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‘I would not be a focus for unity’: Philip North withdraws from Bishop of Whitby post

17 December 2012


The Revd Philip North speaking at the General Synod in York, in July

The Revd Philip North speaking at the General Synod in York, in July

THE Revd Philip North, Team Rector of Old St Pancras, London, has withdrawn his acceptance of the post of Bishop of Whitby after protests at his traditionalist stance on women.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 October).

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."

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 contrary."

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 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 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 appointment."

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