Friday, 24 February 2017

Philip North asked to decline appointment to Sheffield

Updated again 6 pm Friday

The Guardian carries this report by Harriet Sherwood
Opponent of female priests urged to decline bishop of Sheffield post

A senior Church of England theologian has called on the newly appointed bishop of Sheffield to stand aside ahead of his consecration, saying his opposition to female priests will “cause significant pastoral and public damage to the church”.

Martyn Percy, the dean of Christ Church, Oxford, urged 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, which was announced last month.

Percy claims there is a “substantial amount of resistance building up” to North’s appointment, which he says would “represent the toleration of gender-based sectarianism”.

The full press release from Modern Church is available here: Oxford theologian invites bishop-designate of Sheffield to decline nomination and is copied below the fold. Follow the link at the end of the original press release to download the full essay as a PDF.


WATCH has issued this: The Five Guiding Principles: Whose Flourishing do they serve?. Scrolling down leads to this section:

The Sheffield situation

Recently the announcement of the new Bishop of Sheffield was made. The press release made no comment about the fact that he is a bishop who cannot accept the ministry of women and will not ordain them as priests. In fact, those of us who have raised concerns that this bishop will now be presiding over a diocese where nearly a third of the clergy are women, have been told that his views on women are unimportant. Worse, we have been consistently told that this is a working out of the five guiding principles; mutual flourishment in practice.

So the question is, how is his appointment to a diocese, where nearly third of the incumbents are women, promoting mutual flourishing? For twenty years this has been a diocese in which women are ordained. These women have up until this point simply been priests in the diocese, regardless of gender. Now they are women priests. The incoming Bishop reassures them that he will work to the utmost limits of his theological position where they are concerned but, this is little comfort to those who are used to being treated in the same way as their male colleagues; as those whose priesthood their bishop truly recognises.

The women of the diocese were not asked how this would help them flourish. Neither of the Archbishops has offered any kind of support to them as they deal with the sense of hurt and disillusionment as, yet again, the Church of England expects women to be the ones who accept discrimination in the name of theological conviction.

The House of Bishops Declaration, which lays out clear guidelines for the provision necessary for those who cannot accept the ministry of a woman bishop, has nothing coherent to say to the women clergy of Sheffield diocese as they struggle to come to terms with the prospect of a Bishop who cannot fully accept their ministry. It seems that the hierarchy of the church has deep pastoral concerns for those who cannot accept the ministry of women and no real pastoral care for women who find their ministry fundamentally undermined by the theological views of the one with whom they are to share a cure of souls.

There is no provision for the male clergy who are deeply committed to a church in which men and women minister as equals. No provision for the lay members of the diocese who value the ministry of women clergy. Those many, many clergy and laity in the diocese who are theologically committed to the full inclusion of women in the church will no longer have a diocesan bishop who shares their theological conviction…

The Church of England has issued this: Statement on Bishop Philip North

In response to an enquiry from the Guardian on 23 February 2017 on an article concerning Bishop Philip North the Church of England’s Communication office provided the following response:

“Many if not all of Martyn Percy’s arguments were raised and presented during and before the General Synod debates on this issue in 2014. In supporting the ordination of Women as Bishops the Synod overwhelmingly rejected these arguments and favoured a position of mutual flourishing for all in the Church.

As Martyn Percy’s article makes clear Bishop Philip has stated in a meeting to women clergy in the diocese that he is favour of women’s leadership and would actively promote it.

The beauty of the Church of England is its theological breadth and its ability to hold together disparate views across a range of issues whilst 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.”

Oxford theologian invites bishop-designate of Sheffield to decline nomination

The Dean of Christ Church, Oxford, has invited the Bishop-designate of Sheffield, the Rt Revd Philip North, to decline his nomination to the See because of his opposition to women’s ordination.

The Very Revd Professor Martyn Percy has made a case against the elevation of the Rt Revd Philip North, the Bishop of Burnley, in an article published on the website of Modern Church, a society promoting liberal Christianity, of which he is a Vice President.

Professor Percy argues in the article ‘Questions of Ambiguity and Integrity?’ that the logic of Bishop North’s theological position makes it impossible for him to affirm and receive the ordained ministry of all his female clergy. Moreover, the same would apply to any male ordained by a female bishop. Women account for around one-third of the clergy of Sheffield diocese.

Commenting on this, Martyn Percy observed that:

the ratio of male clergy to female clergy in Sheffield Diocese is 2:1. In a Diocese like Chichester it is more like 10:1. A non-ordaining Bishop in Sheffield Diocese is a serious matter for the female clergy, who are present in very large numbers. This will feel like a step backwards for many parishes and clergy, as the full acceptance of women clergy was patiently established under the ministry of Bishop David Lunn, who had begun his episcopacy as a leading opponent of the ordination of women. His acceptance of women clergy is a defining moment in the life of the Diocese. The Crown Nominations Commission has shown a marked insensitivity to this history in nominating Bishop North to the See of Sheffield. The initiatives that were developed to accommodate conscientious objectors in the Church of England were simply not designed to be implemented against Dioceses such as Sheffield.

Sheffield, as a City and Diocese, has a proud record in relation to issues of justice and equality. Percy believes the inevitable inequality that would be introduced through Bishop North accepting the nomination to the See would have profound and disturbing ramifications for the public witness of the church in the region, and for the pastoral oversight of its female clergy across the Diocese. He adds:

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’, whose Council of Bishops includes Bishop Philip North.

Percy is particularly concerned with a proposal from The Society to issue ‘identity cards’ to the priests of his organisation in the near future, in order to guarantee their sacramental purity. This proposal would, in effect, says Professor Percy, amount to clergy listing their ‘(male) ontological genealogy’:

…travel forward, if you will, a century from now. Those identity cards…will need to show that the bishop who ordained you, was, in turn, ordained by someone pure and efficacious, and in turn, was ordained likewise - stretching all the way back to our present time.

The proposal endorses clergy having to demonstrate an unbroken chain of ‘ontological purity’, via a ‘taint free’ litany of bishops.Percy writes:

As bishops turn over every ten years or so, the genealogy will eventually be longer than the one we have for Jesus in the Gospel of Matthew.

He added that he

could not envisage a Diocesan Bishop functioning well who is also an ambassador for gender-based discrimination, and an advocate of inequality. The women clergy are already in a state of grief about the appointment, moving through the early phases of shock, anger and denial. But bargaining and acceptance are unlikely to be options. Their situation is profoundly unjust.

Professor Percy’s article discusses the principle of integrity - a key issue enshrined in the Church of England’s attempts to find a way forward, together, for groups holding irreconcilable positions within the church (The Five Guiding Principle of the House of Bishops’ Declaration on the Ministry of Bishops and Priests, June 2014, which are not enshrined in law.)

Professor Percy calls upon Bishop North to clarify his position on women clergy, and men ordained by female bishops. He says the issues cannot be ‘fudged’ through an over-investment in ambiguity, as ‘fudging’ lacks iintegrity, and ambiguity destroys authority:

if these differences can’t be resolved, then the virtue and practice of integrity suggests some new paths: acquiescence or withdrawal. Either the bishop has to step aside and step down from exercising episcopal ministry at this level and in this context, or the men and women have to resign, as their own bishop does not recognise and affirm their sacramental efficacy.

Professor Percy adds:

Bishops have a paternal and maternal relationship to their clergy and parishes. As a ‘Father in God’, Bishop North needs to be able to give his unequivocal support and affirmation to his male and female clergy alike. It can’t be a partial and conditional affirmation, based on gender. You can’t have a pastoral situation in which the Bishop effectively says to his clergy ‘I will love, support and affirm you all; but not all of you equally’. Such a statement would amount to the most awful parenting. In more Patriarchal terms, Bishop North’s stance on women is of a similar sort to the discrimination that Abraham showed to Isaac and Ishmael in the book of Genesis. Bishop North’s stance imputes ‘doubtful parentage’ on his women clergy - that their ‘ontological heritage’ is invalid.

