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Friday, 10 March 2017

Male Bishops and Female Priests. And Vice Versa

Sadness, upset and a kind of grim sense of achievement from different quarters, as the Bishop of Burnley, Philip North, declines the role of Bishop of Sheffield.  This, for those unacquainted with the ways of the C of E, would have been a kind of promotion. A "diocesan" bishop, such as Sheffield, is in charge of their whole patch - whereas a "suffragan", such as Blackburn, is either a kind of assistant to the diocesan across the diocese, or else has one particular part of the diocese to look after under the diocesan's overall oversight.

Don't want to delve into the specifics of the case. Though I'd suggest you might want to read Jules Middleton's piece. But for the sake of a Venn diagram - let's come up with two hypothetical bishops. Bishop A is a male bishop who does not believe that women can be priests. Whereas Bishop B is a female bishop.

There are then issues as to who regards whom as really being the thing they are said to be. Some priests will regard Bishop B as not a proper bishop (because she is a woman).  Bishop A will regard some priests as not proper priests (because they are women).  The Venn diagram will look something like this:

A few things come out of this diagram. The first is that, somewhere, there is hypothetically a woman priest who doesn't think women can be bishops.  This may or may not be an empty set.

The second thing is that clearly the Church of England is a fractious old bunch. If you've got people going round the place believing that other people can't actually be the things they're said to be, there's always going to be a certain amount of muttering and not looking people in the eye and getting a bit embarrassed when people unexpectedly meet up. In fact if you factored in the whole "plastic chairs" phenomenon it would be even worse.

Then there's the fact that women bishops are now ordaining men as priests - which means that the "Priests that Bishop A doesn't think are real priests" set now includes an increasing number of men.

And finally there's the group of priests in the outer set, whom Bishop A thinks are real priests (because they are men ordained by other men) and who think Bishop B is a real bishop. This means they can, at least in principle, get on with most people.

In other words, the priests who have it easiest in the Church of England are middle-aged men of a liberal persuasion. But then, isn't that true everywhere? Despite all the fighting and sadness, turns out the C of E is just like society after all.


  1. It seems that you have moved away from the original teachings of Henry VIII, who would have created women priests if he had thought it was possible.

  2. In addition to banning canon law at the two universities, and the principle of "Henry VIII measures in primary legislation, the Appointment Of Bishops Act 1533
    1533 is still extant. However, gender is not mentioned.

  3. Philip North is at present the Bishop of Burnley. A Suffragan yes, not a Diocesan like....Blackburn. I know they are both in the north west and both begin with a B but they are not interchangeable.

    1. Confusing isn't it? So many places in East Lancs that begin with B: Bury, Bolton, Bacup, ... To B or not to B?

  4. I thought that the Priests who have it easiest are those in Cathedrals, where it is virtually a ministry to all comers, whatever their colour or persuasion or sexuality. It's anonymous pastoral care and worship and nothing controversial happens unless the Bishop has an adverse visitation when all and sundry resign and new people come in to do the thing that Bishop wants, which is growth, MBA's and a nice lunch now and again and no controversy - pity the Bishop of Oxford, who skipped out from Sheffield and has now got Martin Percy for his sins.


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