Church of England Bishop Resigns Due to Incivility, Attacks Over Opposition to Female Bishops

A bishop in the Church of England has announced that he will resign following a controversy over his stated opposition to female ordination.

The Right Rev. Philip North, who was recently nominated to become the bishop of the Diocese of Sheffield, announced earlier this month that he was stepping down.

In a statement published by the Telegraph last week, North explained that "my nomination has elicited a strong reaction within the diocese and some areas of the wider Church."

(Photo: Reuters/Phil Noble)Woman clergy take photographs of the first female bishop in the Church of England Libby Lane following her consecration service at York Minster in York, northern England, January 26, 2015.

"It is clear that the level of feeling is such that my arrival would be counter-productive in terms of the mission of the Church in South Yorkshire and that my leadership would not be acceptable to many," stated North.

North also stated that he was dismayed by the level incivility connected to the controversy, adding that there "is clearly much to be done on what it means to disagree well and to live with theological difference in the Church of England."

"The highly individualised nature of the attacks upon me have been extremely hard to bear," continued North.

"If, as Christians, we cannot relate to each other within the bounds of love, how can we possibly presume to transform a nation in the name of Christ?"

Known by many for his charismatic speaking and efforts to reach out to working class British, before his nomination to head the Sheffield Diocese, North served as the Suffragan Bishop of Burnley, which is part of the Diocese of Blackburn.

The controversy over North came due to his association with a theologically conservative group known as The Society, which opposes female ordination.

This stands in contrast with the current direction of the Church of England which decided to allow for the ordination of female priests in 1994 and the ordination of female bishops in 2014.

Critics of North's appointment included senior Church of England theologian Martyn Percy, the dean of Christ Church, Oxford.

"A non-ordaining Bishop in Sheffield Diocese is a serious matter for the female clergy, who are present in very large numbers," stated Percy last month.

"This will feel like a step backwards for many parishes and clergy, as the full acceptance of women clergy was patiently established under the ministry of Bishop David Lunn, who had begun his episcopacy as a leading opponent of the ordination of women."

For his part, North did receive a public letter of support signed by a few dozen female clergy who noted that he had shown a willingness "to affirm and share in the ministry of women clergy."

This is not the first time that North has had to resign over his opposition to female ordination. In 2012, North turned down the appointment to be bishop of Whitby, which is in the Diocese of York.

"Whitby is one of a handful of bishoprics in the country which in recent years have been unofficially reserved for traditionalists, as part of an informal arrangement to ensure different wings of the church are catered for," reported the Telegraph in 2012.

"But parishioners in the area around Cleveland wrote to the Archbishop in protest insisting that they were tired of having a traditionalist bishop 'assigned' to them with little regard for their views."

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