Conservative Bishop Called To Step Down In Row Over ID Cards For 'Pure' Male Clergy

Rt Rev Philip North, currently Bishop of Burnley.

A campaign to block a bishop opposed to female clergy is being launched in a renewed row over women's ordination.

Rt Rev Philip North, currently Bishop of Burnley, is being promoted to the senior role of Bishop of Sheffield after his nomination was approved by Downing Street in January.

But he is facing calls to refuse the post over his role in an organisation that hands out 'identity cards' proving that male clergy have been ordained by male bishops.

Senior Oxford academic and prominent Anglican figure Martyn Percy accused North of 'fogeyish sacralised sexism' over his links to an traditionalist Church body known as The Society.

Led by a council of bishops, including North, The Society supports those who are unable, for theological reasons, to receive the sacramental ministry of women as bishops and priests, or that of male priests ordained by female bishops.

The council's secretary, Colin Podmore, has referred to the plans to hand out 'identity cards' identifying clergy who have been ordained by a male bishop who stands in a succession of bishops at whose at whose consecration a male bishop presided.

Justifying the move Podmore wrote in an article for the magazine New Directions: 'Until last year 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?'

In an article to be published online today on the Modern Church website, Percy, who is Dean of Christ Church, Oxford, says he can't see how a senior bishop could be 'an ambassador for gender-based discrimination, and an advocate of inequality'.

He writes in an advance copy seen by Christian Today: 'Many clergy – male and female – are manifesting the symptoms of grief about the appointment, moving through the early stages of shock, anger and denial.

'But bargaining and acceptance are unlikely to be options. Their situation is profoundly unjust.'

North's promotion is from a junior suffragen position in Burnley where the vast majority of clergy are men to the more senior diocesan post of Sheffield where one third of clergy are women.

'A non-ordaining Bishop in Sheffield Diocese is a serious matter for the female clergy, who are present in very large numbers,' Percy writes.

'This will feel like a step backwards.'

He adds: 'Bishop North cannot currently give his unequivocal support and affirmation to his male and female clergy, as the position of The Society he leads refuses to receive the ministry of women clergy, and men ordained by women bishops. As such, Bishop Philip can only offer partial and conditional affirmation. 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."'

His promotion was controversial within the Church. The chair of WATCH, a campaign group for women's ordination, Canon Emma Percy, saying she was aware of the 'sadness' many would feel in Sheffield about having a bishop who would not ordain women.

'Sheffield is a diocese with a large number of women clergy and we sincerely hope that the new Bishop will promote a culture in which ordained women will feel validated and encouraged to flourish,' she told Christian Today.

But in a recent meeting with women clergy in Sheffield, North said 'that he is in favour of women's leadership and would actively promote it', according to a Church of England spokesman.

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'.

Bishop North has been approached for comment on this story.