Philip North Withdraws As Bishop Of Sheffield

Fr Philip North is from the Church of England's Anglo-Catholic wing

Philip North, the designated Bishop of Sheffield, has been forced to withdraw his nomination after a row over his opposition to women priests.

Currently Bishop of Burnley, North's promotion to the more senior see of Sheffield was fiercely opposed by campaigners within the Church of England over his stance on female ordination. 

Announcing the move on Thursday he pointed to the 'highly individualised nature of the attacks' against him which had been 'extremely hard to bear'.

In a statement on Thursday 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.'

North's withdrawal will rock the Church of England's fragile agreement over female ordination with the so-called 'five principles' attempting to unite two fundamentally opposed factions on whether women could be bishops. The agreement tried to allow for 'mutual flourishing' of both deeply entrenched positions.

But an intense backlash against North's promotion was launched following an article by senior theologian Martyn Percy, Dean of Christ Church, Oxford.

Percy accused North of fogeyish sacralised sexism' over his links to an traditionalist Church body known as The Society. He said North's membership grouping, which hands out 'identity cards' allowing male clergy to prove they have been ordained by male bishops, made him unfit to be a senior diocesan bishop. 

But he received strong support from the Church's hierarchy in the face of the sustained campaign to force him to stand down.

The Archbishop of York greeted the resignation by rebuking North's critiques and telling them to learn to 'disagree Christianly, remembering at all times that our identity is in Christ alone'.

He said in a statement: '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.'

North also made pointed remarks against his opponents after he was forced to step down for a second time from a promotion to a more senior position.

'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,' he said.

'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.'

Responding on behalf of The Society, the Bishop of Wakefield said he wanted to express his sympathy and concern for North and the criticism he has received.

'The implications of what has happened for the stability of the settlement that enabled women to become bishops in the Church of England, and also for the integrity of the whole process whereby the Church of England discerns that God is calling someone to a diocesan see, are a cause of grave concern,' he wrote.