Guidelines for the passage of the dissenting priests - estimated so far at about 200 - who want to join the Church of Rome were announced in a statement drawn up between a delegation of British Catholics, led by Cardinal Basil Hume, and the top Vatican authorities, including Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, head of the watchdog Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, and Cardinal Edward Cassidy, who is in charge of relations with other Christian churches. The statement was approved by the Pope.
The priests will receive instruction in Catholic doctrine and teaching before being reordained. They will be required to accept the authority of the Pope.
Each priest's case will be examined: there can be no question of a mass exodus. 'Conversion to the Catholic church is an individual matter for each person,' the document said.
Those who are married - about half - will receive dispensation from the rule of celibacy and parish priests will remain as such while living with their wives and families. The document stressed that the principle of celibacy for Catholic priests is not put into question.
It also said that the passage of the priests into the Roman fold must not be allowed to disrupt the ecumenical dialogue between Rome and the Church of England that began nearly 30 years ago.
The proposals were yesterday criticised by Ecclesia, the Anglo- Catholic group. The chairman, the Rev Francis Bown, said they were a 'real tragedy' for the future of Christianity in England. He wants Anglo-Catholics to be able to join the Roman Catholic Church while retaining an Anglican liturgy and identity, as in the United States.