First group of Anglican bishops to convert to Rome
LONDON (Reuters) - Five Church of England bishops opposed to the ordination of women bishops will take up an offer by Pope Benedict and convert to Roman Catholicism, heralding a possible exodus of traditionalist Anglicans.
The bishops will enter full communion with Rome through an ordinariate, a body proposed by the pope last October to let traditionalists convert while keeping some Anglican traditions, the Catholic Bishops' Conference of England and Wales announced.
The ordinariate will let married clerics become Catholic priests, in an exception to the Vatican's celibacy rule, but not bishops. Married Anglican bishops who convert may be granted a special status almost equivalent to their former rank.
Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, head of the Church of England and the worldwide Anglican Communion, accepted the resignations of two bishops directly under his authority, Andrew Burnham and Keith Newton, "with regret." He wished them well "in this next stage of their service" to the Christian faith.
The Catholic bishops' conference said in a statement: "We welcome the decision of Bishops Andrew Burnham, Keith Newton, John Broadhurst, Edwin Barnes and David Silk to enter into full communion with the Catholic Church."
COMMUNION CLOSE TO SCHISM
One of the departing prelates said the women bishops issue was part of a wider problem they had with the Church of England claim to belong to the universal Church founded by Jesus that includes the far larger and older Roman Catholic Church.
"We think it is going off in its own way and making up its own rules and we therefore need to belong to the older body," Bishop Andrew Burnham of Ebbsfleet told BBC television.
Struggles over female and gay bishops, same-sex marriage and authority in the church have split the 80-million-strong Anglican Communion, pitting mostly British and North American liberals against more traditional churches in Africa and Asia.
This has also strained individual churches, such as the Church of England, where traditionalists no longer feel welcome. Some conservatives in the United States have left the Episcopal Church there to form breakaway Anglican networks.
Several small groups in the United States, Australia and Canada have applied to form an ordinariate in their countries, but none have been accepted by the Vatican yet.
Church of England defections were triggered by a vote at the July General Synod, the Church's parliament, that confirmed it would consecrate women bishops. Williams favoured a compromise giving traditionalists more concessions, but it was defeated.
Bishop John Broadhurst, who has said several hundred clergy and many laity would leave, signalled his intention to switch last month, as has a parish in Kent, southeast England.
The Daily Telegraph reported on Monday about 500 Anglicans were expected to leave in this first wave of conversions.
"I don't think there will be a great flood," Burnham told the BBC. "I think so much is at stake, people losing their homes, their livelihood, their pensions and everything else that inevitably the first wave at least will be quite small."
(Additional reporting by Philip Pullella in Rome, editing by Tom Heneghan and Ralph Boulton)
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