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Church of England bishop plans Catholic conversion

LONDON — A Church of England assistant bishop and a parish church have announced that they intend to become Roman Catholics within a new structure set up by Pope Benedict XVI.

John Broadhurst, the bishop of Fulham in London, and St. Peter’s Church in Folkestone, southeastern England, both oppose moves in the Church of England to allow women to serve as bishops.

Broadhurst, the first serving Church of England bishop to say he will accept the pope’s invitation, is leader of Forward in Faith, a group representing traditionalists within the Church of England. He announced his decision on Friday at the group’s national assembly.

St. Peter’s Church, which is affiliated with Forward in Faith, announced its decision on Saturday.

Benedict has created a structure called an ordinariate, in which Church of England defectors could continue to use some of their traditional liturgy and be served by their married priests.

“I intend to resign as bishop of Fulham before the end of the year,” Broadhurst told the Forward in Faith meeting.

“I am not retiring, I am resigning,” he added. “Secondly, I expect that I will enter the ordinariate when it is established.”

The parochial church council of St. Peter’s said it had resolved to join the ordinariate and “is anxious that this should be made as easy as possible.”

St. Peter’s is in the diocese of Canterbury, the base for the Church of England’s leader, Archbishop Rowan Williams. The Daily Telegraph reported that St. Peter’s attracts about 40 worshippers each Sunday.

The church council did not say whether it hoped to remain in its Victorian building, and it would be a matter for each member to decide whether to go or to stay in the Church of England.

Ownership of churches is a complex issue. The simple answer, a Church of England commission reported in 2005, is that “nobody” owns a church.

Traditionalists are unhappy with the General Synod vote in July which rejected a legal structure to protect their rejection of female priests and bishops. Instead, the synod voted for a code of practice which provides for traditionalist parishes to request supervision by male priests and bishops.

Legislation which would finally permit women to serve as bishops still needs to be approved by a two-thirds majority next year in each of the synod’s three chambers: bishops, clergy and laity.

A crucial question is whether traditionalists won enough seats in recent elections to block approval of the legislation. Results are still being tabulated.

When the church decided in 1993 to ordain women as priests, it also appointed three traditionalist bishops to serve as “provincial episcopal visitors,” supervising traditionalist parishes which refused women’s ministry.

One of these so-called “flying bishops,” Bishop of Ebbsfleet Andrew Burnham, hinted in a pastoral letter this month that he too would be joining the ordinariate in a “caravan” of like-minded Anglicans.

“The beginning of the caravan is somewhere ahead of us, over the horizon,” he wrote.

Another “flying bishop,” Martin Jarrett of Beverley, has given his support to a different initiative, announced in September, to form a Society of St. Wilfrid and St. Hilda to serve traditionalists.

The society, which says it cannot accept the ministry of the pope, has yet to announce any details of how it would function.