Selection of controversial Sheffield bishop '˜showed a lack of understanding'

The search is on today for a new Bishop of Sheffield - after the cleric picked for the role turned the job down amid controversy over his opposition to women becoming priests.

Thursday, 9th March 2017, 8:30 pm
Updated Friday, 24th March 2017, 10:10 am
The Rt Rev Philip North

The Rt Rev Philip North, who had been expected to be elected in April, will remain as the Bishop of Burnley, and the name of an ‘alternative candidate’ will need to be put forward by Dr John Sentamu, the Archbishop of York.

Before declining the role, Mr North had been urged to hold face-to-face meetings with clergy and parishioners to address concerns over his stance on ordaining women as priests.

A group - Sheffield Action on Ministry Equality - was set up, and the Labour MP for Heeley, Louise Haigh, described the bishop designate’s views as ‘troubling’.

And earlier this week, bishop’s clothing in Suffragette colours was placed on the Women of Steel statue in Barker’s Pool by activists.

In a statement last night, the SAME group said the diocese was in ‘a period of mourning’.

“We lament the church’s lack of understanding of the depth of concern which people around the diocese have felt over this appointment.

“We pray for Bishop Philip that he may fully recover from an ordeal we believe he should never have had to face.

“This is a sad moment for the Church of England but we hope and pray that, in time, greater wisdom will emerge.”

It is the second post Mr North has withdrawn from. In 2012 he declined the job of Bishop of Whitby, following similar unease.

The 50-year-old is affiliated with a Church of England group called The Society, which does not recognise women priests.

In Sheffield, he would have ordained female deacons, but would not have officiated at the ordination of women as priests.

Instead, another bishop would have presided.

Dr Sentamu said Mr North was a ‘gifted’ bishop who focused on serving ‘the poor and marginalised’.

“This is a personal decision which I understand and sadly accept. However, what has happened to Bishop Philip clearly does not reflect the settlement under which the Church of England joyfully and decisively opened up all orders of ministry to men and women.”

He said the church had committed itself to ‘mutual flourishing’.