A bishop in the Church of England has been forced to decline a new appointment following an outcry from liberals opposed to his view on women priests.
Philip North, who is currently Bishop of Burnley, has turned down his promotion to Bishop of Sheffield after liberals denounced his opposition to female ordination.
The bishop said in a statement: “The news of my nomination has elicited a strong reaction within the diocese and some areas of the wider Church.
“It is clear that the level of feeling is such that my arrival would be counter-productive in terms of the mission of the Church in South Yorkshire and that my leadership would not be acceptable to many.”
The Church of England first allowed women to be ordained as priests in the early 1990s, and then voted to allow women bishops on November 2014. As part of a compromise deal, however, church authorities promised they would also promote clergy who see female ordination as a theological impossibility, in a policy dubbed “mutual flourishing”.
That deal now appears to be in tatters, putting the future of conservatives in England’s state church in question.
“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,” the bishop added.
“The highly individualised nature of the attacks upon me have been extremely hard to bear. 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?”
The Church Times reports that a group called Sheffield Action on Ministry Equality was set up just after Bishop North’s appointment, inviting people to sign a letter expressing “pastoral anxiety and distress” and requesting an urgent meeting with the bishop “for the sake of our mental and spiritual health”.
Many women clergy actually supported the bishop’s appointment, however, including Jo Bailey Wells, the Bishop of Dorking, who said it would be “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”.
Commenting on Bishop North’s decision, John Sentamu, the Archbishop of York, expressed sadness: “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.”
He called for the Church of England to spend Lent reflecting on whether it was really serious about its commitment to “loving one another and to mutual flourishing within the Body of Christ”.
The Bishop of Wakefield also issued a warning about the future of the Anglican church, saying the episode had left a “wound”.
“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 said.