Professor Percy continues,

Such a witness would lead to a dysfunctional episcopacy and an unhappy Diocese. Family breakdown will be inevitable. This cannot lead to ‘mutual flourishing’. Bishop North’s appointment would represent the toleration of gender-based sectarianism, and will ultimately cause significant pastoral and public damage to the church.

Professor Percy concludes, that

“the Church of England has always embraced a wide range of beliefs and practices. But it has begun to discover in debates on sexuality, and on gender, that if you truly want to be one church, you can only ultimately afford one integrity”.

Click here to read and download the full 3000 word essay, Questions of Ambiguity and Integrity, by Very Revd Prof Martyn Percy.


Posted by Simon Sarmiento on Friday, 24 February 2017 at 10:41am GMT | TrackBack
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Categorised as: Church of England

Ah, the unofficial Leader of the Church of England's Opposition is proving that persecution within the Established Church is not yet dead! So much for "Better Together", Dean Percy!
Does not the Guardian newspaper realise that Philip North has already been "consecrated"? What we now have to look forward to with much joy, gladness and anticipation is his Enthronement as Diocesan Bishop of Sheffield. Hang on in there Father Philip and shew all those episcopal managers and meddling deans exactly how to be a true pastoral bishop and a faithful Father in God.

Posted by: Father David on Friday, 24 February 2017 at 11:31am GMT

Appalled by this which seems to me to border on bullying. Bishop North has assented to the Canons of the Church of England. Isn't that enough? Surely the campaign should instead be for the clergy of the diocese by the fruitfulness of their ministry to astonish their new bishop into changing his mind, and for the bishop to demonstrate the breadth of Christian love across the boundaries of difference. The logical extension of this attitude would be to insist that all same-sex partnered clergy must resign their posts.

Posted by: Peter S on Friday, 24 February 2017 at 11:31am GMT

We should be clear about the process that has led to this appointment. The diocese could have specifically excluded a candidate who would not ordain women priests when it drew up the Statement of Needs - it did not. The diocese could have elected representatives to the vacancy-in-see committee who would have excluded a candidate who would not ordain women priests - it did not. The vacancy-in-see committee could have elected members to the Crown Nominations Commission who would have excluded a candidate who would not ordain women priests - it did not. The diocesan members of the CNC could have blocked the appointment of a candidate who would not ordain women priests - they did not. At every stage the diocese has shown itself willing to envisage an appointment of this sort. This is what mutual flourishing is meant to look like.

Posted by: Robin Ward on Friday, 24 February 2017 at 12:01pm GMT

Equal consecration only got through 'cause traditionalists were assured they'd remain welcome. I've not seen anyone offer evidence that North has personally undermined ordained women, and several people have gone to bat for him on the grounds that he's supported them. This opposition appears to be purely on the basis of his beliefs, not his actions. If so, it's illiberal.

All that aside, this again points to the urgency of introducing episcopal elections. If the diocese truly oppose him, he'd never have been voted in; and if he were, those who disagree would at least have had the consolation of losing a fair contest, not having someone parachuted in without their consent.

Posted by: James Byron on Friday, 24 February 2017 at 12:44pm GMT

Or perhaps, Fr Robin, the members of the diocese you refer to had thought, as I had, that the appointment of a non-ordaining diocesan was no longer a possibility after the settlement reached in 2014, and the first two of the five guiding principles. I agree that the members of the CNC could (and should) have raised an objection on the grounds Dean Percy raises. Another correspondent mentions bullying - I suspect this must have occurred in the CNC and there is only one person on my list of suspects.
This is not mutual flourishing - it is separate flourishing of the minority, and it is the women priests of Sheffield Diocese who are being asked to pay the price. It won't do!

Posted by: Malcolm Dixon on Friday, 24 February 2017 at 12:49pm GMT

For the last thirty odd years opponents to the ordination of women priests in the Church of England have been sidelined. Bishop North had already politely declined the see of Whitby which had a tradition of recruiting from this under-appreciated sector. What arrant nonsense to invite a further gesture of abnegation!

Posted by: Clive Sweeting on Friday, 24 February 2017 at 1:19pm GMT

This campaign against the consecration of Philip North is quite shocking. As was noted (by Robin Ward) due process was followed in every respect and many of us saw it as proof that mutual flourishing actually means something in the Church of England.Please stand your ground here, Bishop Philip. Any change of mind would be a shattering blow not only to the 20 or so catholic parishes of the Diocese of Sheffield but also to all our poor parishes in Council Estates and deprived areas of which God knows we have enough.Bishop Philip has genuine concern and understanding of my sort of parish. The liberals who profess outrage often belong to comfortable leafy or rural parishes which our well resourced. The Sheffield anglo-catholic parishes are generally found in the estates or in former mining villages and see little in the way of such resources but have realised that they would be getting abishop who cares about them.Any successful attempt to foist a different bishop would cause a hurt and a resentment which would be permanent. There are those of us who are Sheffield anglo-catholics who genuinely wish our female clergy well and are happy to work with them. Let us all work together under Bishop Philip and please do take note of the regard in which he is held by almost all clergy in the Diocese of Blackburn

Posted by: Michael on Friday, 24 February 2017 at 1:35pm GMT

I don't know Bp Philip and I support strongly the consecration of women. But the Church agreed that there would continue to be a place for those who disagreed with that development. Bp Philip was properly chosen under the Church's currrent processes which include a very strong voice for the elected representatives of the diocese. Given the Church's decision to promote the flourishing of all (including those opposed), and that proper processes were followed, this attempt to force his withdrawal does not seem - to say the least - very reasonable.

Posted by: Philip Hobday on Friday, 24 February 2017 at 2:01pm GMT

As I mentioned in an earlier thread when the nomination was announced, "I am hugely surprised that a non-ordainer has been nominated for a diocesan see. It is a massively retrograde step and will certainly not serve the needs of the Diocese of Sheffield, excellent priest/bishop though Father North is. However not being a member of the CNC these days I can only comment from my armchair. There is much going on in the Church of England that is far more troubling than whether certain bishops will or will nor ordain women as deacons or priests and/or preside at their installations. No doubt those who are dancing in the aisles over this appointment will now be turning their attention to London." I would not want to campaign as the Dean of Christ Church is, but would reiterate that the nomination displays very poor judgement on the part of the Sheffield CNC. Maybe they are demob happy, with only Sodor and Man to go, although that vacant see also poses some interesting challenges and opportunities.

Posted by: Anthony Archer on Friday, 24 February 2017 at 2:06pm GMT

Canon Percy should hang his head in shame, such unadulterated bullying and nonsense.
BISHOP North has shown at Burnley, and his priestly ministry previously a great love and pastoral concern for all God's people in many and varied pastoral situations. He reminds me of the great Fathers of the church who ministered in Thameside, the Fr Potters of their day. We need more Bishops and priests like Bishop North.
Bishop Martin of Chichester is of like ilk.

Canon Percy sounds like a jealous person, with a sour heart.

Posted by: Fr. John E Harris-White on Friday, 24 February 2017 at 2:39pm GMT

I guess rather than focussing on the abstracts of this decision I'm more interested in what exactly will happen in practice, and how that will foster mutual flourishing.

What exactly will +Philip's relationship be with parishes that are not members of the Society? Will he visit them? Will he carry out confirmations there? What if the incumbent priest is female or was ordained by a bishop who is female?

Who will carry out ordinations in the diocese? Will we have in +Philip what we have had in +Richard in London, i.e. a Bishop who does not ordain anybody at all to the priesthood? Or will +Philip only ordain those from or heading to Society parishes?

What will happen about Chrism Masses?

Posted by: Cantab on Friday, 24 February 2017 at 2:48pm GMT

This shows why unity in diversity is so problematic.

To conservatives, Philip's enthronement is a straightforward consequence of mutual flourishing. If he can't take up this position, mutual flourishing is fatally wounded.

