Archbishops order inquiry into Sheffield bishop saga over female priests

Philip North was due to be anointed bishop of Sheffield in April
Philip North was due to be anointed bishop of Sheffield in April
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The archbishops of York and Canterbury have ordered an inquiry into the bishop of Sheffield saga surrounding female priests.

Philip North was due to be appointed bishop of Sheffield next month but rejected the role amid a growing storm over his opposition to women becoming priests.

Now the Church of England's most senior clerics are seeking to defuse the row, which has led some to question its commitment to sexual equality.

The archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, and his counterpart in York, John Sentamu, have asked for an independent review into the events surrounding Mr North's nomination, which was approved by the Queen in January.

They have written jointly to Sir Philip Mawer, the independent reviewer under the declaration on the ministry of bishops and priests, asking him to 'address certain concerns' which have arisen within the church.

Their letter states that during the debate over the bishop of Sheffield debacle 'we have not always as a church shown how we can disagree Christianly'.

They ask Sir Philip to investigate concerns surrounding the process leading to Mr North's nomination and whether it was consistent with previous rulings within the church.

The House of Bishops' Declaration of May 2014 ruled that women could be appointed to the church's most senior ranks but there was also a place for those who are theologically opposed to women becoming bishops or priests.

The archbishops reaffirm their commitment in the letter to what they call the 'overriding principle of mutual flourishing', but they state an inquiry is needed due to the 'significance' of concerns surrounding the Sheffield bishop affair.