THINKING ANGLICANS

Bishop Philip North declines the See of Sheffield

Updated Thursday night and Friday morning

Statement from the Bishop of Burnley, The Rt Revd Philip North

09 March 2017
It is with regret and sadness that I have decided that I am unable to take up the nomination as Bishop of Sheffield.

The news of my nomination has elicited a strong reaction within the diocese and some areas of the wider Church. It is clear that the level of feeling is such that my arrival would be counter-productive in terms of the mission of the Church in South Yorkshire and that my leadership would not be acceptable to many.

I am grateful for the love, prayers and care that have been shown me over recent weeks by numerous people, especially the Archbishop of York, the Bishop of Blackburn and the clergy of the Blackburn Diocese. In particular I would like to thank the Bishop of Doncaster and the diocesan team in Sheffield for their support.

I apologise to the many for whom this decision will come as a disappointment. There is clearly much to be done on what it means to disagree well and to live with theological difference in the Church of England. The highly individualised nature of the attacks upon me have been extremely hard to bear. If, as Christians, we cannot relate to each other within the bounds of love, how can we possibly presume to transform a nation in the name of Christ? I hope though that this conversation can continue in the future without it being hung upon the shoulders of one individual.

I do not doubt for one single second the Lordship of Christ or his call upon my life, but the pressures of recent weeks have left me reflecting on how He is calling me to serve him. I am grateful to the Bishop of Blackburn for allowing me a period of leave to reflect on and pray about the events of the past few weeks and would ask for this space to be respected. I hope that, as we continue on the Lenten journey, we will each be able to hear God’s voice speaking to us in the wilderness, drawing forth order and beauty from the messy chaos of our lives.

Notes to editors:

A statement from 10 Downing Street: https://www.gov.uk/government/news/bishop-of-sheffield-philip-north?
A statement from the Archbishop of York: http://www.archbishopofyork.org/articles.php/3610/archbishop-of-york-statement-on-bishop-philip-north
A statement from the Bishop of Blackburn: http://www.blackburn.anglican.org/events_more.asp?events_id=2291
A statement from the Bishop of Doncaster: http://www.sheffield.anglican.org/news/statement-from-the-bishop-of-doncaster-regarding-the-rt-revd-philip-north

The Bishop of Burnley, The Rt Revd Philip North will not be available for any interviews.

Update (Thursday night)

A statement from The Society

A statement from Forward in Faith

Update (Friday morning)

Plenty of press coverage of this story including:

Church Times
Christian Today and also this covering the reaction.

And a selection from the mainstream media:

BBC
The Telegraph
The Guardian
The Times
The Mail

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Amanda Fairclough
Guest
Amanda Fairclough

I’m so sad and angry about this… Those of us who debated and voted on the final legislation for the admission of women to the episcopate knew we were making a compromise that wouldn’t always be comfortable. For me, the red line was ring fencing a place in the College of Bishops for a man holding the, frankly ludicrous, theology of male headship. I was not particularly troubled by the thought of the continued consecration of traditional Catholics. I know Philip North a little – a very little – and he gave one of the best sermons I have ever… Read more »

Pluralist
Guest

There’ll be no Bishop Martyn Percy in future either; but this chap could never ‘unify’ in Sheffield because he denied the given basis of a large chunk of the ministry. So it makes a mockery above suffragan level of this supposed ‘flourishing’ for those who cannot accept women priests and bishops. They lost those battles and should accept the consequences and end the delusion of their own apparent equality.

David Lamming
Guest
David Lamming

Regret and sadness at Bishop Philip’s decision are my emotions, too. Though we must all respect +Philip’s decision, he has, effectively, been hounded out of South Yorkshire by an unChristian campaign. It is sad too, that a consequence of what has happened, we shall be deprived, at least for the time being, of +Philip’s prophetic voice in General Synod.

Michael
Guest
Michael

This is a desperate day for many of us who belong to the Diocese of Sheffield. Such a shock and yet I feared it coming. The campaign spearheaded by a few individuals has led to vicious and personal attacks against a good man who could have given so much to the church in South Yorkshire. I rejoice for the church in Blackburn as they retain a bishop of his quality. It is hard today to feel, as Catholic Anglicans,that we are welcome or belong in the Church of England.There are probably 30-40 parishes in our diocese, Anglo-catholic and conservative evangelical… Read more »

Susannah Clark
Guest

Shameful.

The Church should be ashamed. So much for ‘see how these Christians love one another’.

