When the Crown nominated Philip North to be Anglican Bishop of Sheffield, such was the campaign in the press and in social media that he has now withdrawn his acceptance of the post.
His nomination was the second test of the Church of England’s Five Guiding Principles for Mutual Flourishing, enabling those who take different positions on the admission of women as bishops, priests, and deacons to live alongside one another. The first test had been the appointment in 2015 of Rachel Treweek as Bishop of Gloucester. She was fast-tracked to take a seat in the House of Lords. Memorably, she rejected the first version of her writ of summons which referred to her as a “right reverend father in God”, thus neatly underlining the rejection by the Church of England of patriarchy.
When the fuss dies down, I think traditional Anglo-Catholics like Philip North really should come home to Rome. They would be very welcome and, though there are battles here too, it is very possible to get on with mission and ministry without fighting gender wars.
I left the Church of England when, in 2008, it became clear what the inexorable trajectory had become. Wherever it leads, it doesn’t lead to orthodoxy and will always be shipwrecked on the rocks of secular liberalism and cultural Marxism. Secular liberalism rejects the Church’s notion of the complementarity of the sexes – male and female having separate and distinct roles within the economy of salvation – and cultural Marxism would do away entirely with the biblical teaching on marriage and the family. Both liberalism and Marxism reject the sanctity of life from conception to natural death.
North had stayed on in the Church of England, at the time of the establishing of the Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham by Pope Benedict XVI in 2011, giving as his reason the strategic role of the Church of England in the mission to the English. It is true that the Church of England is tactically well-placed for mission but, to succeed, it has to preach the Gospel. If pastors like Philip North are not permitted to take a leading role in the thrust of the Church’s mission, they should come over and find a natural place in the Catholic Church.
There are two very clear routes into the Catholic priesthood. One – the Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham – is for pastors who bring groups of people with them. The other is the diocesan priesthood. Both contexts offer abundant opportunity for mission and ministry. Needless to say, a man of the calibre of Philip North would bring enormous energy to the Church.
As a former bishop in the Church of England, responsible for congregations in the West and South West, I am delighted that many good priests and some very courageous lay people made the journey with me in 2011. Plenty more stopped behind, hoping for more favourable conditions. It is clear that these can never be available. It is also clear that the task of the Church of England, having made the decision about women’s ministry, is to focus its energy not on making space for minorities to flourish in its structures – that battle is lost – but on working in the vineyard.