The King has approved the appointment of Rev Canon Professor Sarah Foot as Dean of Christ Church following years of controversy over the position of the previous Dean, Martyn Percy.
Professor Foot is Regius Professor of Ecclesiastical History at Oxford University and a priest serving as a Residentiary Canon at Christ Church. She will be the first woman to take up the role in Christ Church’s history.
Christ Church had been warned for ‘misconduct’ by the UK Charity Commission over failures in the way it handled its disputes with Percy. Between August 2018 and January 2022, the college spent over £6.6m on legal and public relations fees related to the former Dean. Percy left the role in 2022 following a mediation process.
Percy had been suspended from his role as Dean of Christchurch in 2018 following a conflict over pay with Christ Church and the Church of England. He had requested a pay review which reportedly was to assess the gender pay gap in Christ Church, but may have resulted in a large pay increase for Percy and another senior staff member. This led to internal complaints and an investigation. In March 2020, Percy was investigated by the Church of England’s National Safeguarding team (NST) over alleged failures to report safeguarding cases from 2017. However, an investigation by the NST cleared him of any wrongdoing.
In October 2020 it was alleged that Percy had stroked a young woman’s hair after a service in the Christ Church Cathedral. Christ Church then commissioned a report from an independent investigator despite Thames Valley Police not pressing charges. Percy firmly denied having touched the victim’s hair. However, Christ Church concluded that the complainant was “credible”. Following the investigation, the Dean announced his voluntary withdrawal from the Dean’s duties at Christ Church, and compared his experience of the investigation to Nazi persecution.
The Dean chairs both the Governing Body and Chapter of Christ Church and is responsible with the Governing Body for the college and with the Chapter for the running of Christ Church Cathedral.
The Dean designate, Professor Foot, stated: “It is an honour to have been appointed to this role and to work alongside the Governing Body to serve the students, academics, staff, Chapter and congregation of Christ Church. As we approach our 500th anniversary, we can ensure that Christ Church continues to excel in advancing education, learning and religion long into the future.
“Together, we must make a success of the Governance Review process and see through changes that will be necessary when it’s complete. This work is vital. It will give our colleagues the structures that they need to do what matters most to all of us: offering teaching and research, and a Cathedral liturgy, of the highest quality.”
An independent review of the governance of Christ Church, chaired by Dominic Grieve KC, is ongoing. Any changes to the governance and statutes of Christ Church will require the approval of the University, the Church of England, the Privy Council and Parliament. Once this process is complete, Professor Foot intends to stand down.
Steven Croft, Bishop of Oxford, said: “I’m delighted to welcome Sarah’s appointment as Dean of Christ Church in this key period in the life of the College and the Cathedral following her long tenure as one of our four Canon Professors in the Cathedral. Sarah combines a distinguished career as an historian, a deep personal faith and reservoirs of wisdom from her experience of leadership of Christ Church in recent months. I look forward very much to working in partnership with Sarah in the coming years in the implementation of the governance review and as a member of the Bishop’s senior leadership team across the Diocese of Oxford.”
Professor Foot will take up her appointment in July 2023.