Opponent of female priests urged to decline bishop of Sheffield post
Senior C of E theologian calls on Philip North to stand aside before consecration to avoid 'public damage to the church'
By Harriet Sherwood Religion correspondent
24 February 2017
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".
In 2012, North stepped aside from his appointment as bishop of Whitby after protests over his opposition to women in the ministry. He is currently the suffragan bishop of Burnley; Sheffield, a diocesan post, is a promotion.
According to an article by Percy, published on Friday on the Modern Church website, North's theological position would make it impossible for him to affirm female clergy in his diocese, or male clergy who have been ordained by a female bishop. In Sheffield, a third of the clergy are women.
"This will feel like a step backwards for many parishes and clergy ... the crown nominations commission has shown a marked insensitivity to this history in nominating [North] to the see of Sheffield," Percy writes.
"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 -- and that Bishop Philip leads."
The Society has begun issuing "identity cards" to priests to prove they were ordained by a bishop "whose orders we can recognise", according to an address by its director, Colin Podmore, published this month in New Directions, the magazine of Forward in Faith, a pressure group opposed to female priests.
Until the ordination of the first female bishops in 2015, Podmore said, "you could tell by looking who was a priest whose ministry we could receive, and who was not. But now we have male priests ordained by women bishops. We can't receive their ministry, but how can you tell who ordained whom, for example, when you're a churchwarden arranging cover in a vacancy?"
The identity card proposal was intended to demonstrate a chain of "ontological purity" via a "taint-free" litany of bishops, said Percy.
Speaking to the Guardian, Percy drew a distinction between North's legal or canonical acceptance of female priests and his theological disapproval, and called on the bishop to clarify his position.
In his article, he said he "could not envisage a diocesan bishop functioning well who is also an ambassador for gender-based discrimination, and an advocate of inequality". The situation for many clergy, both male and female, would be "profoundly unjust". He said either North should step aside, or female clergy, and male priests ordained by a female bishop, may have to resign, "as their own bishop does not recognise and affirm their sacramental efficacy".
A C of E spokesperson said North had said at a meeting with women clergy in the diocese "that he is in favour of women's leadership and would actively promote it".
The spokesperson added: "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."
North has also said he is "determined to be a bishop for all and will love, care for, appoint and develop the ministry of all clergy female or male".
On the Mainline
Worship with us:
Sundays at 4:00pm.
210 S. Wayne Ave, Wayne, PA