A senior cleric who fought an epic three-and-a-half-year battle over efforts to oust him as head of Christ Church, Oxford, has announced he is quitting the Church of England.
Martyn Percy, the dean of Christ Church Cathedral as well as head of one of Oxford’s most venerable colleges, left his position last month after reaching a settlement involving a substantial payoff.
He revealed in an interview in the Times last weekend that he had a serious breakdown during the prolonged and came close to considering suicide. He criticized the bishop of Oxford for “writing a very public letter … saying that it was inappropriate for people to be defending me in public when I was being attacked in public.”
Now he has announced his decision to leave the C of E in an article for Prospect magazine, citing the “parlous state of safeguarding” within the church.
“In the face of … 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,” he said. “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.”
His experience of being accused of safeguarding failures and a charge of sexual harassment led him to conclude that the C of E “lacks transparency, accountability, external scrutiny and, as far as I am concerned, integrity”.
Within the church, there was a “culture of bullying and harassment afflicting many clergy”, he said. The C of E was spending tens of millions of pounds a year on safeguarding, “most of which is frittered away on procedures that seem cosmetically adequate, yet ultimately lacking the professional standards one would find in other spheres”.
The protracted dispute between Percy and the governing body of Christ Church cost millions of pounds and caused serious reputational damage to the 476-year-old college, which has produced 13 British prime ministers and 17 archbishops.
At the heart of the dispute was Percy’s pay and his efforts to reform the college’s governance, but he was accused of behavior of an “immoral, scandalous or disgraceful nature”.
In June 2019, all complaints against Percy were dismissed by a retired high court judge, and his reinstatement ordered. However, efforts by the governing body to remove Percy from his post continued.
In February this year, the college agreed to pay a “substantial” sum to Percy and reimburse his legal costs. It also agreed to an independent review of its governance.
A spokesperson for Steven Croft, the bishop of Oxford, said he had gone to “considerable lengths to care for Martyn Percy”, adding: “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.”
The diocese had commissioned an independent review to be led by the C of E independent safeguarding board.