Stupid, tiny-minded narrowness of vision.

The Church has already recognised women priests and bishops. That was not under attack.

Philip North could not have ‘unrecognised’ anyone if he had been people’s bishop. He was simply appointed for integrity and pastoral qualities, which someone can have, even if they hold different views to our own.

I am very disappointed in us all as a Church. All that was needed was grace and kindness.

FrDavidH
Guest
FrDavidH

This is the second time a campaign against Bishop North has been successful. He would have made a fine Bishop of Whitby had bigoted voices not been raised against him. Once again the CofE has shot itself in the foot and looks nasty and narrow-minded. The Church claims to respect gay people – but won’t marry them. It respects bishops who can’t accept women clergy – but makes it difficult to appoint them What a farce.

Peter S
Guest
Peter S

It feels like some evil hybrid creature born of the opponents of Jeffrey John in 2002 and a kind of reverse form of the 1993 Act of Synod has come to preside over mutual decay in the Church of England. When we fought passionately in favour of the ordination of women we did so on gospel principles, and on the basis that the truth shall set us free. We also did so recognising that at our best those who were for and those who were against were all on Jesus’ side, and that our real opponents were ignorance, poor argument,… Read more »

Tim Chesterton
Guest

Susannah, for once, you and I are in absolute agreement. ‘Shameful’ is exactly the right word.

Bishop Philip, you and I are on opposite sides of the issue of the ordination of women, but my thoughts and prayers are with you tonight.

Pam
Guest
Pam

Very sad news.

T Pott
Guest
T Pott

Perhaps this could be London’s gain.

Nigel Aston
Guest
Nigel Aston

As a Catholic Anglican of Philip North’s persuasion, I was really heartened by the warm comments uttered by several women bishops in support of Bishop Philip in a genuine effort to live out mutual flourishing. And yet the genuine willingness of the vast majority of the Church of England to promote one of its most gifted younger pastors has been wrecked by the negative intolerance of a deeply ungenerous minority. As Susannah says, ‘All that was needed was grace and kindness’ but, when put to the test, there wasn’t quite enough of either. What a terrible day for Anglican comprehensiveness.

Interested Observer
Guest
Interested Observer

If I might disagree… Philip North is a senior member of an organisation which either refuses to accept the legitimacy of female bishops and holds to a theology of taint, or is so unclear and obfuscatory in its statements that this position cannot be excluded. It is nonsensical, “mutual flourishing” not withstanding, to have senior members of a church refusing to accept the legitimacy of other senior members (which North definitely does) and even more nonsensical to have senior members of a church refusing to accept the legitimacy of other senior members solely on the basis of who appointed them… Read more »

peter kettle
Guest
peter kettle

What is the process by which the Archbishop of York now has the appointment in his gift?

Fr William
Guest

So intolerant, self-righteous and mendacious liberals have their way. There can be little doubt that the C of E is no more than a Protestant sect. Elsewhere on TA I recently hoped that
Philip was being supplied with tlc. His acknowledgment that the attacks on him have been hard to bear makes for shameful reading. Jesus wept.

Stuart
Guest
Stuart

This is shameful on the church. We’ve broken our promises. It’s also now going to be an impossible job for whoever is nominated to the see: but who can that be? Unless it’s another who takes +Philip’s position (with which I profoundly and deeply disagree) then we establish a principle that a personal vendetta is an acceptable way to veto future appointments. The church will be much poorer for this.

Cynthia
Guest
Cynthia

“There is clearly much to be done on what it means to disagree well and to live with theological difference in the Church of England.” Yes. That work needs to happen to make the “unity in diversity” work. It’s all more comprehensive and LGBTQI inclusion isn’t separate. There has to be an understanding that exclusive views (from the leadership) are extremely painful to those excluded. It can have nasty effects on girls and LGBT teens in particular. And somehow there has to be a way for female clergy to feel supported by their boss. So those pains have to be… Read more »

S Cooper
Guest
S Cooper

Goodbye asking for diversity……. another own goal

Simon Kershaw
Admin

The Crown Nominations Commission, in filling a vacant See, must settle on two names. Before Gordon Brown’s reform, these two names were sent to the Prime Minister who was able to select either of them (or ask for two more) and advise the Crown to nominate one of them. Post Gordon Brown, the CNC still selects two names, but only one of them (chosen by the CNC) is sent to the PM who advises the Crown to nominate this person. The second name is held in reserve in case the first choices declines the offer or fails the medical. So… Read more »

Benedict
Guest
Benedict

Echoing the comments of previous contributors, this is a sad day for the Church of England. Where is “mutual flourishing” now? Bishop Philip is a gifted pastor and evangelist, but he wasn’t even given a chance by his detractors in Sheffield and beyond. Those individuals should now be feeling ashamed of themselves.

