Call for new Bishop of Sheffield to stand aside over 'damaging' opposition to female priests

The Rt Rev Philip North, the bishop designate of Sheffield
The Rt Rev Philip North, the bishop designate of Sheffield

The newly-appointed bishop of Sheffield has been urged to decline the post by a senior figure in the church - who says his opposition to female priests will 'cause significant damage'.

The Very Revd Professor Martyn Percy, the dean of Christ Church, Oxford, urged the Rt Rev Philip North to either renounce his membership of the Society, a C of E organisation that rejects female priests, or decline his nomination as bishop of Sheffield, announced last month.

He said the bishop designate's position on woman priests would 'cause significant pastoral and public damage to the church'.

Percy claimed there was a 'substantial amount of resistance building up' to North’s appointment.

Before officially taking his new role, Sheffield's bishop designate still has to be 'elected' by the diocese's canons, confirmed in office and installed at a ceremony in the cathedral.

In 2012, North stepped aside from his appointment as bishop of Whitby after protests over his opposition to women in the ministry. He is currently the bishop of Burnley.

According to an article by Percy published on the Modern Church website, North’s theological position would make it impossible for him to affirm female clergy in his diocese, or male clergy who have been ordained by a female bishop. In Sheffield, a third of the clergy are women.

"This will feel like a step backwards,” Percy said.

“Sheffield is a go-ahead, vibrant, progressive city, with cutting-edge universities and research-led industries. It is thoroughly modern. The public will neither comprehend nor welcome this rather fogeyish sacralised sexism of the religious organisation – known simply as the Society – and that Bishop Philip leads.”

Percy later called on North to clarify his position, drawing a distinction between his legal or canonical acceptance of female priests and his theological disapproval.

In his article, he said either North should step aside, or female clergy, and male priests ordained by a female bishop, may have to resign, 'as their own bishop does not recognise and affirm their sacramental efficacy'.

A C of E spokesperson said North had backed female leadership at a meeting with women clergy in the diocese of Sheffield, and that he would 'actively promote' it.

They added: “The beauty of the Church of England is its theological breadth and its ability to hold together disparate views across a range of issues while still finding unity in Jesus Christ. The Church of England supports all orders of ministry being open equally, irrespective of gender, and remains committed to enabling all people to flourish within its life and structures.”

North has also said he is 'determined to be a bishop for all and will love, care for, appoint and develop the ministry of all clergy female or male'.

A local spokesman for the new bishop said: "Bishop North has been encouraged hugely by the letters and messages he has received since news of his appointment was made public. He is greatly looking forward to his work and ministry as Bishop of Sheffield."