The Dean of Christ Church has stepped back from college duties, the college anounced last week. New allegations that Percy behaved inappropriately towards a woman have recently emerged, This has sparked a dispute between Church of England authorities and the Dean’s supporters.
Church authorities received a complaint against the Very Rev Professor Martyn Percy, who is also head of the Christ Church Cathedral. Percy subsequently stepped back from his role in the college.
The details of the complaint have not been confirmed publicly, however The Mail on Sunday reports that Percy acted irresponsibly towards a woman during Sunday service last month. The woman claims the Dean told her: “I couldn’t take my eyes off you this morning.”
She also claims that Percy stroked her hair. According to The Mail on Sunday, Percy has denied both claims. The Diocese of Oxford, the administrative body of the Church of England in Oxfordshire, is investigating the issue.
Allies of Percy have come to his support. The Mail on Sunday quotes one ally saying: “Martyn is in an impossible position of being unable to defend himself while detailed allegations against him are being leaked all round the place.”
Others have said the claims are a “weapon” to remove him from his job. After these comments were published, the Diocese of Oxford released a statement condemning attempts to support the Dean.
It said: “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.”
Allies have now criticised the Diocese’s statement. David Lamming, a friend of the Dean, told The Church Times it was a “wholly inappropriate public comment while the current allegation is under investigation”. Others have claimed that the comment was one-sided, not taking into account the behaviour of the Dean’s critics, including one member of Christ Church’s Governing Body allegedly anonymously briefing journalists
In response to reports in the media, Christ Church has stressed that Percy has not resigned, but “voluntarily withdrawn” from his duties.
Christ Church shared the following statement with college members: “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.”
These developments come after a long-running dispute between the Dean and the college Governing Body.
Disagreements emerged in 2017 when Percy complained that his salary of just under £95,000 was insufficient and below the median for Oxford heads of colleges. He was suspended in 2018 after being accused of “immoral, scandalous, or disgraceful conduct”. However, the charges against Percy were dismissed and he was reinstated in August 2019..
The row was reignited in February this year, when academics called Percy a “manipulative little turd” and a “little Hitler” in leaked emails.
As the Dean was appointed by a Letters Patent, only the Queen and the Archbishop of Canterbury can request his resignation, making it difficult for his critics to replace him. In May, 41 members of the Christ Church Governing Body signed a letter asking for the Charity Commission to remove him. This prompted the Commission to order a mediation process between the two sides.
Christ Church welcomed the Commission’s intervention, saying that the dispute “has undoubtedly gone on for far too long”.
Percy claims he has faced religious and disability discrimination and has launched an employment tribunal against the college. The case is due to be heard next year.
Percy has also been accused of mishandling sexual assault allegations at the college. However, he was exonerated of these charges after a Church of England investigation found he “acted entirely appropriately in each case”.
Martyn Percy has been contacted for comment.
Correction, 09/01/21 – David Yamming was corrected to David Lamming.
Image credit: charlemagne/ Pixabay