Bishops threaten to leave Church of England

A group of 15 traditionalist Anglican bishops have written an open letter to the Church of England saying they are either "seriously" considering or have resolved to join the Roman Catholic Church.

"There are some Anglo Catholics, including in our own number, who are already looking at, indeed are resolved to join the Ordinariate as the place where they can find a home in which to live and proclaim their Christian faith, in communion with the Holy Father, yet retaining something of the blessings they have known and experienced in the Anglican tradition," the bishops wrote last week.

"Of course the Ordinariate is a new thing, and not all of us are trailblazers or can imagine what it might be like. Some will undoubtedly want to wait and see how that initiative develops before making a decision. Yet others will make their individual submission and find their future as Roman Catholics," they added.

The bishops' letter comes in response to last month's vote by the CofE General Synod to open the way for women to be ordained as bishops.

The vote came despite of efforts from senior Anglican clergy, including the Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, to reach a compromise.

Williams and the Archbishop of York John Sentamu had tabled an amendment during the July Synod seeking to allow male and female bishops to have joint jurisdiction over a diocese, but the measure was shot down in a 25-15, 90-85, 106-86 vote from the CofE's three houses – Bishops, Clergy and Laity.

For the traditionalist bishops, the closeness of the compromise amendment vote revealed that there is "at least a measure of disquiet in the majority about proceeding without a provision acceptable to traditionalists," and they lamented that the synod did not show a "proper understanding" of their reservations.

Particularly, the bishops accused church officials of not seriously considering 2004's Rochester Report, which outlines several compromise options for dealing with traditionalists' qualms about women bishops including creating a province with only male clergy.

The bishops also said the church paid "scant attention" to the more recent Consecrated Women report, sponsored by conservative group Forward in Faith, which looks at the theological implications of ordaining women.

"We are all bishops united in our belief that the Church of England is mistaken in its actions," they said.

"While we certainly accept the good faith of those who wish to make this change believing it to be God's will, we cannot rejoice with them, not least because of the disastrous cost to Catholic unity," they added.

Signers on the letter included the Rt. Rev. John Hind, Bishop of Chichester; the Rt. Rev. Geoffrey Rowell, Bishop of Europe; the Rt. Rev. Nicholas Reade, Bishop of Blackburn; and the Rt. Rev. Martyn Jarrett, Bishop of Beverley, among others.

The issue of female bishops has divided the 77-million-member Anglican Communion for decades, with the group also struggling in their dealings with homosexual clergy.

Last October, the Vatican announced new provisions for Anglican bishops to join the church while retaining parts of their liturgical heritage.

Williams and other senior Anglican clergy welcomed the move as the fruit of some 40 years of ecumenical dialogue, while others saw it as a blatant move by the Catholic Church to "poach" Anglican clergy during their time of struggle.

The Church of England General Synod is expected to vote on the proposed legislation on women bishops next year should it be approved by the group's diocesan synods.

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