To liberals, it is straightforward discrimination. Ministers - all men - who object the ordination of women get flying bishops; women who object to anything other than equal treatment get a bishop who do not believe in their ordination. The asymmetry is obviously unacceptable.

The two positions cannot be reconciled. There is no good outcome of this. Worse, it proves to both wings that a muddy compromise for same sex marriage is likely to fail too.

Posted by: Kate on Friday, 24 February 2017 at 2:50pm GMT

Surely it would have been better to appoint someone who shows more loyalty to God than to some outdated sectarian organisation like "The Society". And what is it with FiF ACs that they always have to go on about ministering to the poor as if they are the only ones doing this? They are not. In many cases AC people do next to nothing because they are in thrall to an ideology.

Posted by: CT on Friday, 24 February 2017 at 2:52pm GMT

"Bp Philip was properly chosen under the Church's currrent processes which include a very strong voice for the elected representatives of the diocese. Given the Church's decision to promote the flourishing of all (including those opposed), and that proper processes were followed, this attempt to force his withdrawal does not seem - to say the least - very reasonable."

That misses the point. If you were a female candidate for ordination in the See of Sheffield how would you feel about the appointment of a bishop who did not believe you should be ordained? Who would you feel about diocesan authorities who had chosen such a candidate? It is not Bishop Philip per se but that the structure which exists quite simply cannot accommodate someone with his theology without negative consequences. It calls into question the viability of the entire diocesan system.

Posted by: Kate on Friday, 24 February 2017 at 3:03pm GMT

I'm not sure that Dean Percy would swap the biggest stipend in the country for a mitre, if that's what the jealousy is intended to mean.

Posted by: Richard on Friday, 24 February 2017 at 3:13pm GMT

I note all the comments so far are from men. Whether or not the question of a non-ordaining diocesan was ever clearly asked in the listening part of the appointment process, I have no idea, or if those in the wider diocese were ever made aware this was a realistic possibility. But, as we discovered in Nov 2012, being unsure whether your church, in this case represented by a Diocesan bishop, doesn't think you are a "real" priest is very painful, demoralising, however nice the man himself may be. I am very happy to work with ambiguity with ecumenical colleagues; but were I in Sheffield, I would be very uncomfortable to be put in this position. Women clergy in Blackburn had only recently had a diocesan who would ordain women, so a suffragan who was supportive would be a real positive. But personally supportive is not the same as believing in the essence of who I am as a person and a priest. It's the same feeling of rejection as in 2012.

Posted by: RosalindR on Friday, 24 February 2017 at 3:43pm GMT

I was surprised by Philip North's appointment to Sheffield, but would echo Fr Robin's point. Presumably, hopefully, the voice of female clerics in the diocese has been heard and listened to. If we have, as a church, learnt one thing from the events of the last few weeks it is surely to let those with the greatest personal stake have their voice. If the voice of female clergy in Sheffield hasn't been heard the process is flawed and they should be given the opportunity to speak now, if it has been heard and the diocese still want Philip to be their bishop, so be it.

Posted by: Andrew Lightbown on Friday, 24 February 2017 at 4:37pm GMT

I also note that the appalled commenters are all men. It is a horrible situation for female clergy to have a boss who doesn't accept their calling. Kudos to Martyn Percy for having the integrity to speak this truth.

"Mutual flourishing" may have to mean that non ordainers have to accept positions as suffragans but not diocesans. Because there simply is no way for women and girls to flourish under the leadership of a bishop who denies our essence as equally created in the Image of God. That has always been the problem with this "two integrities". In practice, it actually means that in some dioceses women and girls have to continue to suffer.

CoE leadership continues to show more interest in supporting privilege than supporting the marginalized.

Posted by: Cynthia on Friday, 24 February 2017 at 4:38pm GMT

Kate, I must be one of the most liberal people on here, and it's precisely because of that liberalism that I must accept this appointment. A core tenet of liberalism is toleration. I strongly disagree with sexual discrimination in the church, and I'd be overjoyed if all bishops embraced the ministry of all, but I don't have a right to expect my views to be imposed on everyone else.

RosalindR, I'm not claiming to know how female priests in the diocese feel (although it'd require a tin-ear to have no idea, even if many women hadn't made their feelings plain, which they have), but whatever the sex of the people posting, it doesn't change the conditions on which equal consecration passed, nor the promises that traditionalists would be valued. It's too late to go back on them now.

Posted by: James Byron on Friday, 24 February 2017 at 4:42pm GMT

Disappointed to see the personal abuse for Martyn Percy who is surely right - and courageous - to question whether Society bishops should lead a diocese. How can they possibly be a focus for unity, or share the cure of souls with people (male and female) whose orders they don't recognize and whose sacramental actions they don't believe are valid? Can they be bishops? Yes. Diocesan bishops? No.

Posted by: Anne on Friday, 24 February 2017 at 4:49pm GMT

You surprise me, James Byron. In your many posts on this site, especially those on threads about LGBTI issues, your position as I read it (and pray forgive me if I have misheard you) is that nothing less than absolute equality will do, and any post advocating any restriction of that equality, in the interests of other considerations within the church, is given very short shrift indeed.

And yet on this thread, and the earlier one on the same subject, you appear to be quite happy to underwrite +North's appointment on the grounds that he has been supportive of women priests and has not done anything personally to undermine them. What greater form of undermining than there possibly be for a woman priest than to have a bishop who believes that her orders are not valid. And yet that is precisely what +North does believe, otherwise he would not continue to be a member of SSWSH (or the Society, as its members now appear to prefer it to be known, as if no other Society was worthy of the name).

Generous provision has been made for those who will not accept the priestly ministry of women. But that should not extend to the ranks of the HoB. Any diocesan bishop *must* be able to affirm the orders of all those priests who swear canonical obedience to him or her. Anything else is grossly discriminatory, and no amount of fine words or friendly gestures can get over it. There is nothing even slightly illiberal about saying so.

Posted by: Malcolm Dixon on Friday, 24 February 2017 at 5:03pm GMT

I am an admirer of Bishop Philip, and though I disagree strongly with his position on women's ordination, I nevertheless think it is a sign of maturity that the church can offer senior positions to gifted men and women from different traditions and theological backgrounds. We should be able to continue to debate and discuss these issues within the family of the church. I am not sure that Martyn Percy's intervention reflects the spirit of charity one would hope for in such matters - it's a bit too redolent of the campaign against Jeffrey John as Bishop of Reading. It seems ungracious, and is in rather stark contrast with Bishop Philip's conduct towards those who disagree with him.

Posted by: rjb on Friday, 24 February 2017 at 5:14pm GMT

As I understand it, Dean Percy has argued that +North should EITHER renounce his membership of SSWSH OR decline his nomination to Sheffield. Most posts thus far have looked only at the second suggestion.
I would like to focus for a moment on the first suggestion. If only +North would follow the example of his episcopal colleague Mark Sowerby of Horsham, change his mind and joyfully accept that women can and should be priests, then we could all rejoice in this appointment. As it is, I will continue to deplore it, and to give thanks for those brave senior churchmen, like the Dean of Christ Church, who call it out for the blatant discrimination that it is.

Posted by: Malcolm Dixon on Friday, 24 February 2017 at 5:28pm GMT

This blog article is worth a read
The Bishop of Sheffield and Mutual Flourishing: a Guest Blog

Posted by: Simon Sarmiento on Friday, 24 February 2017 at 6:45pm GMT

Interesting set of comments, very divided by gender, sadly. The perspective is largely clerical and focused on structures. I wonder what the people of Sheffield diocese think. Surely a bishop of the Church OF ENGLAND is to serve God and them first and foremost. A survey could tell you quickly and easily what they think about the matter. It would be good practice for a societal church to take the laity's views into consideration, and modern means of polling make that easy and affordable. Parliamentary control used to serve the purpose of democratic accountability. Alas, no longer.

