Pressure is mounting on Sheffield’s new bishop to ease the ‘distress and anxiety’ sparked by his opposition to ordaining women as priests.
The Rt Rev Philip North is expected to be elected next month – but calls have been made for a review of the process in which a ‘traditionalist’ cleric was nominated as the Sheffield Diocese’s next bishop.
Signatures are being collected on a letter to Rev North being circulated by the new group Sheffield Action on Ministry Equality, urging him to engage in a ‘face-to-face’ discussion with clergy, parishioners and other interested parties soon.
Last week the bishop designate faced demands from the Very Rev Martyn Percy, the Dean of Christ Church, Oxford, for him to ‘stand aside’ over his beliefs, or renounce his affiliation with The Society, a C of E organisation that thinks only men should be priests.
But over the weekend the Archbishop of York, Dr John Sentamu, backed Rev North, vowing that women clergy would be ‘not only accepted, but encouraged, inspired, and furthered in their ministry’.
Rev Sue Hammersley, the vicar of St Mark’s Church in Broomhill and one of the organisers of the SAME group, said there were ‘subtleties’ to the debate.
“This is not an attack on Bishop Philip – he is part of the system that we’re all part of,” she said.
Before Rev North was picked, a ‘statement of needs’ was created for the diocese, with different candidates’ names put forward as the best fit for Sheffield.
“In this situation, something has gone wrong, and it’s unfortunate that it’s coming across that the fault is with Bishop Philip.”
Rev Hammersley added: “Sheffield has been a bit of a test case. The majority of people simply assumed the next bishop would ordain women. But as soon as we found out this bishop comes from a different position within the church, it threw up a lot of issues that we were not prepared for.”
In an article for SAME’s website, Rev Hammersley wrote that society did not ‘need another sacrificial victim’, adding: “We don’t want Bishop Philip North to suffer the humiliation and hurt that many of us have been through, in different ways.”
The vicar said she had a responsibility to her ‘whole parish’, but that she had a personal difficulty with any opposition to female priests.
“This is what, for me, I have real concern about – that in 2017 the C of E is giving out a message which could appear to be saying that women are second-class citizens.”
Rev North yesterday declined to be interviewed, with a spokesman saying the priest had ‘nothing more to add’.
After his appointment last month he pledged to be a ‘bishop for all’.
Currently the Bishop of Burnley, he stepped aside from his appointment in Whitby in 2012 following protests. In Sheffield, he would ordain women as deacons, but would not officiate at the ordination of women as priests – instead, another bishop would need to be brought in.
He still has to be elected by the diocese’s canons – some of whom are female – confirmed in office, and installed at a cathedral ceremony. It would be considered highly unusual for him not to be voted in.
The Rev Dr Jeremy Clines, Anglican Chaplain at Sheffield University, who has put his name to the letter, emphasised that ‘anyone can sign’ the document.
“Nobody’s name will be made public. Clergy, lay leaders and parishioners have been expressing distress and anxiety - the best way to overcome that is to have better, and more, conversation. He can help us explore some of the burning questions we have but can’t make sense of.”
n Visit https://shefminequal.wordpress.com/2017/02/26/a-pastoral-letter-to-philip-north/ to see the letter.