David Keen
Guest
David Keen

A shameful episode, it isn’t Philip North who should be taking time out to reflect on what his Christian calling means. This is mob rule, not the church.

Andrew Godsall
Guest
Andrew Godsall

I can’t help thinking that the seriously waged online and offline campaign that forced Jeffrey John to ‘change his mind’ some years ago has enabled this kind of thing to happen. That was a pivotal moment for the Church of England from which we have never quite recovered. Hindsight is always a wonderful thing, but had that ordination gone ahead so many things would have been different: we wouldn’t be in the mess that brought forth the ill judged bishops report that came to General Synod and Philip North would be going to Sheffield.

Dominic Barrington
Guest

Watching this from Chicago, as an English priest serving in TEC, has been thought-provoking. A former diocese to the south of Chicago (Quincy) was rent asunder by litigation following parishes breaking away to join ACNA. The ‘faithful remnant’ reunified with the diocese of Chicago. Having always dismissed the theology of flying bishops, etc, I now recognize that it minimized fall-out from the C of E in a way that did not happen here. But OTOH the electoral process here really means it is most unlikely to be the case a diocese ends up with a bishop who is so divisive.… Read more »

De Paz
Guest
De Paz

So, the end of an era. Never again will a “Traditional Catholic” be appointed as a diocesan bishop. After the shameful way that Bishop North has been treated, no one in their right mind would accept such an appointment: indeed anyone who did would, by doing so, make themselves wholly unsuited to the post of bishop (“I know most of you hate me, but I’m going to be your bishop anyway Hahahahahaha!”) But, brothers and sisters, be not afraid. The task of the church, and its faithful priests, is not high office, position, or influence, but the humble imitation of… Read more »

Stephen King
Guest
Stephen King

As one who agrees with the ordination of women, I am ashamed at how Bishop Philip has been hounded out of this position by a noisy and vociferous minority.

If any good is to come out of this, then as he is apparently respected by many in the diocese of Blackburn, and supportive of the women clergy there, perhaps a woman could be nominated as the next Bishop of Lancaster.

David Emmott
Guest
David Emmott

Am I thick, or just missing something obvious? It is said that a male bishop with +Philip’s views can’t be a focus of unity: well maybe. But how can a female bishop whose orders are not recognised by a proportion of her flock, be such a focus either? This looks to me like the unacceptable face of liberalism.

etseq
Guest
etseq

When did the TA comment section turn so conservative? Feels like one is reading the Daily Mail ranting about “labour/liberals”

Jeremy
Guest
Jeremy

Thank you, Interested Observer, for putting forward the other side of the debate, and for doing so lucidly and, I believe, fair-mindedly.

Those of us who opposed the WO compromise as hopelessly flawed, and who called for better at the time, will be intrigued at how it is working out in practice.

There is a human cost today–but there is a human cost to every form of discrimination. Today we can name a bishop who declined his promotion. I’m sure the women priests in his diocese-that-would-have-been have names as well.

James Byron
Guest
James Byron

Cynthia, there’d have to be a catastrophic breakdown of empathy for anyone here to be unaware of how painful and unjust it’s been for those who were, for so long, denied ordination on the basis of their sex. I’ve said before that the CoE hasn’t gone near far enough in acknowledging its wrongdoing in delaying for decades after it accepted the principle of equal ordination, and should offer practical atonement, such as financial compensation and accelerated preferment, to women who should’ve been ordained back in the ’70s. Justice was delayed, and thereby denied. That grave injustice isn’t, however, remedied by… Read more »

Vanessa Baron
Guest
Vanessa Baron

This is mob rule, not the church.’ As one of the first female priests in the Church of England, I could not agree more.We had an agreement which many of us had discovered could work, provided we listened to each other. There is a continuing debate to be had but never, never,like this.

