Church Comes Out Fighting For Conservative Bishop In Row Over Women's Ordination

The Archbishop of York and top women clergy are coming out fighting for a conservative bishop in a new row over female ordination.

Rt Rev Philip North faces calls to step down as future Bishop of Sheffield over his membership of a controversial group that hands out 'identity cards' only for male clergy who have not been ordained by a woman.

But the CofE's number two Archbishop John Sentamu and two women bishops are defending Bishop North, saying his promotion from his current role as Bishop of Burnley showed the Church allowed 'people who disagree on fundamental issues to continue to remain together'.

The Church of England's second most senior cleric, Archbishop of York John Sentamu, at the consecration of the first women bishop Libby Lane.Phil Noble/Reuters

Sentamu insisted there was 'no contradiction' in North's appointment to a diocese where a third of clergy are women.

'This is about people of different traditions called to put Christ first, for the sake of God's mission in the world.'

In an article for the Yorkshire Post on Saturday he writes: 'This is not a 'winner takes all' approach but rather one that seeks – as the Lambeth resolution said – to recognise that those who dissent as well as those who assent to particular propositions are both treated as loyal members of the Church.

'It's a lesson that we need to hear in times where fractious disagreement can threaten to boil over into unwise actions.'

It comes after senior Oxford academic and prominent Anglican figure Very Rev Martyn Percy accused North of 'fogeyish sacralised sexism' over his links to a traditionalist body known as The Society.

The Anglo-Catholic grouping supports those who refuse to receive the ministry of women as bishops and priests, or that of male priests ordained by female bishops. 

Percy, who is Dean of Christ Church, Oxford, claims a 'substantial amount of resistance building up' to North's appointment in Sheffield. In article for the website Modern Church he adds he couldn't see how a senior bishop could be 'an ambassador for gender-based discrimination, and an advocate of inequality'.

Fr Philip North, who is to be consecrated as Bishop of Sheffield, is from the Church's Anglo-Catholic wing.

But two senior women, the Bishop of Repton and the Bishop of Dorking, are coming out in defence of North, describing him as 'caring' and 'profound'.

The Rt Revd Dr Jo Bailey Wells, Bishop of Dorking, said: 'I regard his appointment to a diocesan post as the sign of a healthy church, one that is learning to live in unity amid diversity, even in a situation where one member's convictions are a source of pain to another.'

The Rt Revd Jan McFarlane Bishop of Repton added: 'If the church can't witness to an ability to live together with difference, and be determined to look first for the flourishing of those with whom we disagree, then who can?

'Bishop Philip's appointment is a perfect opportunity for the Church of England to say that what matters first and foremost is our faith in Jesus Christ.'

A Church of England spokesman also attacked Percy for his article, saying all his arguments had already been rejected when the CofE's ruling body had allowed women bishops and 'favoured a position of mutual flourishing for all'.

The spokesman added North has 'stated in a meeting to women clergy in the diocese that he is favour of women's leadership and would actively promote it'.

He said: '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.'

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