YP Letters: Simple question for bishop who denies women can be priests

Philip North's appointment as Bishop of Sheffield has divided the Church of England because he is opposed to female priests.
Philip North's appointment as Bishop of Sheffield has divided the Church of England because he is opposed to female priests.
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From: Eleanor Lloyd, Hangingwater Road, Sheffield.

I’D like to thank Archbishop Sentamu for his column (The Yorkshire Post, February 25) concerning Philip North and his proposed ministry as the Bishop of Sheffield, but he answers several questions that no one has asked, and fails to answer the one that we are all asking.

This is very simple. How does Philip North propose to manage priests whose priesthood he does not acknowledge?

As soon as this appointment was announced, we all asked “But how can that work?” He doesn’t believe women can be priests. He will be coming in as the new boss of around 60 female clergy (and their supportive colleagues, parishioners and friends) the validity of whose ordination he does not recognise.He says that when they celebrate the Eucharist, no sacrament has taken place. He will not receive Communion from them. Their own conviction of their priestly calling he regards as a delusion, and the Church’s ratification of it he regards as a theological error and a practical impossibility. He doesn’t believe in them. How is he going to support and develop their ministry? How is he going to actively promote their leadership? He doesn’t think they exist.

North has dismissed every letter that asks this question, and any related question, with the same standard response, basically saying: “I’m sorry you find my appointment so hard to accept, but very wise and holy men have reached this decision after a great deal of thought and prayer, so that’s your tough luck. PS I really care about poor people.”

And now Archbishop Sentamu is telling us it “simply won’t do” that we are still asking the ‘how’ question that no one has answered. Each time we ask ‘how can that work?’ we get told that North is a super nice guy and a very devout Christian, who really cares about poor people, and who just happens to believe that women can’t be priests.

One more time: how will it work? How can he provide effective professional line management or meaningful spiritual direction for priests he does not believe are priests?

Please note, we are not asking to be told about the five principles and the mutual flourishing, or the five fiddlesticks and the mutual twerking, or the five anything and the mutual whatever. We know a deal was done in 2014. We know that the deal was: if women can be bishops, then so can men who say that women can’t. But how will it work? We are not asking to be lectured about the sincerity of North’s religious or theological convictions.