IT
Guest
IT

It seems that Philip North is an honorable and decent man. But it also seems to me that he and his supporters have not grappled with (or have even obfuscated) the obvious questions: If he does not believe women are legitimate priests, how can he allow them to provide Communion to any congregations in his see? Isn’t that an inconsistency, knowingly allowing “false” priests to serve? How can he put women in the diocese forth for ordination? how can he recognize male priests ordained by women bishops? It seems that the language of hurt and victimization covers up some legitimate… Read more »

David Runcorn
Guest

This is terribly sad. I am desperately sorry that +P has had to put up with highly personal attacks. That is inexcusable. But the discussion threads I have been following have not been personal at all. Quite the opposite. We were clear than in every other way he would be an exemplary Christian leader. But I feel some of the responses here are just as personal and this is not helpful. This was the first time the Principles had actually been tested. The actual concern was around issues of theology and ecclesiology that underpinned the idea of ‘mutual flourishing’. How… Read more »

Erika Baker
Guest
Erika Baker

Can someone please point me to all the personal comments you’re deploring here? I have genuinely not seen more than one or two, here on on the Facebook pages I follow. There have been questions about whether the Five Principles had been applied appropriately, there have been other theological questions, and there have been questions to Bishop North to answer some of those concerns. There have been people who said “this is what we voted for” and others who said that they didn’t think they had. There were explorations of just what recognising the ordination of women means, theologically and… Read more »

Anne
Guest
Anne

My prayers too are with Phillip North whose competence is not in doubt. But experience has shown in other Dioceses that it is necessary to put overtly into the Satement of Needs that a Diocese wants a Bishop who will ordain women, it is not possible to think that ‘it is obvious’. But at the next election at General Synod for members of the CNC it would be foolish to vote for any candidate who has not made it clear that they accept women as bishops, unconditionally.

Barry
Guest
Barry

Does this debacle at least provide an opportunity for abolishing the Diocese of Sheffield? I have heard that it’s justifiability has been questioned before now.

gerry reilly
Guest
gerry reilly

As someone who was perturbed by the proposal of Bishop Philip for Sheffield, not on personal grounds but on theological grounds, I am even more perturbed by most of the comments made in this place. We did not attack Bishop Philip personally:we asked how, given his theological stance he could appoint and work with people whose sacramental status he denied. How could he appoint to administer the sacraments and celebrate the Holy Eucharist people whom he considered ontologically incapable of being priests or bishops? This would mean that he considered a third of his diocese not to be in receipt… Read more »

SB
Guest
SB

My experience of the public debate has been much the same as Erika’s. There might have been a ‘campaign’ but only in the sense that Forward in Faith or The Society is a ‘campaign’. I have no doubt Bishop North has received personal abuse and individual attacks – as anyone who has ever spoken in public has. Those who attacked should be ashamed of themselves and I hope they have been reported to the appropriate authorities. But regardless of how personally supportive he has been of women generally and female priests in particular, I haven’t seen anyone explain how a… Read more »

Peter S
Guest
Peter S

Erika I don’t think people have meant to say hurtful things about an individual, or to bully or “play the man”. Nonetheless, this has been a controversy about the appointment of one person to an office. Christian theology is personal – because it always comes back to a person, Jesus. In Anglican polity, episcopacy is personal – bishops are people. And in this situation, rightly or wrongly, a person’s beliefs about a single matter came to be the sole criteria on which that person was judged. That’s personal. It comes with the territory in Christian leadership, but it’s still hard… Read more »

Stephen
Guest
Stephen

As with comments above, I’ve not seen any personal attacks against Philip North, only concerns expressed about his leading position in the Society and how he could hold that with honest affirmation and support of all the priests in his diocese in their ordained ministry, regardless of gender. He has been invited many times to explore this tension but has not done so. I’m also confused with the equivalence being drawn between having a non-ordaining bishop and having a woman bishop, in terms of unity. In the second case, some parishes don’t recognise the bishop is a real priest, and… Read more »

Kate
Guest
Kate

“First, what does it mean to say a bishop is the focus of unity?” The answer to that is in flux, I think, which is part of the difficulty. Historically, especially in the Catholic tradition, respect for the office was sufficient for almost any bishop to be the focus of unity. The Internet has made the world smaller. The populace knows more about individuals now than at any time since the early Church. We are therefore reverting to the situation in the early Church where the individual themselves, through their actions and beliefs, had to personally command unity. Twenty years… Read more »

Philip Hobday
Guest
Philip Hobday

Hard to see how it could not be personal. This was not a generic discussion of “whether someone holding traditionalist views could become a diocesan bishop”. It was a (successful) attempt to persuade a particular person who holds those convictions to either adjust them or to withdraw from a post to which they had been properly nominated. Perhaps the Church of England is less generous, less willing to live generously with differing (and difficult to reconcile) views than many of us thought. I find that sad, because I think such generosity is one of the most appealing things about Anglicanism.… Read more »

