Archbishops call for inquiry into Philip North’s withdrawal from Bishop of Sheffield post

The Archbishop of Canterbury and the Archbishop of York have written a joint letter, calling for an inquiry into Philip North’s decision to decline the post of bishop of Sheffield.

The Rt Revd Philip North withdrew his acceptance of the post earlier this month, after many complained about his opposition to the ordination of women as bishops and priests.

Justin Welby, Archbishop of Canterbury, and John Sentamu, Archbishop of York, penned the letter to Sir Philip Mawer, who is Independent Reviewer under the 2014 Declaration on the Ministry of Bishops and Priests.

They wrote: “The recent events surrounding the nomination of Bishop Philip North as Bishop of Sheffield, including his withdrawal from the process, have understandably raised great concern amongst many in the Church of England.”

“Some of these concerns relate to whether the nomination itself, and the procedure running up to it, were in accordance with the Declaration.”

The House of Bishops’ Declaration of May 2014 outlines five Guiding Principles, to support the ‘mutual flourishing’ of all members of the Church, irrespective of gender.

Archbishops Welby and Sentamu both expressed their support when Mr North was selected for the post.

However, many members of both the Christian and secular communities criticised the appointment, expressing concern about Mr North’s traditionalist beliefs about the place of women in the Church.

Martyn Percy, dean of Christ Church, Oxford, was among those who challenged the decision.

He wrote: “Sheffield is a go-ahead, vibrant, progressive city, with cutting-edge universities and research-led industries. It is thoroughly modern. The public will neither comprehend nor welcome this rather fogeyish sacralised sexism.”

The Very Reverend Professor Martyn Percy

Sheffield Action on Ministry Equality (SAME) also urged Sheffield residents to sign a letter to Mr North. The letter stated: “Our principal concern is, of course, your position as a traditionalist bishop coming to a Diocese that, despite having a number of traditionalist parishes, is mostly not of that persuasion.”

On 9th March, Mr North announced he was “unable to take up the nomination as Bishop of Sheffield.”

He wrote: “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 highly individualised nature of the attacks upon me have been extremely hard to bear.”

In 2012, Mr North withdrew his acceptance of the post of bishop of Whitby, when the General Synod, the Church’s governing body, voted that women should be allowed to be ordained bishops. North called it a “difficult time” for the Church.