The Portal April 2017 - Page 7

THE P RTAL April 2017 Page 7 ‘Restricted Access?’ Fr Simon Ellis, a catholic priest in the Ordinariate, explains how the appointment and subsequent stepping down of The Right Revd Philip North as Anglican Bishop-elect of Sheffield represents a watershed moment in the life of the Church of England and a unique moment to re-evaluate the Ordinariate T he announcement from No. 10, at the end of January, of her Majesty’s approval for the nomination of Bishop Philip North as Diocesan Bishop of Sheffield would, in the normal round of things, not register much, except for those directly connected with the Diocese.  But these are not normal times.  His appointment has precipitated an outpouring of anger in the media and social media. His stepping down from the appointment was announced on 9th March and caused more heartache and outpourings of sympathy on social media. At the heart of the issue we have, on the one hand, those in favour of the concept that traditionalists (those who do not ‘believe’ in women priests or bishops) should not be restricted in terms of high office.  On the other, we have outraged liberals and their supporters who believe that his very elevation to the post of Diocesan bishop negates the ministry of women priests, who make up to a third of the clergy in the Diocese.  On balance, to whom would you feel sympathetic?  A tough call.  It is more nuanced, of course and there are women bishops and priests who were in favour of Bishop North’s appointment, if only on the grounds of the deal done (“Guiding principles”) in General Synod in 2014 where a recognition of traditionalists’ continuing role at the heart of the Church of England was enshrined.  On that day, Archbishop Welby summed up the agreement, stating: “Today we can begin to embrace a new way of being the church and moving forward together.  We will also continue to seek the flourishing in the church of those who disagree.” simply as ‘The Society [of Traditionalists]’, whose Council of Bishops includes Bishop Philip North.” Clearly, we are entering new territory here. Incidentally, I believed that Philip North would become Bishop of Sheffield; I was sure he would grit his teeth and then make his way around his new Diocese and as the people got to know him, opposition would slowly fade.  That now will not happen. Those of us who know him can only respect his integrity, his gift for teaching and preaching, his deep prayer life and his generosity of spirit to all with whom he works.  We have seen this in his parish ministry in Hartlepool and London and his memorable stint as Administrator of the Anglican Shrine at Walsingham (2002 - 2008).  My daughters - now in their 20s - remember their teenage years attending Walsingham Youth Pilgrimages, and they were truly blessed by his ministry.  He is exactly the kind of Bishop the Church of England needs. But the deeper message of this debacle is that no longer are the Church of England’s Bishops - be they conservative or liberal, male or female - going to exercise a ministry which is unrestricted. The Church of England may have initially triumphed in magnanimity, but it is now permanently, sacramentally fractured.  And yet, communion is an inner bond of faith united in Christ. It has to be held together with more than affection, although affection has been lacking here too. But certainly, impaired communion is not enough. People need certainty about the sacraments.  We “Sheffield is a go-ahead, vibrant, progressive city, have to commit to Christ’s journey outlined in John with cutting-edge universities and research-led 17.   As Pope Benedict XVI stated “practical initiatives industries. It is thoroughly modern.  The public will shouldn’t be a substitute for theology”. neither comprehend nor welcome this rather fogeyish It is not all doom and gloom, however, because this sacralised sexism of the religious organisation known Many have argued that ‘flourishing’ has to include appointments to any ministry within the Church.  Nevertheless, some people in the diocese of Sheffield have started to vocalise their opposition to the appointment of Bishop North and a number of clergy their severe misgivings, sending him “highly individualised attacks” as North is quoted as saying.  There were also those like Canon Martyn Percy, Dean of Christ Church, Oxford, who stated: