THE Church of England is being “dragged into a vendetta” against the Dean of Christ Church, Oxford, the Very Revd Professor Martyn Percy, General Synod members have been told.
In a letter circulated last week to other Synod members, David Lamming and Martin Sewell characterise the investigation by the National Safeguarding Team (NST) — initiated after a complaint lodged by the Senior Censor, Professor Geraldine Johnson, and others (News, 29 May) — as an abuse of the C of E’s processes by “well-connected persons”.
Dean Percy, suspended in 2018 after a dispute over governance and pay, was exonerated after an internal inquiry chaired by Sir Andrew Smith in 2019 and reinstated (News, 23 August 2019), but is still being blocked from most of his duties as head of house pending his employment tribunal to recover the cost of his legal defence.
The letter states: “If Dean Percy is criticised by the Church or the Charity Commission it will be pleaded in the defence of the Dean’s Employment claim against the Governing Body to defeat or mitigate the damages for the dons’ failed coup. We are being used.”
The authors argue that, while clergy in institutions such as Christ Church must have “due regard” for the C of E’s safeguarding standards, the NST has no jurisdiction over of them, as was decided in the case of the Revd Jonathan Fletcher (News, 5 July 2019). None of the allegations against Professor Percy relate to the Dean’s ministry in the cathedral.
The authors go on: “We defer to nobody in our concern for proper safeguarding practice. But this case has nothing to do with safeguarding. . . No person, survivor of abuse, or vulnerable adult has made any complaint, ever, against Dean Percy.”
In the mean time, the Revd Jonathan Aitken, an alumnus of Christ Church and a supporter of Dean Percy, suggested this week that the college had lost “well over £3 million” in donations and bequests from its alumni since its action against the Dean began. This is in addition to the college’s legal bill, estimated to be more than £2 million.
And the Revd Professor Nigel Biggar, a Canon of Christ Church and another of Dean Percy’s supporters, has been ordered by the college’s lawyers to disassociate the McDonald Centre for Theology, Ethics and Public Life, which he directs, from Christ Church.
The institution, funded by a US philanthropist, has held seminars and lectures at the college since its foundation. Christ Church says that it “neither funds the Centre, nor hosts the Centre”, and has asked for “misleading” references on the Centre’s website to be removed.