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UK >

Whitby see in review after priest withdraws

Ed Thornton

by Ed Thornton

Posted: 21 Dec 2012 @ 12:02

THE Revd Philip North, Team Rector in the Old St Pancras Team Ministry, in London, this week with­drew his acceptance of his nomina­tion as Bishop of Whitby after pro­tests at his opposition to women bishops. He would have been the third opponent in suc­ces­sion to hold the appointment.

Fr North was nominated less than two months ago to succeed Dr Martin Warner, after the latter was translated to Chichester (News, 26 October). Speaking in the General Synod debate on the women-bishops legislation last month ( Synod, 30 November), Fr North said that he valued the ministry of women deeply, but stated: "I simply do not accept the authority of the Church of England to make this decision" (about women bishops). The Church of England was "not some small, independent state Church, but part of the wider Catho­lic Church with all its limita­tions and all the joys that that entails".

In a statement issued on Sunday night by the diocese of London, Fr  North said: "It was a great honour to be chosen for this role, and I had been very much looking forward to taking up the position. However, in the light of the recent vote in the General Synod, and having listened to the views of people in the Archdeaconry of Cleveland, I have concluded that it is not possible for me, at this difficult time for our Church, to be a focus for unity. I have therefore decided that it is better to step aside at this stage.

"I have reached this decision after a time of deep reflection and feel sure that it is for the best. I now look forward to refocusing my energies on the pastoral needs of my parish."

A churchwarden of St Oswald's, Lythe, in Whitby, John Secker, had written to the Archbishop of York, Dr Sentamu, in a letter dated 28 November, which gathered a number of signatories.

The letter said: "We are puzzled, dismayed and very disappointed that for the third time running we have been assigned a Bishop of Whitby who does not accept the ordination of women priests. . .

"We are aware that some parishes, some clergy, and some of the laity in the Whitby bishopric do not accept the validity of women priests but, as in the rest of the country, a substantial majority of us do. So why should we have to have a bishop who does not accept them? We assume that there must be some sort of rationale behind the decision, but you should be aware that many of us feel aggrieved and overlooked."

In a reply, dated 6 December, Dr Sentamu wrote: "Whatever fears there may be about Revd North's ability to work with all in the Archdeaconry [of Cleveland], I am confident that he will not only live up to Bishop Martin's example, but also go beyond it in his valuing of the ministry of his female colleagues.

"Clearly the appointment of Revd North has also been made as part of our accommodation for our petitioning parishes in this diocese. The fact is that the vast majority of our petitioning parishes are in the Cleveland Archdeaconry and so the see of Whitby is the obvious choice for such episcopal provision where the diocesan bishop is an outspoken advocate of women's ministry."

York diocese has eight Resolution A parishes and 15 Resolution B parishes. It is understood that four of the A parishes, and four of the B parishes, are in the archdeaconry of Cleveland, in the Whitby episcopal area.

A statement from the diocese of York, issued on Monday morning, said that Dr Sentamu wrote to all clergy and Readers in the archdeaconry of Cleveland, on Sunday, expressing his "sadness" and "disappointment" at Fr North's decision to withdraw.

Dr Sentamu wrote: "Philip North is not a single-issue priest. As a gifted pastor-teacher he is deeply committed to the flourishing of the diverse ministries of all God's people - lay and ordained. His dynamic vision for making Christ visible in mission and ministry, as well as serving the poor, would have been a great asset to us all. . .

"The question of the appointment of a new bishop will be first referred to the Dioceses Commission. As many of you may know, the Dioceses Commission will be reviewing our diocese, its structures, boundaries and delivery of mission. As to the timing of when this will happen, the Dioceses Commission will let us know."

Responding to the news of Fr North's withdrawal, the Bishop of London, the Rt Revd Richard Chartres, said: "I can understand the reasons for Philip's decision. He is a gifted and energetic priest and I am glad that he remains in this diocese to continue his outstanding work in Camden Town."

A statement from the Catholic Group in the General Synod, of which Fr North is a member, said that the decision to withdraw was his "personal decision".

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