Posted by: Linda Woodhead on Friday, 24 February 2017 at 6:56pm GMT

I confess to a profound sadness at the tone of this thread encouraged by the Guardian article. I thank God Lent is almost here, and that I am reminded by the Gospel this Sunday to "set my heart on His Kingdom first and on His righteousness."
So much of the cacophony of argument and noise around us in these fractious times misses our call as the people of Christ to set our hearts on His Kingdom of Love. May we be forgiven. God's voice speaks most often in silence, and we would be wise to shut up!

Posted by: Frank Nichols on Friday, 24 February 2017 at 7:51pm GMT

It is an absurd departure from catholic order for an Anglican province to think it can proceed with the appointment of a diocesan bishop who doesn't accept the orders of all of the priests in their diocese.

Matters relating to anyone's opinion on the ordination of women or indeed the suitability of the candidate in other ways, seem to me to be largely irrelevant when compared to the significance of what is being proposed in terms of church order.

Posted by: Kelvin Holdsworth on Friday, 24 February 2017 at 9:23pm GMT

Some of us on this board wished for Synod to be dissolved in 2014.

Why? Because we anticipated that a new Synod would approve a better women-bishops measure, one that did not systematise discrimination against women.

So I have to say: We told you so.

Posted by: Jeremy on Friday, 24 February 2017 at 9:35pm GMT

Very disappointing, but sooo stereotypical: WATCH et al demanding "tolerance", "breadth", "mutual flourishing" for themselves but no-one else!

Why are such myopic groups allowed in the CofE?

Posted by: RevDave on Friday, 24 February 2017 at 10:34pm GMT

Thank you, Kelvin, for a wonderfully pithy post which goes right to the nub of the issue. The irony is that it is largely the contributors who consider themselves more catholic than we hoi polloi (if not more catholic than the Pope!) who are attempting most strongly to defend this indefensible appointment. I wonder why they can't see the incompatibility with catholic order?

Posted by: Malcolm Dixon on Friday, 24 February 2017 at 10:43pm GMT

Malcolm, discrimination's an action: so long as women are treated equally, a bishop's beliefs don't violate equality. That doesn't mitigate the pain caused, but the only alternative's schism, and that wasn't the path chosen.

My position's consistent: I've repeatedly said that priests (and bishops) holding traditional views on sexuality should have the right to hold office and, if they so choose, refuse to marry same-sex couples.

I couldn't disagree more strongly with North's beliefs if I tried, but that's irrelevant. It was agreed by all parties that traditionalists could not only stay, but were welcome, and that promise must be honored. Refusing to do so will stiffen the resolve of those who oppose a similar compromise on sexuality. If nothing else, it's counterproductive.

Posted by: James Byron on Friday, 24 February 2017 at 10:55pm GMT

I'd be very happy if Bishop Philip stayed here in Blackburn Diocese. His theology regarding ordaining women is complex but wrong which is difficult in a diocesan role. It brings with it the need to compromise which forces others to compromise too and there is the question of theological integrity, as we all know. But, as +Philip said to local clergy yesterday, imperfection doesn't stop us being an eschatological church, proclaiming Christ and being the John 21 community, the body of Christ incarnate on earth. It is a significant theological compromise that has proved to be unexpectedly easy for everyone here to live with.

Posted by: Nancy Goodrich on Friday, 24 February 2017 at 11:50pm GMT

James, thank you for explaining your thinking. But what about ordination, which is an action? +North can"t ordain women without invalidating his membership of SSWSH, but if he doesn't, whilst still ordaining men, he is clearly being discriminatory. The London option of not ordaining anyone is not practicable in a small diocese like Sheffield.

Posted by: Malcolm Dixon on Saturday, 25 February 2017 at 12:00am GMT

Is not Martyn Percy's intervention, in principle, identical to the hounding that Rowan Williams suffered after his Sharia Law speech?

Behind all the eloquence, this is just bullying. Period. I have not heard women in the Diocese of London calling for the resignation of Richard Chartres because of his opaqueness over womens' ordination. Nor did the women of Exeter Diocese, under Michael Langrish, who would not ordain any priests (male or female)either.

Philip North will have had to be the unanimous candidate of both the internal and external selectors to be appointed to Sheffield. He was, presumably, appointed because he will be a strong voice for one of the poorest parts of the country, and will energise the mission of the Church in a way that, may be, an evangelical was not able to.

Either we are a mature and generous Church, committed to mutual flourishing, or we are just a rump of mean, illiberal, liberal fundamentalists, convinced of our own rightness. I am deeply sorry that some of us believe this is an appropriate way to treat another member of the body of Christ. Although I disagree with Philip North's theological position, he must not - again - be hounded from this ministry because people who do not know him have decided that his particular form of Anglican obedience makes him 'not one of us.'

Posted by: Michael Mulhern on Saturday, 25 February 2017 at 6:16am GMT

Where was Modern Church when bishops with links to Reform or Church Society were appointed? On the face of it, rescinding membership of SSWSH sounds reasonable, but it creates a problem in how far bishops should go with their patronages.

On the same basis, can a bishop be a member of Modern Church?

Posted by: Tim M on Saturday, 25 February 2017 at 6:52am GMT

"Malcolm, discrimination's an action: so long as women are treated equally, a bishop's beliefs don't violate equality. That doesn't mitigate the pain caused, but the only alternative's schism, and that wasn't the path chosen."

A female minister in Sheffield will offer obedience to a diocesan bishop who does not believe her ordination is right and valid. All female ministers are affected. No male minister will be affected. The effect is entirely "because of" Sex. That is direct discrimination.

You might believe it is acceptable or agreed discrimination but, sorry, that doesn't mean that it is not discrimination. As to "agreed" step back to 1993 when ABC said:

"As a result (of these arrangements) we will give space to those opposed to the ordination of women to the priesthood so that while remaining
under the jurisdiction of the diocesan bishop they will, if they wish, be able to receive extended Episcopal care from another bishop”


“The arrangements the House envisages are designed to ensure that appropriate pastoral episcopal care is provided for those in favour and those opposed to the legislation, without undermining theauthority of the diocesan bishop.”

And a 1998 Lambeth resolution when discussing the ordination of women:

"This Conference, committed to maintaining the overall unity of the Anglican Communion, including the unity of each diocese under the jurisdiction of the diocesan bishop,"

I will look through what was agreed but I don't think the appointment of a diocesan bishop who does not support the ordination of women is what most people thought they were agreeing 20 years ago.

Posted by: Kate on Saturday, 25 February 2017 at 7:29am GMT

How many non-ordaining bishops does it take for a small minority of people in the CoE to flourish?

And can someone please explain to me how this appointment encourages the flourishing of traditionalist Anglo-Catholics in other Dioceses? The Flying Bishops concept made sense - one bishop responsible for all those parishes in the church and for none other.

That a Diocesan who doesn't believe that his own female priests are ordained doesn't contribute to their flourishing and that of most women in his Diocese is obvious.
But how does he contribute to the flourishing of traditionalists anywhere other than in his own Diocese?
And if he doesn't, who contributes to their flourishing?

Posted by: Erika Baker on Saturday, 25 February 2017 at 7:44am GMT

Synod in 2014 accepted a House of Bishops declaration which expressly allows the appointment of diocesan bishops who do not ordain women. Moreover, the agreement was that the Church has reached a final decision on the topic. People have opined what female clerics within the Diocese of Sheffield might think about the appointment of Bishop Philip: I am not sure that the canons actually allow them to have an opinion on the matter so I do think it is important for others to speak out on their behalf.

