Bishop ready to defect and join Pope Benedict
Invitation to convert to Rome looks to have hooked its first big Anglican fish
The Bishop of Chichester, one of the leading traditionalists in the Church of England, says he is seriously contemplating taking up Pope Benedict's invitation to Anglicans to convert to Roman Catholicism - an offer the historian David Starkey says was a calculated move by the Vatican to coincide with the 500th anniversary of Henry VIII's accession.
"The Catholic Church has a profound historic awareness," Starkey wrote in the Sunday Times. "What better moment to indicate that it believes the English Reformation, which was irrevocably set in motion during Henry's reign, can - and should - be reversed?"
Whatever the nuances behind the Pope's timing, it has certainly put the C of E into a spin. If the Bishop of Chichester, the Rt Rev John Hind, goes ahead, some believe it could trigger an exodus of Anglican clergy who have had enough of the division in the Church of England, especially over the heated issues of gay clergy and women bishops.
What makes the Pope's offer attractive to Hind and others is that he has promised a structure that would allow disaffected Anglicans to enter full communion with Rome, while holding on to parts of their Protestant heritage.
"This is a remarkable new step from the Vatican," Hind told the Sunday Telegraph. "At long last there are some choices for Catholics in the Church of England. I'd be happy to be re-ordained into the Catholic Church."
While Hind said he would only convert if his previous ministry was recognised by the Vatican, he claimed he was willing to sacrifice his stipend and his palace residence in order to defect to Rome.
One Anglican priest contacted by the Sunday Telegraph who said he would follow in Hind's footsteps was Father Ed Tomlinson, vicar of St Barnabus, Tunbridge Wells. "The ship of Anglicanism seems to be going down," he said, "We should be grateful that a lifeboat has been sent."
Hind's boss, the Archbishop of Canterbury, was apparently only informed of the Pope's invitation shortly before it was made last week and is said to have been "implacably opposed" to Benedict's decree.
As Starkey says, there's nothing new about the Vatican trying to "hook" the Anglican flock. But by changing the rules so that entire Anglican communities, instead of mere individuals, can now convert to Catholicism, and take their liturgy with them, Pope Benedict appears to have made Anglicans an offer many will find hard to refuse. ·
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