Group set up to review church practices after controversy over prospective Sheffield bishop's stance on women priests

The Rt Rev Philip North spoke at Sheffield Cathedral when his nomination was announced, but later withdrew from the role.
The Rt Rev Philip North spoke at Sheffield Cathedral when his nomination was announced, but later withdrew from the role.

A special group will conduct a further review of the Church of England's approach to accepting priests opposed to ordaining women - after a prospective Bishop of Sheffield stepped aside because of his stance on female clergy.

The Rt Rev Philip North withdrew from the Sheffield role in March last year in response to widespread unease about his traditionalist position.

The Women of Steel sculpture in Barker's Pool was dressed in bishop's clothing in suffragette colours as the controversy deepened last year.

The Women of Steel sculpture in Barker's Pool was dressed in bishop's clothing in suffragette colours as the controversy deepened last year.

A pressure group - Sheffield Action on Ministry Equality - was formed and activists even dressed the Women of Steel sculpture in Barker's Pool with bishop's clothing in suffragette colours.

Afterwards, a report by independent reviewer Sir Philip Mawer said Bishop North's nomination came as a 'surprise to many', which suggested a 'failure to inform and educate people' that such a candidate could be picked.

He recommended that a group with balanced membership should be established to 'review what has been done; distil examples of good practice; and provide resources to help dioceses, deaneries and parishes, and theological training institutions to engage in further consideration of the issues'.

Sir Philip said the board needed to properly consider how to put the idea of mutual flourishing – a principle agreed by the C of E four years ago which involves progressive church members and traditionalists working side-by-side - into practice.

The House of Bishops has now established an implementation and dialogue group. In a statement, archbishops expressed regret that 'not nearly enough was done to create an understanding' of what the 2014 settlement meant. The group will be chaired by the Bishop of Rochester, the Rt Rev James Langstaff, supported by the Bishop of Aston, the Rt Rev Anne Hollinghurst.

A new booklet on the 'five guiding principles' - where the term 'mutual flourishing' originates - has also been made available for free online, and the secretary general of the Archbishops’ Council, William Nye, is examining the nomination process through which bishops are chosen.

Sir Philip said the 'cloak of confidentiality' around the work of the Crown Nominations Commission could be relaxed to better prepare people for potential controversy. His 75-page document pointed to 'a failure to anticipate the likely reaction to Bishop North’s nomination and to plan for handling it', but warned there was 'no merit' in 'searching for scapegoats'.

The post of Bishop of Sheffield has since been filled by the Rt Rev Dr Pete Wilcox, the former Dean of Liverpool, who says he will ordain women 'gladly'. North remains in his job as Bishop of Burnley. He had previously turned down Whitby's senior post in 2012 after encountering similar opposition.