Women Bishops And Bishop Philip North: What Does ‘Mutual Flourishing’ Actually Mean?


The Church of England is heading for ongoing clashes on women’s ordination after Philip North stepped down following a campaign against his promotion as Bishop of Sheffield.

Martyn Percy, who led the calls for him to withdraw, has hinted he will continue to oppose any traditionalist bishop who is nominated for a senior role.

The Dean of Christ Church, Oxford, admitted the row had been a ‘sad one’ for the whole Church but said there was ‘confusion’ about what ‘mutual flourishing’ might mean. The term was adopted in the CofE’s settlement passing women bishops in an attempt to hold together both sides of the fractious debate.

Martyn Percy is the Dean of Christ Church, Oxford.Diocese of Oxford

‘I think it is very difficult because terms like ‘mutual flourishing’ and ‘gracious respect’ have been taken by some and inflated to mean their views are equally valid,’ he told the BBC’s Sunday programme.

‘What I think you can’t do is say that views that are inherently discriminatory – that is to say that they will not accept women as priests or bishops, or men who have been ordained by women bishops – those views are inherently discriminatory and you cannot impose those over a workforce – clergy – who don’t want to be discriminated against. It’s really not possible.’

He went on to say the Church’s compromise insisted women must be recognised as true priests.

‘That principle states that women and men are to be treated as true and lawful holders of the office which they occupy without reference to gender,’ Percy said of the 2014 agreement.

‘The problem here is we had a nomination [in Philip North] who could hold they were legally priests but not truly priests and that is a form of discrimination unfortunately,’ he went on.

‘It is quite possible to disagree and to disagree well and to have cultures of mutual flourishing but mutual flourishing does not mean that you accord equal status to discriminatory views.’

The traditionalist Bishop of Wakefield, Tony Robinson, who opposes women’s ordination, called for the Archbishop of Canterbury to intervene.

‘What has happened to Bishop Philip clearly does not reflect the settlement under which two and half years ago the Church of England decided to open up the ordination of women to bishops,’ he told the weekly radio show.

Hinting at the fallout may affect any future deal with sexuality, he added: ‘We need to ask the House of Bishops now led by the Archbishops to restore confidence in what was decided only two and a half years ago.

‘It is important for the Church that we are clear about this. It is obviously important because there are other issues facing the Church where such a pronouncement or decisions may be agreed in the future.’

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