THE man who has the task of healing the wounds opened up in Sheffield by the Philip North row is to be the Dean of Liverpool, the Very Revd Dr Pete Wilcox.
Downing Street announced on Friday morning that Dr Wilcox has been nominated as the next Bishop of Sheffield, one month after the Bishop of Burnley, the Rt Revd Philip North, withdrew his acceptance of the post after protests against his views on women’s ordination (News, 9 March).
At the time, it was reported that the Archbishop of York, who chaired the Crown Nominations Commission (CNC) that selected Bishop North, would propose an alternative candidate. (For each diocesan appointment, the CNC sends two names to the Prime Minister for rubber stamping.) The speed of Friday’s announcement suggests that Dr Wilcox’s was the name beneath Bishop North’s. Having first nominated a Catholic traditionalist, the CNC has opted for an Evangelical.
Dr Wilcox said in a statement on Friday: “Although the journey has been unconventional, to say the least, I feel called by God to this role, and am therefore thrilled to be coming to the diocese of Sheffield."
The 55-year-old said that he had been hugely disappointed to discover he was not the preferred candidate at first but had been unable to shake off the sense of calling to the diocese. Thus it had been "very straightforward" to accept the offer when told Bishop North had withdrawn.
“These aren’t the circumstances that any of us would have wished for,” he admitted. “There are certainly wounds to be healed and a task of reconciliation to do but to be honest that work in the diocese is well under way.”
Bishop North said on Friday: "I am overjoyed to hear the news that Pete Wilcox is to be the next Bishop of Sheffield, a priest whose ministry I have long admired.
"He will bring great intelligence, insight, and evangelistic energy to the diocese of Sheffield, along with experience of ministry from a wide variety of contexts.
“I pray that clergy and laypeople of all traditions will be able to unite around his leadership, and so together continue to bring renewal to the parishes of the diocese, to the glory of God.”
Dr Wilcox, 55, has been Dean of Liverpool since 2012. He succeeded Justin Welby, who went on to become Bishop of Durham and then Archbishop of Canterbury. Before that, he was a residentiary canon at Lichfield Cathedral for six years, having been a parish priest in Walsall.
He studied for the priesthood at Ridley Hall, Cambridge, before serving his title at Preston-on-Tees, in the diocese of Durham, until 1990. While studying for a Masters and Ph.D. in Oxford, he was a non-stipendiary minister in the city, before serving as a team vicar in Gateshead and director of the Cranmer Hall Urban Mission Centre until 1998.
An Evangelical, Dr Wilcox said that it was no secret he had been a "very strong advocate for the ordination of women as priests and bishops from the beginning".
"I am absolutely committed to the Five Guiding Principles as the best tool currently available to the Church to achieving the mutual flourishing that we all want," he also said.
The presence of the traditionalist Catholic Bishop of Beverley, the Rt Revd Glyn Webster, at the announcement of his appointment was "wonderful", Dr Wilcox said, adding that he was keen to meet with other traditionalist Catholics to reassure them of their place in the diocese.
The Bishop of Doncaster, the Rt Revd Peter Burrows, who has been acting diocesan in Sheffield, said: “I know that Pete has a real sense of calling to the diocese, and brings with him strong leadership and a range of skills that will help us continue in our outreach to the wider communities of South Yorkshire and East Riding.”
Dr Wilcox is married to the novelist Catherine Fox, and the couple have two adult sons. He describes himself as a “fan of all ball sports”, and Newcastle United in particular.
The two priorities for his time as Bishop were to be evangelism, particularly to young people, and encouraging parishes to be instruments of transformation in the most deprived areas of the diocese.
The see of Sheffield has been empty since the Rt Revd Steven Croft was translated to Oxford in July last year. In January, Bishop North was named as the next Bishop, but shortly afterwards a row broke out because, as a traditionalist Anglo-Catholic, Bishop North does not support the ordination of women.
Concerns were raised by women priests in the diocese, and others across the Church of England, whether such a traditionalist could effectively lead a diocese where one third of the clergy were women.
Despite the support of a group of 32 women priests in his current diocese of Blackburn, and a number of women bishops, Bishop North withdrew his acceptance of the nomination.