Posted by: Kate on Saturday, 25 February 2017 at 8:09am GMT

Too many posters on here seem to equate “mutual flourishing” with preferment, and elevation to Diocesan in particular. I fear Sheffield will experience the same that Chichester has been plagued with for decades. And, no, it has not changed in the last four years. Female clergy, even newly ordained ones, leave the Diocese in droves, many as soon as their title is served, if their personal circumstances allow. The ones that have left are indeed now flourishing. Most stipendiary posts, and even more so parish clergy posts, that are filled with women here have been, and are going, to women from outside of the Diocese who have not experienced what we have. By contrast, male clergy of +North’s persuasion are shoved some miles down the road to keep them here. If the Diocese needs to advertise a vacancy openly, no-one, not even male clergy, from outside applies. These are the sad facts. Chichester Diocese is an unattractive place for most. A few honorary canonries and high profile appointments have not changed that. We even had an ordination of a young third generation “society” priest here recently for which members of the same commandeered the whole cathedral – for one single man, while the whole batch of “other” priests got ordained by the tainted suffragan as a group. As someone else has pointed out on a similar thread on TA before, they were not celebrating an ordination, they were celebrating something else altogether, and they came from all over the country. Pray that the same cannot be said of Sheffield in future.

Posted by: Mother Hubbard on Saturday, 25 February 2017 at 8:36am GMT

Does @Mother Hubbard actually have any recent experience of the Diocese of Chichester, where women priests, denied recognition for so long (not even being allowed to wear stoles at diocesan gatherings) are being fully affirmed and given a full voice by a traditionalist catholic bishop. No, +Martin doesn't ordain priests (of either gender) but neither did +Richard Londin. And, unlike his predecessors, +Martin insisted on appointing a suffragan who would ordain women. What's more, the Diocese is in good heart and motoring.

Posted by: James A on Saturday, 25 February 2017 at 9:35am GMT

Malcolm, even if it applies to all, other bishops (including Sheffield's suffragans) can surely cover ordaining duties? Disagree with the CNC system as I do, I'd at least trust them to have considered practical matters like this, and be satisfied with whatever solution's been proposed.

Kate, if it is "direct discrimination" (and given that no-one's proposing that female clergy in Sheffield be denied office or preferment on the basis of their sex, I don't believe that it is), it's direct discrimination that all parties agreed to in order to pass equal consecration. If a single-clause measure was non-negotiable, the compromise shouldn't have been voted through. To change it retroactively, just a few years down the line, is gonna destroy trust, and make traditionalists fight any future change. How does that advance the cause of equality?

Posted by: James Byron on Saturday, 25 February 2017 at 9:47am GMT

I'm sat here, scratching my head, trying to think when it was that a group of self-righteous clergy, led by a high priest, whipped-up a frenzy of opposition to a preacher whom they considered to be not 'not one of us' and it all ended up with someone being crucified for his convictions. Does anyone else contributing to this thread have trouble remembering the detail?

I find this episode deeply distasteful and I am, frankly, surprised that Martyn Percy is aligning himself with it. As a scholar of Anglicanism, he of all people should know that it is the unique vocation of our Church to hold together differences of conviction, with a generous accommodation of those with whom we do not agree, but who deserve an equal place at the table. He should also know that Philip North will not be the first - or the last - diocesan bishop not to ordain priests.

More than this, Martyn Percy has been very vocal in taking the bishops to task for meekly going with the prevailing orthodoxy. Now that Sheffield has a bishop who will resolutely refuse to do that, and will champion those who are ignored and forgotten, he is behaving like a myopic kamikaze pilot. He is actually betraying the ecclesiology he so robustly defends: that the Church of England is not there for the minority who worship in it, or even those who minister in it. It is there for the whole of society, and there is no doubting that Philip North will champion such a vision of the church in a diocese where, over the past seven years, too much energy has been focussed inwards (and in a particularly specific sociological and demographic direction).

Perhaps this distinguished sociologist of religion will provide us with the evidence which supports his claim of 'growing opposition.' Then we can judge for ourselves where it is coming from, and how representative it is of the Diocese of Sheffield as a whole.

Posted by: Will Richards on Saturday, 25 February 2017 at 10:06am GMT

I hope readers will be happy for me to clear up one or two matters relating to the correspondence on the matter of integrity, above.

It is worth restating that my essay calls for Bishop North to either unequivocally affirm the sacramental validity of all his clergy; or, as a matter of integrity, decline the nomination - for the simple reason he does not, currently, believe one third of his clergy to ‘real’ priests. That is the position of The Society, in which he has a leading role.

Minor Matters:
1. The Dean of Christ Church is not paid by the CofE. The salary is about the average going rate for heading an Oxbridge College. We just happen to have a Cathedral to run as well.
2. I withdrew from the CNC process for consideration for any Decanal or Episcopal post in the autumn of 2013, alienated by the homogenised managerial culture that dominated the procedures for selection, and seemed to me lack any acuity and integrity as a spiritual discernment process. Contrary to one post on this site, this is not ‘sour’, but a simple matter of personal integrity. I have refused to go on any CNC list, or be party to the (so-called) 'Talent Pool'.
3. The role of Dean of Christ Church is not a CNC-related post. The Governing Body and Canons of Christ Church, in consultation with Downing Street, acting for the Monarch, run the process of discernment and selection. The appointment is in the gift of the reigning monarch.

Major Points:

1. The faithfulness and polity of the church, and its public witness, is neither affirmed or rewarded by finding some middle ground between sexism and equality, any more than it is between racism and equality, or any kind of exclusion based on a person’s identity, and inclusion.
2. The Five Guiding Principles seek a middle-way between inclusion and exclusion. But we would not tolerate, rightly, a post-apartheid South Africa that still gave honoured places in government to those who hold racially-segregationist views.
3. At the same time, we would not dispute that South Africans holding such segregationist views - not all of whom were white, incidentally - were loyal and good South Africans. We would not drive them from their country. We would seek reconciliation. But we would seek truth too. But we would not honour their views as still having a place in governance, or be seeking to protect or enshrine their views as equal valuable, credible or laudable. (Such views do not lead to 'mutual flourishing').
4. The Church of England would not dream of tolerating views on race that spoke of difference and diversity, and then licensing such terms as leverage for a means of discrimination. Why does the Church of England allow this on gender?
5. For a passionate-moderate like myself, let me state clearly that not all views are of equal worth on race or gender. That being tolerant - and I do believe in a tolerant, mild, open church - also means that, sometimes, views that are manifestly intolerant have to be named and resisted. Moderates have backbone too.

Philip North’s appointment does not represent some kind of triumph for a broad, inclusive church that can showcase its diversity, and a capacity to live with differences and disagreements. It sends a completely different message to the world, and to ourselves as a church. Namely, that we tolerate exclusion and discrimination at the highest levels. And that our Church leaders support such discrimination, in the name of inclusion and “mutual flourishing”.

Posted by: Martyn Percy on Saturday, 25 February 2017 at 10:57am GMT

I worry at the way the CofE is increasingly governed by public campaigns and outrage. Welcome to PostModern Church. Oh for the good old days when we prayed and took our concerns to each other in private, the way Jesus recommended.

Posted by: David Keen on Saturday, 25 February 2017 at 11:12am GMT

Kate, you say that 'Synod in 2014 accepted a House of Bishops declaration which expressly allows the appointment of diocesan bishops who do not ordain women'. Can you give us 'chapter and verse' for this please? The second phrase you quote comes from the '5 guiding principles', but I see nothing in there which expressly allows the appointment of a non-ordaining diocesan, and I don't believe that Synod would have voted for such a thing.

Indeed, I would argue that the first two of the guiding principles at least implicitly rule out such an appointment , because a non-ordaining diocesan must inevitably be discriminatory. On the latter point, I sense from your other posts that you and I are in complete agreement.

Posted by: Malcolm Dixon on Saturday, 25 February 2017 at 11:26am GMT

In response to Linda's comment about the gender split on here. I am with Martyn Percy on this one. It is not bullying for him to express his opinion. That is just people trying to shut him up. He acknowledges the good personal opinion of Philip North that many people have, so it is hardly rubbishing the man unfairly. His point is a point of principle, with which others may disagree.

