Ex-Anglican bishops become Catholic priests in historic move
Three former Anglican bishops were ordained into the Catholic Church on Saturday, making history as the first converts under a scheme launched by Pope Benedict XVI to accept dismayed Anglicans.
Former bishop of Ebbsfleet Andrew Burnham, ex-bishop of Richborough, Keith Newton, and John Broadhurst, who was bishop of Fulham, were ordained as Catholic priests at Westminster Cathedral in London.
The ceremony, which finished at around midday, saw the trio join a special division, or Ordinariate, which the pope established for disaffected Anglicans within the Roman Catholic Church who want to keep aspects of their heritage.
The pope has offered a conversion route to Anglicans who are unhappy with Church of England moves to ordinate women and homosexual clergy.
"Many ordinations have taken place in this cathedral during the 100 years of its history. But none quite like this," Archbishop Vincent Nichols told the congregation during the service.
"Today is a unique occasion marking a new step in the life and history of the Catholic Church.
"This morning the establishment of the first Personal Ordinariate under the provision of the Apostolic Constitution 'Anglicanorum Coetibus' has been announced in our hearing.
"So I too salute John Broadhurst, Andrew Burnham and Keith Newton who are to be the first priests of the Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham."
All three former bishops have opposed the appointment of women bishops and feel this affects the longer term unity of the Church.
Their conversions come four months after the pope visited Britain, and attempted to smooth tensions created by the conversion offer.
Up to 50 Anglican clergy and two retired Church of England bishops are also expected to join the Ordinariate.
The five bishops had said in November that they had been "dismayed, over the last 30 years, to see Anglicans and Catholics move further apart on some of the issues of the day".
Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, the leader of the world's Anglicans, responded that he had accepted the resignations of Burnham and Newton "with regret".
Britain's ambassador to the Vatican feared the pope's invitation for dismayed Anglicans might spark anti-Catholic violence at home, a leaked US diplomatic cable had revealed last month.
Ambassador Francis Campbell told US diplomats that "Anglican-Vatican relations were facing their worst crisis in 150 years as a result of the pope's decision", according to the November 2009 cable that was released by WikiLeaks.
© 2011 AFP