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Press: Censor struggles to shut down Percy story

06 March 2020


QUITE the funniest development in the Christ Church story was buried in The Times on Tuesday.

First, it reported that the Revd Jonathan Aitken had emailed all the members of the Oxford college’s Governing Body on Sunday evening with copies of the full, unredacted judgment of Sir Andrew Smith in the case brought against the Dean, the Very Revd Dr Martyn Percy. The appendices, which had been withheld from the full meeting of the Governing Body, contain, among other things, the email exchanges in which his opponents speculated about poisoning him (News, 21 February).

Then, the story went on, half an hour later, the Senior Censor, Dr Geraldine Johnson — and thus one of the people who had been part of the original email exchanges — emailed all her colleagues demanding that they delete the offending emails unread, and confirm to her that they had done so. At this point, you realise that the title of “Senior Censor” may have gone to Dr Johnson’s head: it doesn’t actually mean that you can stop people reading their emails.

Given the readiness of Christ Church to spend vast quantities on lawyers throughout this saga, it is a safe bet that the Times story is legally untouchable. If that is the case, this development marks the complete defeat of the PR campaign against Dr Percy. You know that you have lost control of the story when you have to beg people not to read it.

It followed a long and damning piece in Saturday’s Times magazine by Andrew Billen, which set out, with names and dates, one of the safeguarding cases that led to the original friction between Dr Percy and the Censors, besides naming the members of the faction who have been trying to oust him.

THE Christ Church story illustrates what can happen when ancient institutions nourish pettiness and faction. So do any number of cathedral scandals over the years. But for sheer blind, capricious egoism, it is dwarfed by the behaviour of the entitled rich within new reli­gious movements.

There was a striking account in the webzine Bustle of the progress of Rebekah Neumann, the wife of Adam Neumann, a charismatic businessman who was last year forced to step away from WeWork, the company that he had founded, and which had been valued at its peak at $90 billion, without ever making a profit. Six months later, the valuation was a mere $7 billion.

“It was Rebekah who, according to the couple’s own mythology, transformed Adam from a chain-smoking pretty boy with such pro­­found dyslexia he could barely read his text messages into the shamanic figure who wooed so many overconfident white guys in Silicon Valley.”

Rebekah Paltrow was born into a family enriched by large-scale fraud: her father was sentenced to six months in prison for tax evasion. Rebekah — after spending six years in the Kabbalah movement in Los Angeles, married Adam Neumann. She gave him $1 million with which to start his company, which rents out office space.

When people started to question the finan­cial logic of the company, which was taking out long leases on buildings and then using them for short-term lets, the Neumanns deter­mined on financial discipline. “When Adam wanted to make a headcount reduction, Rebekah would walk through the offices look­ing for signs of bad energy, then call a meeting with the offending employee, ordering him or her fired within minutes; it was re­­ported in Vanity Fair that a mechanic . . . was let go after Rebekah determined his energy was poor.

“In a lot of office environments, ‘bad energy’ might be code for ‘old’ or ‘overweight’ or ‘knows too much about labour law,’ but one veteran WeWork employee said Rebekah’s firings were seemingly random and without obvious prejudice.”

Lest you think there is any justice in the fact that the couple were finally forced out, con­sider that Mr Neumann negotiated the largest golden handshake in history before he agreed to go: $1.7 billion.

The moral of this story is that if you think organised religion is bad, just look at organised spirituality.

AT THE very far pole of religious stories from that, consider a story by Ricky Ross on The Spectator’s blog, about a Roman Catholic priest in one of the worst parts of the eastern Congo: “He’s popular with the people here because he speaks up for them, but it’s a dangerous business.

“Militias have tried to kill him twice for telling people they cannot believe in those who hold themselves up to be their leaders. He takes this seriously, as you can imagine. Two archbishops have already been assassinated for speaking up for the forgotten people of South Kivu province.”

#The whole story is wonderfully told. It con­tains horrors very much worse than assassina­tion, and acts of forgiveness which are far more impressive than fraudulent healing miracles. No one in it draws any moral about Anglican politics.

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