I cannot understand how we have got ourselves into this ludicrous situation. If I were a man and had a female diocesan who didn't believe in the validity of my orders, then there is no way that I would want to accept office under such a person. How can a bishop appoint people he doesn't think are priests to be in charge of parishes, so that their incumbent is providing the parishioners with sacraments that the bishop doesn't think are sacraments? That is hardly very reassuring as far as the bishop's pastoral care of all Christians in his diocese goes. If sacramental assurance is such a big thing for members of the Society, is it not such a big thing for everyone?

I don't have any difficulty in accepting the validity of anyone's orders in the Church of England, and therefore I don't have difficulties at a eucharist. I might have other difficulties because of the objectionability of various people's theologies regarding other matters - but I am not a donatist, and the sacraments they minister are valid. But if I were to be the representative and head of a whole diocese I simply don't see how I can think I can do that, while at the same time not accepting the validity of the ordination, and therefore of the sacraments ministered by a significant proportion of my clergy. I may be a really nice person in other respects, as Bishop North appears to be (I don't know him personally), but niceness, as so many people have said, and as the Church of England doesn't seem to understand, is not enough.

There is a Through the Looking Glass quality to all of this that I think does not stack up. I would love to understand this complex web of what seems to me to be dissimulation in the Five Principles - can anyone help me understand? But it may be that I am lacking in imagination - or just see things rather more clearly from the margin?

Posted by: Jeremy Pemberton on Saturday, 25 February 2017 at 12:45pm GMT

To those who are concerned at the appointment of Philip North to be Bishop of Sheffield, may I commend them to read these paragraphs from Bishop North's speech on 31 January 2017 when his appointment was announced:

"We need to transform fear into joy. And we can do that - we can do it because we know the future. It is God’s Church, not
ours. He has already won the victory. The future is the joy of heaven, the triumph of love, the peace and justice of the
Kingdom. It is not our job to save the Church because it’s not ours to save. Rather our call is to invite others to share in the
joy of knowing Jesus as Lord and friend. It is not our anxiety or our paranoia or our fear that will capture imaginations with
the Gospel. It is our joy in Christian living. Let’s be joyful in this Diocese – joyful in worship, in prayer, in service and
I know that there will be those who for theological reasons will have misgivings about this appointment. I want to make it
absolutely clear that I am utterly determined to be a Bishop for all, and will love, care for, appoint and develop the ministry of
all clergy, female or male, Catholic, Evangelical and all points in between. Anyone who has a passion for Jesus Christ and
who longs to make new disciples in his name will find a warm and equal welcome in this Diocese.
I have asked to meet the women clergy of the Diocese as soon as possible in order that concerns can be shared and for me
to outline some ideas about how best we can work closely together and develop and enhance women’s leadership across
the Diocese. Trust is something that needs to be earned, and I would ask you fervently to give me the chance to do that. In
a horribly divided world where politics seems to grow uglier and more divisive by the day, the Anglican commitment to
mutual flourishing gives us a golden opportunity to model for the nation unity in the midst of diversity. We can stand against
the voices of hatred and intolerance and despair simply through the quality of our own relationships in Christ. It will be my
heartfelt prayer that we can do that here in the Diocese of Sheffield."

The Archbishop of York is surely right to reaffirm Bishop North's nomination to the see of Sheffield in the statement he issued earlier today.

Posted by: David Lamming on Saturday, 25 February 2017 at 1:35pm GMT

Here one can see the difference between the absolutist position of TEC and an effort to find another way forward in the CofE, with people in both contexts applauding the different alternatives.

In TEC it was much easier to get the desired outcome, due to drifts over the past decades. All that was required in the end was eliminating diocesan canons and individual diocesan Bishop resistance. The way for that was paved during the WO period. One can recall assurances being given that then timed out. Then the PB carved out a Title IV authority that could be used to intimidate resistance, quite effectively. Now one only needs to wait out some aging bishops and the polity will have been altered on the ground. An effort to get the Diocese of Dallas to conform its canons to ss marriage as defined by GC failed, but this will not hold much longer.

It is less clear how the WO compromises will affect what happens in the CofE on ss marriage. In TEC we saw an easier to track trajectory.

Posted by: cseitz on Saturday, 25 February 2017 at 1:54pm GMT

If Bishop Philip cannot accept the valid ordination to the priesthood of women, how can he, as diocesan bishop, appoint or consent to the appointment of women to parishes to conduct invalid Eucharists, and other invalid sacraments;I refer to invalidity in his theological understanding. This might be considered as condoning a sacrilege.
If I were a woman priest in his diocese, I would feel demeaned by his toleration of, despite his refusal to accept my ordination as valid sacramentally.

Posted by: gerry reilly on Saturday, 25 February 2017 at 4:12pm GMT

Martyn, as it happens, I agree with you equating discrimination on grounds of sex with discrimination on grounds of race. I find both indefensible.

And yet. This was known when equal consecration was passed in England, yet all parties compromised as a condition of change. That being so, all parties are obliged to honor the promise that traditionalists would be welcome, and not disadvantaged because of their beliefs.

Regarding the limits of toleration, they're contextual, not ideologically pure. North's beliefs don't exist in a vacuum. Their history as the normative position of the church doesn't mitigate their wrongness, but it does mitigate how I respond to those who hold them. Why? Because I accept that, unlike adherents of the Curse of Ham, they're motivated by conscientious belief, not bigotry.

To illustrate with a hypothetical: for 2,000 years, the normative Christian position's that only people of Jewish descent can be ordained. Reformers say that Jesus' race was incidental, and push for change: to get it, they have to establish safeguards for those who hold to the old beliefs. Would I accept accommodation of a racist belief in those circumstances? Yes, I would.

Posted by: James Byron on Saturday, 25 February 2017 at 5:57pm GMT

I agree wholeheartedly with Martyn Percy - especially as expanded upon in his comment on this thread.

Posted by: Laurence Cunnington on Saturday, 25 February 2017 at 6:03pm GMT

Bravo, Will Richards. And I note that Martyn Percy has not responded to your invitation to substantiate his claims of growing opposition with any statistical evidence.

Just to amplify the ecclesiological point, am I right in thinking that the Bishop of Sheffield is bishop to rather more than just the women clergy who make up a third of the diocese's ordained personnel? I assume that Philip North was appointed because the diocese wanted someone who would inspire fully paid up 'members of the club' yes; but more importantly, would speak for those who are struggling and barely coping in the post-industrial deserts that predominate that Northern diocese.

And yes, others are right. The points Martyn Percy raises were all thrashed out in Synod in 2012 and rejected. When the proposals came back in 2014, the Synod voted for them on precisely the basis that we might have a diocesan bishop who opposes the ordination of women. If Martyn Percy wants the legislation re-writing, he should say so, get elected to Synod and introduce a motion to that effect. In the meantime, does he and WATCH expect the Bishop of Chichester to resign?

Posted by: Kevin Dawes on Saturday, 25 February 2017 at 6:48pm GMT

Since, as I understand Catholic (and, specifically, Anglican) ecclesiology, so far as I can see Philip North as Diocesan Bishop would be sacramentally represented (in absentia) by all the women exercising ordained ministry in his Diocese. So he we will accept and even, in his absence, practice women's Sacramental ministry, even if he doesn't think he is.

Posted by: David Beadle on Saturday, 25 February 2017 at 7:17pm GMT

@Malcom Dixon

The Bishops' Declaration is here:

Follow the link for GS Misc 1076

Read items 11 and, particularly, 12;

"12. In addition, dioceses are entitled to express a view, in the statement of needs prepared during a vacancy in see, as to whether the diocesan bishop should be someone who will or will not ordain women. In dioceses where the diocesan bishop does not ordain women he should ensure that a bishop who is fully committed to the ordained ministry of women is given a role across the whole diocese for providing support for female clergy and their ministry."

The 1993 material has something milder in it which reads as though it was just a legacy issue. For some reason Synod in 2014 let this past. Someone can perhaps clarify the status of the Bishops' Declaration but it seems to be the backing explanation for the legislation which passed.

