The Pope's recent visit, and the momentum towards appointing women bishops, seems to have nerved the faithful for action as three Bishops serve notice to Canterbury en route to Rome...here ... Ruth Gledhill writes:
At least three serving Church of England bishops are to lead an exodus to the Roman Catholic Church in protest at women bishops.
The Bishop of Fulham, the Right Rev John Broadhurst, 68, announced at the weekend that he is to join the Ordinariate, an organisation set up by the Pope to allow Anglican laity, clergy and bishops to convert while retaining aspects of their Anglican heritage.
The bishops of Ebbsfleet and Richborough, the Right Rev Andrew Burnham, 63, and the Right Rev Keith Newton, 58, a member of the ultra-traditionalist Society of the Holy Cross, are currently on study leave. The Times was told yesterday by a traditionalist source that they will follow suit when they resume pastoral duties towards the end of the year.
Bishop Newton is tipped to be the "ordinary" who is the clerical head of the new Ordinariate. A fourth retired bishop, Edwin Barnes, is also expected to join the Ordinariate.
Dozens of Anglican laity, including an entire congregation in Kent, are preparing to go with the bishops.
The defections and the Ordinariate itself are leading to private anger among senior Anglicans over what they regard as poaching.
The usual ecumenical channels have been bypassed in setting up the Ordinariate. Instead of being led by the Council for Christian Unity, all talks have been held in secret under the auspices of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, formerly headed by the present Pope Benedict XVI.
Private battles are beginning behind the scenes over property as laity seek ways to take their churches with them. Church authorities intend to resist this but where a crumbling building faces being left empty by a congregation that goes to Rome, it will be difficult for the Church of England to justify a "dog in the manger" attitude when the only alternative future that awaits it is redundancy or conversion to flats or other use. The predicament will be more serious next year when the VAT rebate scheme on church repairs comes to an end. It is not expected to be renewed, meaning even church buildings with thriving and committed Anglican congregations face a perilous future.
The conservative Catholic blogger Chris Gillibrand, himself a convert from Anglicanism, said: "This is the Anglo-Catholic Dunkirk." The defections come as the Church of England prepares to ordain women bishops.
Bishop Broadhurst said over the weekend: "The General Synod has become vindictive and vicious. It has been fascist in its behaviour, marginalising those who have been opposed to women's ordination. We have not been given any space."
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