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A disaster unfolds: a Sheffield timeline

by
15 September 2017

Following the publication of Sir Philip Mawer’s independent review into the Philip North see of Sheffield debacle, here is how the episode played out

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Sheffield Cathedral

Sheffield Cathedral

12 April 2016

The then Bishop of Sheffield, Dr Steven Croft, is announced as the next Bishop of Oxford.

6 July

First meeting of the Sheffield vacancy-in-see committee (its members previously elected by the diocesan synod)

30 August

Second meeting, at which the members consider and commend the Statement of Needs drawn up by a drafting committee. This speaks of the need for a “focus of unity”, but also about someone able to understand the needs of those on outer estates and former coal--field parishes. The meeting also elects six of its number, five men and one woman, to serve on the Crown Nominations Commission (CNC): a traditional Catholic, two broadly affirming Catholics, and three broadly open Evangelicals. An ordained woman stands but is not elected.

1 November

First meeting of the CNC: the six diocesan reps and the six central reps, plus the Archbishop of York and the Bishop of Chelmsford (standing in for the Archbishop of Canterbury). They consider the Statement of Needs, and a memorandum from the two appointments secretaries summarising the result of their consultations in the diocese. They also draw up a shortlist, agreed by secret ballot, which includes Bishop North, two other male candidates, and a female candidate. Two of the CNC disclose that they are personal friends of Bishop North.

28-29 November

Second meeting of the CNC, at which the candidates are interviewed and have to deliver a homily, a presentation, and a safeguarding statement. The successful candidate needs to gain ten of the 14 votes. It is clear, says Sir Philip, that Bishop North “secured the support of a clear majority of the diocesan as well as of the central members of the Commission”.

December

Bishop North’s name is recommended to the Prime Minister.

Bishop North is told of his nomination. He considers for two weeks before accepting.

28-29 January 2017

Bishop North phones senior figures in Sheffield diocese to tell them of his nomination.

31 January

The announcement of the nomination is made by 10 Downing Street. Bishop North takes part in orchestrated appearances in the diocese which reportedly go well.

7 February

The Doncaster Minster meeting with ordained women from the diocese. Bishop North speaks for about 20 minutes then answers questions, largely along the lines of “How can my ministry be affirmed by my diocesan bishop if he doesn’t think I should be a priest in the first place?” Bishop North explains he will follow the example of the Bishop of London and ordain both men and women as deacons, but neither as priests. The Dean of Women’s Ministry thinks the meeting has gone reasonably well; Bishop North considers it “a savaging”. He agrees that an account of the meeting can be circulated, but only on his opening remarks.

24 February

Martyn Percy, Dean of Christ Church, Oxford, publishes an article on the Modern Church website, triggered by an account in the traditionalist New Directions of plans by The Society of St Wilfrid and St Hilda to issue identity cards to its member priests. Professor Percy writes: [According to The Society] “women are not recognised as ‘real’ priests or bishops; men ordained by female bishops are therefore not to be regarded as ‘proper’ priests either.” He goes on: “Bishop Philip faces a clear choice here.” He can leave The Society; “or he can fully own the official position of The Society, in which case his clergy are in a most difficult place.”

25 February

The Archbishop of York responds to Professor Percy in The Yorkshire Post: Bishop North’s nomination was consistent with the 2014 settlement, he writes, and his integrity “remains unimpeached in the midst of debate”.

25 February

The formation of Sheffield Action for Ministry Equality (SAME), a forum to reflect the concerns of people in South Yorkshire, lay and ordained, unhappy about the nomination.

27 February

Professor Percy writes in The Yorkshire Post that Bishop North is “a fine person but he should decline to be the next Bishop of Sheffield, and here’s why. He cannot, in his conscience recognise, value and affirm the sacramental integrity of one-third of his clergy. Such a position has no integrity.”

28 February

Bishop North begins a pre-Lenten retreat and is contactable only through a few intermediaries.

3 March

A letter in support of Bishop North, written at the suggestion of the Church House communications unit and signed by 32 women from Blackburn diocese, is published in the Church Times. Other contributions to the debate, either in correspondence to Bishop North or on social media, are not so positive.

9 March

Downing Street announces that Bishop North has withdrawn the acceptance of his nomination. He writes: “The highly individualised nature of the attacks upon me have been extremely hard to bear.”

7 April

Downing Street announces that the Dean of Liverpool, Dr Peter Wilcox (second on the CNC’s list), has been nominated as Bishop of Sheffield. 

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