Posted by: Kate on Saturday, 25 February 2017 at 7:49pm GMT

Genuine question: I would quite like to understand how he squares it with his own conscience before God that he is serving as a bishop in a Diocese where parishioners in 1/3 of the parishes he is responsible for are, according to his understanding, not served by a valid priest.

Posted by: Erika Baker on Saturday, 25 February 2017 at 8:20pm GMT

I wish Martyn Percy would stop quoting that incorrect figure of one third of priests in Sheffield Diocese being women. The figures are 23% of incumbents are women and 28% overall. I'm quite sure he would argue that the figures don't affect the strength of his argument, but I would say in that case there is no need to exaggerate statistics in the way he keeps doing.

Posted by: Adrian on Saturday, 25 February 2017 at 8:39pm GMT

Thank you Mr Dean for your clarification in response to some of the points made on this thread. I think that the argument you make in your excellent essay is irrefutable and I am incredulous that so many people, including the leaders of our church, do not appear to be able to see that for themselves. I thought that your analogy with apartheid in South Africa was very telling, and I hope it helps others to understand the underlying issue.
Of course, as so many posts have said, we need to respect the agreement to provide dissenters with an honoured place, but that cannot extend to allowing them to practise their discrimination in the main assenting part of our church. As was said from the start, the 5 Guiding Principles have to be held in tension one with another, and the commitment to mutual flourishing cannot be allowed to override the proscription of discrimination in the first two principles.

Like Jeremy Pemberton, I see a 'Through the Looking Glass' aspect to much that has been said in support of this appointment. +North has reportedly said to the women priests in Sheffield that he is clear that they are legally and canonically priests. He had to say that, because it is the substance of the first two of the 5 Guiding Principles issued by the very HoB of which he shortly hopes to be a member. And yet how can he say that when he is a leader of SSWSH, which asserts unequivocally that women cannot be priests? It is an impossible contradiction. How many more impossible things would a non-ordaining diocesan have to believe before breakfast?!

If any of the distinguished theologians who sometimes contribute to TA can provide any rational explanation of how +North could hold these contradictory beliefs with integrity, I would be most interested to hear it.

Posted by: Malcolm Dixon on Saturday, 25 February 2017 at 9:15pm GMT

I've failed to get an answer to this from Twitter so I'll try here: +Philip doesn't think women priests are priests, so what exactly does he think they are?

Posted by: Helen King on Saturday, 25 February 2017 at 9:25pm GMT

Malcolm, does it really matter how North sleeps at night? That's between him and his conscience. However he squares his beliefs with his position (and I admit, I'm also baffled by it), somehow he does.

What matters is that he'll treat all priests in his diocese equally and with respect. We've ample testimony that he does, and not a hint that he's discriminated on the basis of sex. Sentamu's a passionate supporter of equal ordination, and given his article, will clearly descend like a prince bishop of old if there's any hint of "taint" nonsense in Sheffield.

That being so, I say innocent unless proven guilty.

Posted by: James Byron on Saturday, 25 February 2017 at 11:41pm GMT

I think, were I a female priest with a ‘Society Diocesan Bishop’, that I might read the Statement of Policy and Pastoral Guidance issued by the Council of Bishops of The Society and muse on whether the pointers provided for the fifth Guiding Principle are not simply things that all Christians, ordained and lay, might to the greater or lesser extent aspire to:
--Spirituality - taking belonging in faith and prayer seriously;
--Finding non-sacramental opportunities for common prayer;
--A serious renewal of the study of Scripture together;
--Engaging in mission together;
--Working in partnership to serve local communities, strive for justice and care for the poor;
--Playing a full part in diocesan life - for example, by participating in chapter meetings, in mission initiatives, and in the work of boards and committees;
--Participating together in the structures of the Church of England - deanery and diocesan synods, the General Synod and the College of Bishops.
I suspect that I would desire, need even, something more from the bishop-priest relationship. Indeed, in the event of my Diocesan being part of this Society, I think I would struggle with its uncompromising guidance on registration, ‘a way of identifying deacons and priests who can minister … without the need for research about the nature of their Orders’, particularly had I taken seriously Michael Ramsey's words in his book The Christian Priest Today, chapter 14: The Bishop, 'A bishop will help the priests to realize "into how high a dignity, and to how weighty an office and charge they are called: that is to say, to be Messengers, Watchmen and Stewards of the Lord". And if I were reading Chapter 16 of the same book: Priesthood: Jesus and the People of God, I might pray that the Diocesan would be there to support me as I tried to ‘reflect the priesthood of Christ and to serve the priesthood of the people of God, and to be one of the means of grace whereby God enables the Church to be the Church'.
Or perhaps I would think, it doesn’t matter if the Diocesan is anxious about the nature of my Orders, or considers himself to be in ‘diminished ecclesial communion’ with me. I’ll just get on with things and try to be kind and nice and positive. Would that be grace in action? Or an implausible contortion?

Posted by: JKR on Saturday, 25 February 2017 at 11:46pm GMT

I am with James Byron on this one (as with many other issues):

If we cannot welcome diversity at every level of our Church, then we needn't expect diversity to be accepted on matters of human sexuality either.

I take the view that *integrity* is what matters, and if Bishop Philip has fidelity and integrity then that's good enough for me.

I have urged the case, elsewhere, for a Church that seeks the grace and love of God, to help us love one another, even in our diversity of consciences and viewpoints.

'Unity in Diversity' would for me mean accommodating people with opposite views to my own, at every level of the Church. If Bishop Philip does not believe in ordaining women priests, then that good and sincere conscience should be respected. To imply that consequentially he would be a bad pastor, would not care about the flourishing of all people in his diocese, or was sexist in his views, would be unfair and in a way discriminatory in its own right.

Diversity and respect works both ways. We are a diverse Church. A little more grace is maybe needed... a little more prayer... I don't know. What fundamentally matters to me is Philip as a person. His integrity. His kindness. His prayerfulness.

You may not agree, but that's my view. I want a Church that accommodates different views, and different consciences. If the model for female priests is ultimate domination by one side, then one can start to understand the reluctance of opponents of gay marriage, that little by little, they will be marginalised and dominated, and maybe refused bishoprics.

I think that impulse for uniformity and doctrinal control is probably a mistake. I think there should be space for Philip North and Jeffrey John and all kinds of diverse bishops. And the challenge is how we love one another, and how we respect another person's conscience, because it is their journeying with God. And then love them and seek love from them as well.

Posted by: Susannah Clark on Saturday, 25 February 2017 at 11:47pm GMT

Martyn Percy shows how the C of E tolerates "exclusion and discrimination at the highest levels." Abandoning priests who are women to a bishop who doesn't believe their ordinations or sacraments are valid makes the C of E a church of apartheid and compromises catholicity. If I had daughters I would not take them to a church which communicates that they are inferior.

Gary Paul Gilbert

Posted by: Gary Paul Gilbert on Sunday, 26 February 2017 at 5:57am GMT

It seems odd to me - a mere 'outsider from ACANZP' - that the 'centre of unity' in a diocese, the diocesan bishop, should publicly hold a stance on priestly ordination that would deny the validity of the priesthood of one-third of the clergy (women) that he has pastoral care over. Either they are priests who hold his priestly licence, or they are not. Maybe this is a step TOO far?

Posted by: Father Ron Smith on Sunday, 26 February 2017 at 9:43am GMT

It is possible to believe that the sacrament of ordination should not be offered to women but is valid if performed. That though is not the Society position because they do not believe female bishops are bishops.

Posted by: Kate on Sunday, 26 February 2017 at 12:15pm GMT

"+Philip doesn't think women priests are priests, so what exactly does he think they are?"

At a guess, duly ordained ministers but not Catholic priests (that is, they are not members of the presbyterate, the second of the three holy orders of the historic ministry of the Catholic Church as received by the Church of England).

Thus they would in the same sort of category as Presbyterian or Methodist ministers.

