Jules Gomes reports on the Christ Church controversy and Dean Martyn Percy
Sooner or later everyone sits down to a banquet of consequences. Martyn Percy, Dean of Christ Church, is getting his just deserts. At his Oxford high table, fellow-dons pass crystal decanters of vintage port, Château Haut-Brion claret and scoops of calumny with the ice-cream, as they conspire against their dean.
These fiendishly clever chaps at Oxford have their own droll games played around the season of All Hallows. The “Night of the Long Fangs” is a vigorous sport where spunky dons dress as vampires and sink their teeth into the jugulars of fellows who don’t fit in. Spirited dons have played “Grill the Reformer” since they barbecued subversives at stake in the hallowed precincts of the venerable university. Remember the reformers Nicolas Ridley, Hugh Latimer and Thomas Cranmer?
Now the long knives are out for the Very Reverend Professor Percy, who is facing claims of “conduct of an immoral, scandalous or disgraceful nature incompatible with the duties of the office or employment”. A formal complaint was lodged against him after he sought a pay review for college staff under gender pay gap rules. Reports say this could have led to a pay rise of up to £10,000 for Percy as well as a salary hike for a senior female staff member.
“I say there, Percy, old chap. You don’t exactly have to make a living on a curate’s wage, do you?” For all its pious prattle and virtue signalling on one of its pet themes of income inequality, the fat cats in the Church of England are paid obscenely large sums of money compared to plebeian clergy who do the domestic work of parish chimney-sweeping and digging in diocesan coal pits.
Poor Percy is paid a princely sum of £90,000—a walloping twenty-five grand more than the Archbishops of Canterbury or York. Sure, Percy performs a double role as dean of the college and cathedral, because Christ Church’s chapel is also Oxford’s cathedral, but try and pit him against rural clergy who run nine churches until they drop dead from an aneurysm! Percy, it seems, is holding out his silver snuffbox for another £10,000—which, I’m sure, he will cheerfully dole out to the Jayne Ozanne Foundation, as a member of its Council of Reference.
Percy’s pals have emerged from beneath their ecclesiastical toadstools to defend him as a “reformer” who is being bullied. “Any allegation of bullying in Christ Church is extremely concerning and would need to be followed up by appropriate authorities,” says a spokesman for Steven Croft, Bishop of Oxford. Alan Wilson, Bishop of Buckingham,says Percy is being “hounded out” for taking “the costly path of reform” rather than seeking a “quiet life”.
“Oh dear. How sad. Never mind.” With no schadenfreude intended, one is nevertheless tempted to echo Sergeant-Major Williams in his blasting of Gunner La-De-Dah Graham, and wonder if it ain’t half hot for the Dean of Christ Church, who is getting a very big dose of his own bitter quinine. Percy’s pals, who have formed a glee club and are singing “For he’s a jolly good fellow” in support of their new Cranmer seem to be suffering from a serious case of collective amnesia.
Have they forgotten how in Lent 2017, Martyn Percy plotted a cold-blooded coup against Philip North, Bishop-designate of Sheffield? Philip is a traditionalist who conscientiously objects to “wimmin’s” ordination. When the Church of England elevated women to the episcopate, it promised to create a safe space for men like Philip. Anglicanism would be a utopia of “mutual flourishing”!
But Dean Percy, egged on by his clergy wife Emma, who chairs a radical feminist menagerie called Women and the Church (WATCH), descended from his Oxford ivory tower like a one-eyed Cyclops and hounded Bishop North ruthlessly and relentlessly until North gave up the ghost and withdrew his acceptance of his nomination as Bishop of Sheffield.
“The highly individualised nature of the attacks upon me have been extremely hard to bear. If, as Christians, we cannot relate to each other within the bounds of love, how can we possibly presume to transform a nation in the name of Christ?” North said in his withdrawal statement, stopping short of naming Percy as his Chief Prosecutor and Persecutor.
Percy resorted to theological Howitzers in his public bombardment claiming that Bishop Philip’s appointment would “represent the toleration of gender-based sectarianism”. Percy also castigated North’s Anglo-Catholic organisation The Society for promoting “fogeyish sacralised sexism”.
If there is a benchmark for bullying, Percy revealed it in full regalia to church and nation. This was far from a level playing field. Percy sniped from his Oxford citadel of power and privilege. The mainstream media and the entire leftwing pack of feminist clergy bayed like hunting hounds for Bishop North’s body and blood.
What is sinister is the streak of totalitarianism in Percy’s refusal to permit even a single diocesan bishop to hold office as a conscientious objector to women’s ordination. Also, Sheffield isn’t even Percy’s diocese and North’s appointment was none of Percy’s business.
Percy proclaimed that his intolerance of the tolerance set in motion by the Church of England was a matter of integrity, since “trying to contain ‘two integrities’ in one body is a near-impossible feat”. Hesummed up his extreme position insisting that “‘two integrities’ is neither credible nor desirable. As the Church of England has begun to discover in our debates on sexuality, if you truly want to be one church, you can only really afford one integrity”, he wrote in his diatribe against Bishop North’s appointment.
The irony peaks if you read Martyn Percy’s Power and the Church: Ecclesiology in an Age of Transition. In particular, Percy excoriates fundamentalist forms of Christianity for playing power games. Poor Percy doesn’t seem to recognise that while authoritarianism can be both right and leftwing, it is progressive forms of authoritarianism that have been the most pernicious and cannibalistic.
“Power is the ability of its holders to carry out their will, exact compliance, exert force and compel obedience,” he writes. Isn’t this precisely what Percy did in his power putsch against Bishop North? And isn’t this squarely what his dons are now doing in their power plot to depose their Dean?
“In my view, there is a genuine story about religious power to be told which does have a bearing on this book. The story is of the power of reality and the reality of power,” Percy notes. But may I point Percy to a more sobering story about the reality of power, its corruption and its inversion? The story is in the biblical book of Esther.
“Do not be deceived: God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap,” writes St Paul to the Galatians. Soon it will be Advent and it’s not too late for Dean Percy to repent of his use (or misuse) of power in crushing a conservative bishop.
(Originally published in Republic Standard)