Hundreds of disaffected Anglicans will cross over to the Roman Catholic Church this year as the Church of England prepares to take another step toward the ordination of female bishops.
Up to 20 clergy and several hundred of their parishioners are already lined up to join the Ordinariate, the new structure set up by Pope Benedict XVI a year ago that allows them to retain some of their Anglican heritage while entering into full communion with the Holy See.
But many more members of the Anglo-Catholic wing of the Church of England will probably defect after a meeting of its governing body, the General Synod. They will switch if traditionalists, who cannot accept the ordination of women, are denied special provision.
The head of the Ordinariate, Msgr. Keith Newton, said: “There are 15 to 20 people who I think will be coming over this year. These are ordained Anglicans who wish to petition the Holy See for ordination.”
He said they would probably bring a “couple of hundred” worshippers with them in a second wave of defections, following the 60 clergy and 1,000 lay people who switched last year.
Newton, a former Anglican bishop, who is now officially known as the Ordinary of the Personal Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham, said: “Next year it depends on what the Synod decides to do. But you can’t become a Catholic because you simply want to escape the problems of the Church of England – you have to want to become a Catholic.”
Newton believes the Synod poll on female bishops is on a “knife-edge” with only a handful of votes needed to swing it either way.
On New Year’s Day an Ordinariate will be created in the United States, followed by another in Australia in the spring, both of which will probably have more members than the British one.
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