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Supporters warned off as Dean of Christ Church, Oxford, steps back

19 November 2020

David Hartley/Church Times

The Dean of Christ Church, Oxford, the Very Revd Professor Martyn Percy

The Dean of Christ Church, Oxford, the Very Revd Professor Martyn Percy

SUPPORTERS of the Dean of Christ Church, Oxford, the Very Revd Professor Martyn Percy, have been reprimanded by the Oxford diocese. The supporters, in turn, have asked why members of the college’s Governing Body have not been criticised.

On Tuesday, it was announced that Dean Percy was stepping back from his duties while a new complaint against him is being investigated.

The following statement was issued to students and staff: “The Dean of Christ Church, the Very Revd Martyn Percy, has voluntarily withdrawn with immediate effect from all duties and pastoral responsibilities in his role as Dean of the College and Cathedral. Christ Church will not be commenting further whilst necessary inquiries are under way. The Charity Commission and relevant Church of England authorities are being kept fully informed.”

The Dean, who is also head of the college, has been in dispute with the college authorities for the past three years. He was recently cleared of a complaint from the college by the Church of England’s National Safeguarding Team (News, 8 September), and some of his supporters have assumed that the new complaint is connected with college attempts to remove him.

On Thursday, however, a fresh statement was added to the note about the Dean on the Oxford diocesan website, prompted by media reports. It read: “We are disappointed that those seeking to support the Dean are reportedly trying to downplay the severity of the complaint. Such actions belittle the complainant and only add to the distress of anyone else considering a complaint against someone in a senior position.

“The complaint, which has been brought to the Church under the Clergy Discipline Measure, will be properly and thoroughly investigated.”

The diocesan statement, in turn, has been criticised by David Lamming, a friend of Dean Percy and a General Synod member, as a “wholly inappropriate public comment while the current allegation is under investigation”. He objects, in particular, to the reference to “severity”, and asks for information about the authorship of the statement.

Other allies of the Dean have pointed out that the diocesan reprimand is one-sided. It is said that at least one member of the college’s Governing Body was known to have briefed journalists anonymously about the case.

A story in the Daily Mail on Friday partially identifies the complainant in the new case, and resurrects a dispute started by the college in the summer against research funding from the United States for the McDonald Centre for Theology, Ethics and Public Life, which another Canon of Christ Church, Professor Nigel Biggar, directs (News, 19 June). Professor Biggar has been an outspoken supporter of Dean Percy. 

The Daily Mail writes: “The Mail has learnt that inquiries are also being made over money discovered in college accounts originating with an obscure Michigan-based Christian group.” Far from being obscure, the McDonald Agape Foundation has funded several projects at St Mellitus Theological College, including the McDonald Professorship of Christian Theology, currently held by Lord Williams, the former Archbishop of Canterbury.

One friend of Dean Percy said that he had no intention of belittling the new complaint, but he questioned why the diocesan statement did not encompass both the Dean’s supporters and his critics.

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