Ex-Anglican bishops ordained as Catholic priests
Three former Anglican bishops made history today by becoming the first to be ordained as Catholic priests under a new scheme set up by the Vatican.
The most Rev Vincent Nichols, leader of Catholics in England and Wales, ordained Andrew Burnham, former bishop of Ebbsfleet, Keith Newton, ex-bishop of Richborough, and John Broadhurst, former bishop of Fulham, as Catholic priests at a service at Westminster Cathedral in London today.
They are the first members of an Ordinariate specially set up by the Pope, for groups of Anglicans who wish to join the Roman Catholic Church while retaining aspects of their Anglican heritage. All are married.
Today's packed congregation included hundreds of priests from the Diocese of Westminster, along with Bishop Alan Hopes, Archbishop Bernard Longely, from Birmingham, and trainee priests.
Rev Nichols told them: "Many ordinations have take place in this cathedral during the 100 years of its history. But none quite like this.
"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."
The Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, has in the past expressed concern the new Ordinariate could leave some parishes without priests, as disaffected Anglicans switch to Rome.
During today's service, Rev Nichols thanked members of the Church of England for offering their prayers and good wishes to the newly ordained Catholic priests.
He said: "First among these is Rowan, Archbishop of Canterbury, with his characteristic insight, and generosity of heart and spirit."
Former Anglican nuns Sister Caroline Joseph, Sister Jane Louise and Sister Wendy Renata, who were officially received into the Catholic Church two weeks ago, took part in the Communion procession.
None of the three priests would comment after the service.
It is not yet known which congregations the newly ordained priests will oversee, or which aspects of their Anglican faith they will uphold during their services.
A key aspect of the establishment of the Ordinariate by Pope Benedict, is that it enables groups of former Anglicans and their clergy to stay together.
"Their parishes will be "personal" parishes, and not "territorial", like a diocesan parish," Father Marcus Stock, General Secretary of the Catholic Bishops' Conference of England and Wales said.
"This is quite new as previously former Anglican clergy seeking ordination in the Catholic Church were separated from their communities, even if some members of those communities also became Catholics."
The establishment of the new Ordinariate follows Pope Benedict XVI publishing his 'Apostolic constitution Anglicanorum coetibus', in November 2009, after he "repeatedly and insistently" received petitions from groups of Anglicans wishing "to be received into full communion individually as well as corporately" with the Catholic Church.
Some of the concerns involved opposition to women Bishops.
Overtime, it is expected further Ordinariates will be established in other parts of the world to serve the needs of Anglican communities for similar reasons.
A spokesman from the Church of England declined to comment specifically on today's Ordination of the former Anglican bishops, but said his Church "wished anyone well who is on a journey of faith, as all of us are."
"Because there are some people who have been Catholics who have become Anglicans. People do more between denominations.
"We wish anyone well who felt they were being called to move on into a new denomination or a new experience."
Asked if he was concerned the new Ordinariate could result in vast numbers of Anglican clergy and parishoners switching to Rome he said: "The truth is, we just don't know how large those figures will be, or how small they will be.
"We have no indication they will be significant, but clearly we will be watching very closely to see."
The Ordinariate is expected to be joined by up to 50 Anglican clergy and two retired Church of England bishops.
Former Anglican bishop David Silk is one of those.
He maintained objection to women bishops was not the real cause of the Ordinariate being formed.
"It's a decision I find unacceptable but that is not the real cause of it," he told the BBC.
"It's been a process over the past 20 years, in which I've come to believe in such things as the significance of the papal office."
Asked if it was unfeasible for the Church not to have women bishops, given the idea of women clergy had been around for a long time, and some people felt women bishops were needed to serve their communities, Mr Silk replied: "Some people believe the Church needs to have women clergy.
"I personally do, but the women's ministry can be just as effective, by deaconesses and so on.
"I don't believe in the end, you could simply say, we could only solve this in terms of what people call justice issues.
"We are talking here about a order bequeathed to us by Jesus Christ, and that means that we are stuck with certain things."