Some further reflections on the Christ Church saga

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The judgement by Dame Sarah Asplin should have marked the end of at least one major strand in the Percy affair at Christ Church Oxford.  It was meant to be the conclusion of the CDM process first initiated by Canon Graham Ward against the Dean back on November 5th 2020.  This process began as a response to an incident of alleged ‘sexual harassment’ on October 4th, by Percy against a Ms X in the vestry    The process had been handed over to the Bishop of Birmingham as the Bishop of Oxford believed himself unable to oversee the process on the grounds of existing involvement.  Two things have hindered any move to completion following Dame Sarah’s judgement.  First there has been absolutely no comment coming from the sponsors or enablers of the CDM process to say that the process is complete and that they accept the judgement.  We had always felt that silence throughout the process was particularly unfortunate in respect of the Bishop of Oxford.  At the beginning of the whole episode, at the time when a group of senior CC members were attempting to remove the Dean, we heard little in the way of support from Bishop Steven Croft.  As Dean Percy is the Dean of the Diocese of Oxford Cathedral, some measure of solidarity or support might have been expected from this source.  But as time has gone on, the complete absence of any supportive comment from the Diocesan Bishop has changed the nature of this pervading silence.  Earlier it could be interpreted as indicating neutrality.  Now the same silence feels like active hostility.  To say nothing by way of comment to the ruling by Dame Sarah is particularly indicative that Bishop Croft’s sympathies are not supportive of his Cathedral’s Dean. 

This suggested hostility of the Bishop of Oxford towards the Dean is an unfortunate scenario, to put it mildly.  Bishop Croft cannot, because of this, ever act as a mediator between the College and Dean.  The recent failure to say anything supportive, even after the Asplin judgement, shows that the Bishop is likely, in fact,  to be in active sympathy with the Dean’s enemies in the College.  This one-sideness is no doubt helped by the fact that lawyers acting for both the College and Diocese come from the same firm, Winckworth Sherwood.  This firm has received fees, totalling hundreds of thousands of pounds, from one or other of these sources to harass and persecute the Dean. 

The Asplin judgement has not halted the College’s intention to proceed with its own tribunal.  In a recent public statement, it has referred to the judgement as an assessment which had no bearing on the College’s determination to carry out its own processes.  This summary dismissal of the judgement of a high court judge seems high-handed.  In my last post I mentioned the possible involvement of the Charity Commission.  They had expressed unease at the quantity of money being spent on a case which was far from charitable in intention.  In spite of the College finding senior lawyers to offer their opinions about the legitimacy of the various legal steps being taken to get rid of the Dean, the Dame Sarah judgement cannot be so easily dismissed.  The other glaring issue is how a tribunal set up by the College can command respect for its processes when two of the members are appointed from within the College.  One of them is to represent the Cathedral constituency of the foundation.   I understand that the Archdeacon of Oxford, the Venerable Jonathan Chaffey, has been nominated.  Here lies a further problem.  The Archdeacon is one of the members of the Cathedral Chapter involved in overseeing the recent CDM process against Dean Percy.  If the Archdeacon has been part of the hostile, now discredited, attack on the Dean through the CDM, it would seem that he should be unable to offer himself in a quasi-judicial role in this other case.  The conduct of the College so far, in the five separate attempts to rid themselves of the Dean, means that they seem to have developed a nonchalant disregard for the rules of process.  What is a mere judgement by a High Court Judge when you control the assets (totalling a half billion) of a venerable institution with links to the monarchy?  The overall demeanour of the Christ Church senior members towards a single vulnerable individual has been hard to understand.  The College was founded with a charitable and Christian purpose and these qualities have become almost entirely invisible in recent years.  From the outside, Christ Church seems to stand for the values of bullying, chronic insensitivity to pain, cruelty and the abuse of power.  Any compassion that might have been shown to a suffering individual and his family has apparently been entirely absent.  Whatever else the eye-wateringly expensive tribunal may seek to achieve, it will not succeed in persuading anyone looking on that the College or Chapter is behaving either charitably or in any way with Christian values. 

Quite apart from the fate of Dean Percy, we need to have regard for the for the fate of the College, its reputation in the University and among the university institutions across the country.  The campaign against the Dean has had an obsessive quality which does little to attract or create admiration among those who look on.  If the dons succeed in destroying and removing their Dean, who will praise or congratulate them for this?  Even if somewhere in the ongoing programme of persecution, a sliver of justification exists, it is certainly invisible to the onlooker.  The same failure to exercise any form of Christian compassion or understanding can be laid at the feet of the senior hierarchy of the Oxford diocese.  The problem for the church is that relationships and institutional dynamics have become so corrupted by these examples of poor behaviour that the whole institution will take years to recover.  Are we to see no resignations or apologies after the highest legal authority trashed the enormous act of hate, vitriol and bullying against a single individual in the CDM process?  There are many caught up in that act of crowd madness.  Reputations have been shredded by the incomprehensible rush to judgment and persecution.  How long will the toxicity take to clear in the Cathedral chapter?  Ten years ?  Fifteen?  Certainly, no other institution will be in a hurry to employ existing members of this group, when the values of normal ethics have been so thoroughly turned upside down and forgotten.  This is not about a story about a defenceless young woman facing up to power and a sex-mad Dean.  No, the story started several years before.  The causes of the persecution are not all available to us but we can surmise a saga of professional jealousy with the preservation of privilege and power all playing their part.  Whatever the origin of Percygate, it is not edifying or a good advertisement for Christian values.  In the middle of all the recrimination against the Dean, it has been forgotten that Ms X showed a Christian willingness to meet the Dean and resolve the issue between them. This was forbidden by those who needed her testimony to add to the accusation against him. All those who have stoked up the story and cause so much institutional as well as individual damage have much to answer for.  The judgement of history will not be kind to the perpetrators of such terrifying institutional bullying and cruelty.