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Christ Church, Oxford, agrees to split responsibility for cathedral and college

19 October 2023


Christ Church Cathedral, Oxford

Christ Church Cathedral, Oxford

THE Governing Body of Christ Church, Oxford, has accepted a proposal by Dominic Grieve KC that the Dean cease to hold responsibility for the college. The proposal means that, for the first time in its history, the head of house would not have to be an Anglican priest. The change will need to be approved by the Privy Council and Parliament.

The Governing Body took an “indicative decision” on Wednesday to approve “a proposal to divide the responsibilities currently assigned to the Dean into two roles”, a statement issued by the college on Thursday said.

“Currently the Dean has charge of a single Foundation comprising both a Cathedral and a College of the University of Oxford; in future the Dean will only lead the Cathedral, working beside a separate head of the Foundation. . .

“Once formally adopted, the change will remove the current requirement for the head of the single Foundation to be an ordained Anglican priest — opening the position up to candidates from outside the clergy for the first time since Henry VIII created Christ Church in 1546.”

The decision of the Governing Body this week was still subject to a formal vote, it said.

In a review published in May, Mr Grieve recommended the separation of responsibility for the cathedral and for the academic body (News, 19 May), suggesting that the head of house need not be ordained.

The review was commissioned by Christ Church last year (News, 24 June 2022) after a widely publicised breakdown in confidence between the previous Dean, Dr Martyn Percy, and the Governing Body. The four-year dispute ended when Dr Percy agreed to leave (News, 11 February 2022) after a large settlement was offered.

The current Dean, the Very Revd Professor Sarah Foot, said on Thursday: “This vote signals an historic change for both the College and Cathedral at Christ Church. It is no longer appropriate that the leadership of an Oxford University college should be reserved exclusively to ordained priests. The Governing Body’s decision will ensure that future appointments to the headship of the Foundation can be drawn from the widest range of applicants.

“The deanship of the Cathedral is a senior office in the Church of England with significant responsibilities. Future Deans will be able to dedicate themselves to leading the mission, ministry, and management of the Cathedral Church of the Diocese of Oxford, overseeing its prayer and worship.”

The statement from Christ Church concluded by saying that the Governing Body was “considering further changes proposed by the governance review. Implementing these will require the drafting of new statutes, followed by consultation with the University, the Church of England, and the Charity Commission, and the approval of the Privy Council and Parliament.

“While the vote allows for separate leadership of the College and Cathedral, both institutions remain within the single Foundation of Christ Church Oxford.”

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