Archbishops launch investigation into Philip North row after 'highly individualised' attacks
By Harry Farley
March 24, 2017
The Archbishops of Canterbury and York have launched a probe into a Church scandal that forced a bishop to decline a promotion amid accusations of 'sexism' and 'highly individualised' attacks.
Justin Welby and John Sentamu have asked Sir Philip Mawer, the Church of England's official investigator, to examine all the steps that led to Philip North, currently Bishop of Burnley, to withdraw from his promotion to Bishop of Sheffield.
'The recent events surrounding the nomination of Bishop Philip North as Bishop of Sheffield, including his withdrawal from the process, have understandably raised great concern amongst many in the Church of England,' they said on Friday.
'Some of those concerns relate to whether the nomination itself, and the procedure leading up to it,' they say in a letter to Sir Philip.
But 'others are about what happened once the nomination had been announced'.
Bishop North is from the Church's Anglo-Catholic wing and deeply opposed to women's ordination.
His promotion prompted a senior Anglican theologian Martyn Percy, Dean of Christ Church, Oxford, to urge him to withdraw, accusing a Church grouping North to which North belongs of 'fogeyish, sacralised, sexism'.
After a sustained campaign against him North announced he would step down, citing the 'highly individualised nature of the attacks' against him which had been 'extremely hard to bear'.
He said: 'It is with regret and sadness that I have decided that I am unable to take up the nomination as Bishop of Sheffield.'
He added: 'The pressures of recent weeks have left me reflecting on how He [God] is calling me to serve him.'
Responding to the events the Archbishop of York, John Sentamu, rebuked North's critics and told them to learn to 'disagree Christianly, remembering at all times that our identity is in Christ alone'.
He said: 'What has happened to Bishop Philip clearly does not reflect the settlement under which, two and a half years ago, the Church of England joyfully and decisively opened up all orders of ministry to men and women. It also made a commitment to mutual flourishing.'
The Church of England voted to allow women bishops in 2014, after years of division and hostility over the issue.
But the compromise deal insisted those with theological objections to women priests must still be given an equal place within the Church. Dubbed 'mutual flourishing', the agreement was supposed to reconcile the two deeply entrenched factions.
An official reviewer was appointed as part of the declaration to oversee any investigations and address grievances.
The Archbishops insist the deal remains intact but North's withdrawal raised questions about its longevity. North said at the time: '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.
'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.'
In pointed remarks announcing the review, the Archbishops say: 'We call on all those in the Church to pray openly for the flourishing of those with whom they disagree, to demonstrate the mutual love which we are called to share and to proclaim confidently in word and deed that in Christ we find our true identities, and the overcoming of those things which in ourselves we find so divisive.'
Sir Philip Mawer will examine the events and publish a report within two months.
Bishop of Sheffield: Joint statement by Archbishops of Canterbury and York
Justin Welby and John Sentamu made this joint statement on the recent events surrounding the nomination of Bishop Philip North as Bishop of Sheffield
March 24, 2017
"The recent events surrounding the nomination of Bishop Philip North as Bishop of Sheffield, including his withdrawal from the process, have understandably raised great concern amongst many in the Church of England. The status of the House of Bishops Declaration of June 2014 has been questioned by some and its meaning has also been challenged.
"We have therefore written to Sir Philip Mawer, the Independent Reviewer under the Declaration on the Ministry of Bishops and Priests, (Resolution of Disputes Procedure Regulations) 2014, to address the concerns that have arisen in the Church following these recent events. We attach our letter to Sir Philip, in which we reaffirm clearly our commitment, and the commitment of the House of Bishops, to its Declaration, to the principles contained in it, and to the overriding principle of mutual flourishing.
"Finally, in this period of Lent, as part of our preparation for the glorious celebration of the extraordinary grace of God in the events of Holy Week and Easter, we call on all those in the Church to pray openly for the flourishing of those with whom they disagree, to demonstrate the mutual love which we are called to share and to proclaim confidently in word and deed that in Christ we find our true identities, and the overcoming of those things which in ourselves we find so divisive."
+ Justin Cantuar
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