New bishop quits following row over female clergy

THE designate Bishop of Sheffield stepped aside has following a damaging row about his longstanding opposition to female clergy on theological grounds.

Six weeks after his appointment was confirmed by the Queen, Philip North – the current Bishop of Burnley – accepted that he would not be able to reconcile those critics who questioned his ability to command the respect or confidence of women priests already serving in the Diocese of Sheffield.

The row came two years after the consecration of Libby Lane, Britain’s first female bishop, in a historic service at York Minster conducted by Dr John Sentamu, the Archbishop of York.

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A statement posted on the 10 Downing Street website said: The Rt Rev Philip North has withdrawn, for personal reasons, acceptance of his nomination by the Crown Nominations Commission as the next Bishop of Sheffield. The Archbishop of York will in due course submit the name of an alternative candidate for this diocese.”

The episode is an embarrassment for the Church in the week of International Women’s Day. Though women priests did express their support for Bishop North, criticism intensified when leading churchmen like Martyn Percy – Dean of Christ College, Oxford – wrote in The Yorkshire Post that the appointment represented “a step backwards into dense fog, and greater darkness”.

The Right Reverend Peter Burrows, Bishop of Doncaster, said: “Following a period of prayer and reflection Bishop Philip has decided that for the sake of God’s mission in the Diocese he should withdraw from the appointment as the next Bishop of Sheffield.

“I am deeply and personally saddened about this. This has clearly been a difficult and painful journey for the Diocese over the past few weeks as it has also been for Bishop Philip. There will be much to reflect on and there will be time to consider what lessons may be learned over the coming weeks and months.

“For now, I would join with the call from the Archbishop of York that we use this time of Lent as a period of penitence, repentance and reflection both individually and corporately as a Diocese. It would be my sincere hope and prayer that such a period would act as the basis for reconciliation across the Diocese as we rebuild relationships of trust and confidence and refocus on God’s mission and our Vision for growth and the transformation of the communities we are called to serve.

“I would ask that all within the diocese would hold one another and Bishop Philip in their prayers, as I know we are remembered in his. I personally will continue to pray for you all and serve you as we seek God’s wisdom in discerning the next stages.”

The episode is an embarrassment for the Church in the week of International Women’s Day. Though women priests did express their support for Bishop North, criticism intensified when leading churchmen like Martyn Percy – Dean of Christ College, Oxford – wrote in The Yorkshire Post that the appointment represented “a step backwards into dense fog, and greater darkness”.