Governing Body that the investigation is being led by two people who had made the allegations against him. He requested that the Governing Body, meeting on Wednesday after the Church Times went to press, appoint “an unbiased individual” to investigate the Censor’s allegations.

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