Anthony Archer
Guest
Anthony Archer

We will never know how the Sheffield CNC deliberated and I, for one, even when the outcome is controversial, would wish confidentiality of deliberation to be remain sacrosanct. However, we can now make some observations from the outside. There are lots of papabile clergy around, so what was it that made +Burnley the favourite? Did someone of influence on the CNC sponsor his candidacy aggressively? If, as seems clear, the diocesan representatives wanted him, who addressed the crucial question as to how his nomination would go down in the diocese? Members of the vacancy-in-see committee are now trying unconvincingly to… Read more »

rjb
Guest
rjb

This is a tragedy, not just for the diocese of Sheffield but for the whole Church of England.

I disagree with Bishop Philip on the issue of women priests (and on many others), but if this is what “mutual flourishing” is supposed to look like, I don’t want any part of it.

Interested Observer
Guest
Interested Observer

“But I had thought our church was wide and open enough to proceed with women’s ordination (which I support) while giving generous space for those who had theological reservations about it.” It’s easy, of course, for a man to throw women under the bus in order to make life easier for other men. Philip North wants to be a bishop, but does not believe that everyone ordained by the CofE, over whom he would have authority, is legitimate. He believes that any woman minister in his diocese, were he to be a bishop, has mistaken their vocation and should be… Read more »

Tim Chesterton
Guest

This is unbelievable. Over the past few days Bishop Philip’s personal theological integrity has been questioned over and over again. And now the people who did the questioning are saying that it ‘wasn’t personal’? I’m sorry, that just doesn’t wash with me.

And anyway, I’ve learned often from this website that the subject of the conversation gets to decide whether or not the attacks are personal. Bishop Philip has said that he found them both personal and hurtful. That’s good enough for me.

primroseleague
Guest
primroseleague

“This was about judgement and discernment and the CNC has been found wanting.”

Or God has called someone the people of Sheffield have decided they don’t want….

Richard Brown
Guest
Richard Brown

So now the five guiding principles are in tatters, and the Episcopal bench is sitting on its hands saying nothing. Not even our Archbishops apparently can rally around in defence of the great mechanism which was supposed to allow us to put the past behind us. The first occasion on which the principles are tested, they fail. Will it be back to the Drawing Board, or will future generations come to see this as the straw that broke the camel’s back? Schism beckons now, especially as we now see the uselessness of Bishops at defending their own principles. However, I… Read more »

Interested Observer
Guest
Interested Observer

“A forensic post-mortem is required.” The problem is obvious; the solution is much less clear. There are 43 dioceses in England. 1/43 = 2.33% To avoid getting bogged down in precise nuances, let us just define “traditionalist” to mean “opposed to the appointment of women bishops”, without worrying about the precise nature of that opposition. It is likely that, if you polled both the laity and the ordained, nationally, there are substantially more than 2.33% of each who are traditionalist. So by that logic, if you decide that diocesan bishops should be representative of the range of opinion in the… Read more »

John Caperon
Guest
John Caperon

This whole episode is a sorry one, and nothing can excuse comments directed at the person of the nominated bishop; one can only feel sadness at his resulting distress. But the questions originally posed by Martyn Percy were fair and reasonable ones, and it is only right to note that he explicitly did not call on +Philip to withdraw. The various fudges inherent in the ‘Five Guiding Principles’ are responsible, it seems to me, for the confusion. Forward in Faith’s commentary on the Principles explicitly commends the view that the (I thought) clear statement of the first principle, that that… Read more »

Graeme Buttery
Guest
Graeme Buttery

With respect, the only thing missing from Anthony Archer’s comment was the phrase “in my opinion.” Let us by all means have a forensic post-mortem, but let it also include the role of social media, fair and unfair comment, the role of the CNC, the rights of the diocese and definitions of all the above. Let us finally come to a conclusion as to whether we can actually live with difference, because I have my doubts. But I also firmly believe that more prayer and less commenting may also be a good thing, so I will comment no more. Graeme

primroseleague
Guest
primroseleague

Interested Observer @3.40pm – that does rather start to point in the direction of a third province….but we were told we couldn’t have that.

Personally I’m uneasily aware that today may be where the CofE and I begin to part company. I’m not sure I want to go to Rome, but I don’t feel particularly wanted by Canterbury I must say.