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Leonard ordained as RC priest

Graham Leonard, the former Bishop of London who led the struggle against women priests in the Church of England, has become a Roman Catholic priest.

He was received into the Catholic Church as a layman by Cardinal Basil Hume on 6 April and conditionally reordained last Saturday at Westminster Cathedral. Cardinal Hume had made two visits to Rome since Christmas to plead Dr Leonard's case to be received as a priest and possibly a bishop. Dr Leonard had also written to the Pope.

The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith - the Vatican's guardian of orthodoxy - decided, given documentary proof that Dr Leonard had been ordained by Old Catholic bishops as well as by Anglican ones, that there was 'a prudent doubt concerning the validity of his orders' - in other words, he might have been a Catholic priest, as he and other Anglo-Catholics believed, as well as an Anglican.

It is most unlikely that this concession will be extended to many of the 200-300 Anglican priests hoping to become Catholics after the decision to ordain women. All other Anglicans who have become Catholics in recent decades have had to be reordained absolutely, following the Vatican's 1896 declaration that Anglican priestly orders were 'utterly null and void'. Rome has never thus condemned the orders of the Old Catholics, a group of breakaway Continental churches that have been in communion with the Anglicans since 1932.

Dr Leonard's Anglo-Catholic supporters had hoped for much more than the conditional reordination of him as a priest who will live in retirement at his home in Witney, near Oxford. At first there was talk of a 'personal prelature' which would have made Dr Leonard a sort of flying bishop in the Catholic Church.

It emerged yesterday that Dr Leonard started talks with the Catholic Church as soon as the Church of England General Synod voted to ordain women in November 1992. As Bishop of London from 1981 to 1991, he had packed his diocese with opponents of women priests.

The Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr George Carey, said yesterday he 'had heard with interest the long-awaited news of Graham Leonard's ordination to the priesthood of the Roman Catholic Church'. The Lambeth statement added: 'The Archbishop wishes him well for his continued pilgrimage in the faith.'

David Tustin, chairman of the General Synod council for Christian Unity, said: 'Whilst our relationship with the Old Catholic churches is of great importance to us we are surprised at the grounds on which conditional ordination has been granted to Dr Leonard.' Almost all the bishops and priests of the Church of England have acquired Old Catholic orders since 1932. However, Cardinal Hume has gone out of his way to stress these orders were not grounds for considering Anglican ministers as Catholic priests.