THE Revd Philip North, Team Rector of Old St Pancras, London,
has withdrawn his acceptance of the post of Bishop of Whitby after
protests at his traditionalist stance on women. He would have been
the third traditionalist in a row to hold the post.
Fr North was appointed less than two months ago, to succeed Dr
Martin Warner, the new Bishop of Chichester (News, 26
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
"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."
The churchwarden of St Oswald's Church, Lythe, in Whitby, John
Secker, wrote a letter to the Archbishop of York, Dr Sentamu, 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. .
"I deeply regret that this appointment should be seen as in any
way indicating a lack of respect and value for women's ministry in
this Diocese and in the Church as a whole. I would hope that my
words and actions elsewhere would be ample proof to the
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, yesterday, expressing his
"sadness" and "disappointment" at Fr North's decision to
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 Philip'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 General Synod, of which
Fr North is a member, said that the decision to withdraw was his
"personal decision". It continued: "We offer our prayerful support
for him and his parish at this time. We also pray for the diocese
of York and the Archdeaconry of Cleveland where he would have
served, and the Archbishop of York as he seeks to make another