Posted by: Dafydd on Sunday, 26 February 2017 at 12:23pm GMT

Thank you Kate for providing the chapter and verse that I sought, and I am sorry for doubting what you said. I am shocked and humbled to find that this is so. Humbled because I thought I had kept reasonably well informed about this matter but nevertheless missed these phrases in the small print of the HoB declaration. Shocked to find that the members of diocesan vacancy-in-see committees are being invited to state their preference for a non-ordaining bishop who, according to the Dean of Christ Church, would be unable to hold the post with integrity, and whose appointment would, according to the Provost of Glasgow, be an affront to catholic order.
In the light of this, I now have to agree with James that we cannot quickly overturn this still quite recent agreement. But nevertheless, I think that the position will need to be changed in the fullness of time, and it needs to be carefully managed in the short-term, otherwise we will seem even more hypocritical and absurd to the vast majority of non-believers in the nation we hope to serve.

This could perhaps take the form of trying to persuade members of vacancy-in-see committees that they should be demanding a bishop who does ordain women, otherwise they risk putting their diocese in a position lacking in integrity and representing an affront to catholic order. Saying nothing on the matter is not enough - they must state that they want an ordaining bishop.

And, in this particular case, we need to know what the Sheffield vacancy in see committee asked for. In the light of comments made earlier about the views in the diocese under +David Lunn and subsequently, it is very hard to believe that they could have asked for a non-ordainer.

Posted by: Malcolm Dixon on Sunday, 26 February 2017 at 1:35pm GMT

Yes, indeed, James A., Mother Hubbard does have recent experience of Chichester Diocese. I live here, have done since the time of +Eric, and as it happens very close to the seat of power. I was present at more than one public meeting at which +Martin stated he would ordain everyone deacon, but no-one priest so that he could relate to all his priests – at which we cheered and took him at his word. Well, since the circus in the Cathedral last summer for a single Society member we have seen this statement for the garbage it was. For edification, see the picture link on SSWSH’s own website, tweeted, and re-tweeted ad nauseam at the time: +Martin is civil to the women in his Diocese which is at least a step in the right direction. However, buying us drinks in a pub and going on the march in London to celebrate 20 years of women’s ordination to the priesthood does not amount to affirmation of anything. He does not affirm their priestly orders any more than the Pope affirms Anglican orders. Women were invited to “celebrate” their priestly orders at a service of thanksgiving in Chichester Cathedral – with a bishop celebrant and preacher who will not receive their sacramental ministry. It was insulting. They still get deliberately jostled and elbowed at the Blessing of the Oils service. Training Incumbents still clamber over chairs and flatten themselves against the wall when women are ordained together with their own curates. Yes, the Diocese is “motoring” as you say, but it is spewing toxic smoke, the brakes are on, and the engine is revving to no effect.

Posted by: Mother Hubbard on Sunday, 26 February 2017 at 2:17pm GMT

It's quite hard to take seriously some of the people here suddenly getting concerned about Catholic order when the decision to ordain women as priests ran so completely against catholic order. It is precisely Bishop Philip's concern for the unity of the Church as a whole that leads him to conclude that to ordain women is to further divide the body of the Church and compromise catholicity. You can't suddenly be concerned with catholic order only after you've comprehensively torpedoed it - unless of course it is concern for catholic order only within the confines of the bomb crater which the CofE has created?

Posted by: Adrian on Sunday, 26 February 2017 at 3:34pm GMT

In answer to Malcolm Dixon (26 Feb, 1.35 PM), the Diocesan Statement of Needs included the following:

The Diocese of Sheffield is a rich and diverse tapestry of Anglicans of very
different traditions. We believe that this diversity strengthens the church rather
than weakens it. In Sheffield we have a large number of ordained women in
ministry and many clergy and lay people who support their ministry. There are
also significant numbers of clergy and lay people who are unable, in conscience,
to accept the ministry of women as priests and bishops.
As a diocese we recognise that these different views are reasonably held in
good conscience and for good theological reasons within the spectrum of
Anglicanism. In 2015 the Diocesan Synod received a report called New Norms,
New Beginning, endorsed the House of Bishops’ Five Guiding Principles and
agreed to take forward the principle of “mutual flourishing” as a way to maintain
the highest possible degree of communion across the whole of the Diocese of
Sheffield. Our next Bishop must, therefore, be someone who can see the value
in the different traditions, affirm them and be able to relate to them, reflecting
the doctrine of the Body of Christ and being a focal point of unity." (Page 7)


The diocese embraces a wide range of church traditions and this is recognised in
the vision statement in envisaging diverse Christian communities. The diocese
has strong representation of churches that are traditional catholic (belonging to
the Society of St Wilfred and St Hilda), conservative evangelical, charismatic or
liberal. The issue of ordination of women to the priesthood has been a source
of tension in the past, re-kindled by the ordination of women as bishops.
The diocese’s respect for the diversity of understandings is demonstrated in
the appointment of the Bishops of both Beverley and Maidstone as Honorary
Assistant Bishops. To date 29 parishes (17% of the total) have asked for
appropriate arrangements to be made under the House of Bishops’ Declaration
on the Ministry of Bishops and Priests. Of those parishes with existing requests 15%
are from conservative evangelical churches and 85% from traditional catholic.
However, the conservative evangelical group includes some large churches and
accounts for 60% of members of churches requesting alternative oversight.
Past experience indicates the need to work to maintain the bond of peace and,
therefore, it features in our priorities for the diocese. A report New Norms New
Beginning was produced (2014) by a representative diocesan working group of
ordained and lay members from a wide range of traditions. It will be important
for the new Bishop to continue to be seen as a focus of unity" (Page 30)

The full document is available on the diocesan website:

Posted by: David Lamming on Sunday, 26 February 2017 at 4:03pm GMT

Two points.
James A above. +Martn does ordain priests and did so for the one who demanded and got a separate ordination service just for himself.

Secondly, perhaps the cause of unity and understanding might be better served if bishops resigned from and took no part in the leadership or organisation of sectarian bodies such as 'The Society', 'Reform' etc.

Posted by: Richard Ashby on Sunday, 26 February 2017 at 6:46pm GMT

"I wish Martyn Percy would stop quoting that incorrect figure of one third of priests in Sheffield Diocese being women. The figures are 23% of incumbents are women and 28% overall. I'm quite sure he would argue that the figures don't affect the strength of his argument, but I would say in that case there is no need to exaggerate statistics in the way he keeps doing.
Posted by: Adrian on Saturday, 25 February 2017 at 8:39pm GMT "

The force of the argument doesn't really change much whether 23%, 27% or 30% of parish clergy in Sheffield are women. But the most recent figures we have from the C of E show that the proportion of stipendiary clergy who are incumbents or "incumbent status" (ie Team vicars, priests in charge etc) and also women, in Sheffield diocese was 29% in 2015. (35 women:75 men) So far there are no published figures for 2016. This figure does not include SSM clergy because the C of E doesn't have figures which indicate which SSM clergy are in parishes and for how many hours a week. Which in itself says something - but not (directly) for this thread.

Posted by: RosalindR on Sunday, 26 February 2017 at 6:51pm GMT

Thank you, David, for answering my question. I had thought that this information would not be in the public domain, otherwise I would have looked it up myself.

Well, they certainly didn't ask for a non-ordainer, but did ask (several times) for someone who could be a focus of unity. So it all boils down to a simple question - can a bishop who won't ordain women, and leads a Society which asserts unequivocally that women cannot be priests, be a focus of unity?

Of course he can't - it's a no-brainer! As attested by those women priests in Sheffield who have bravely spoken out over the cloak of silence imposed upon them, and (I venture to suggest) by the vast majority of women priests everywhere, together with many male priests and supporters of women's ordination.

As I have always suspected, this shows that the good people of Sheffield have had a non-ordainer foisted upon them by a CNC which either didn't understand the fundamental issues, or were bullied into submission by their superiors.

Posted by: Malcolm Dixon on Sunday, 26 February 2017 at 7:07pm GMT
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