THE Very Revd Professor Martyn Percy has announced that he is leaving the Church of England.
Professor Percy, who last month left his post as Dean of Christ Church, Oxford, criticises the Church of England’s safeguarding processes in an article in Prospect magazine, published on Wednesday.
He writes: “The parlous state of safeguarding in the C of E has caused me to reflect deeply on the plight of victims and complainants, as well as the respondents who have been accused.
“My own encounter with the culture of the NST [National Safeguarding Team] and the diocese and Bishop of Oxford has given me first-hand insight into what respondents and complainants can experience.
“In the face of such partisanship, failure to neutrally manage conflicts of interest, double standards and incompetence in the C of E’s safeguarding, I finally took a decision: to leave the Church. Though I have been ordained for more than 30 years, and continue with my faith in God, the Church of England has destroyed any trust I might have had in it. It is an unsafe place to work.”
During Professor Percy’s long-running dispute with the authorities at Christ Church — it is both an Oxford college and the location of the diocese’s cathedral — the college’s governing body invoked the C of E’s safeguarding procedures. Professor Percy was exonerated; but subsequently a second safeguarding allegation arose — the stroking of a woman’s hair after a service — which was resolved only when both parties received a pay-out and Professor Percy quit as dean (News, 4 February).
Later in the Prospect article, he writes: “My bishop decided that it was too risky to give me a licence. He would not even allow me to preach at my own farewell service — or perhaps ever again. He has no accountability, save only to God. In the end, taking leave of the Church of England was the only safe and sensible option remaining.”
A spokesperson for the Bishop of Oxford, Dr Steven Croft, denied that he had declined Professor Percy a licence, or that Professor Percy had applied for one. “In fact Bishop Steven offered a discussion with Martyn about a return to ministry in recent weeks, but was told by Martyn that this was not necessary.”
Professor Percy said later: “The Bishop of Oxford made it very clear he’d not give me a licence (so there was no point asking!)” This has again been denied by the diocese.
Professor Percy’s departure from Christ Church has not signalled an end to the long dispute, the focus of which has now shifted from the behaviour of the college authorities to the Church’s safeguarding procedures.
Percy supporters are concentrating on what one termed “the determination of the Establishment to keep the bishops in control and effectively unaccountable”. In response, the Oxford spokesman said: “The Bishop of Oxford and many others have gone to considerable lengths to care for Martyn Percy in his long dispute with Christ Church and to ensure fair treatment of all involved.
“This has been a complex and painful process for all concerned over the past two years, much of which has been inaccurately played out by supporters of Dr Percy in the media and online. Many people have been left damaged and hurt by their campaigns. . .
“Senior staff have expended considerable time and resources investigating claims of systemic safeguarding failure in the Church, again made by Dr Percy, shown to be unfounded.”
He announced that the diocese has commissioned an independent review of the Christ Church saga, to be led by the Church of England Independent Safeguarding Board.
“We welcome the scrutiny the review will bring and are ready and willing to acknowledge any failings. We firmly hope that reconciliation and healing of relationships will be possible over time.”
The Church’s lead safeguarding bishop, the Bishop of Huddersfield, Dr Jonathan Gibbs, said on Thursday: “We recognise and acknowledge that the situation at Christ Church, Oxford, has had a significant impact on many people including the former Dean. We are committed to ensuring the Church is a safe place for all through professional safeguarding both nationally and in every diocese.”
Safeguarding in the Church had improved over the past decade, he said, including the recent creation of the Independent Safeguarding Board (News, 1 October 2021). “But we cannot be complacent,” he said. “Along with Oxford Diocese, we have referred Martyn’s safeguarding concerns to the ISB for review, which will be both rigorous and independent. Its finding will be public save only for the protection of vulnerable people.”
He continued: “As the internal questions at Christ Church are a matter for the College and the University, we will not comment on them. Martyn Percy has had a long and very distinguished service to God through his work in the Church of England in many roles. We are grateful for what he has done and wish him well in the future.”