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Bishops threaten to quit Church

FIVE BISHOPS and 570 priests in the Church of England have signed a declaration committing them to become Roman Catholics, according to Forward in Faith, the largest group opposed to women priests.

The group has not released the names of the signatories, and at least one serving bishop who told the Independent four weeks ago that he would sign, has since denied to fellow bishops that he had. One Forward in Faith source claimed last night that three serving bishops had signed. 'They are such cowards,' Caroline Davies, of the Movement for the Ordination of Women, said. 'What is the point of doing this if they are not going to say who they are?'

The organisers of the declaration, who include the chairman of Forward in Faith - the Archdeacon of North London, the Rev John Broadhurst - predicted they would get 1,000 signatures to their declaration by Tuesday when the Synod finished the last formalities before women can be ordained. In the event, 712 priests and deacons had signed by yesterday, and 570 used the strongest formulation on offer, which accepted all the Vatican's teachings.

One of the more controversial Vatican teachings is that neither men nor women in the Church of England can be priests. The Rev Stuart Wilson, another of the organisers of the protest, said yesterday that he hoped the Catholic bishops of England and Wales would be able to help the dissident Anglicans to be accepted as priests, at their meeting the week after Easter.

Asked how anyone can sign the declaration and continue in good conscience to draw a salary as an Anglican clergyman, Mr Wilson said: 'I have always believed in the teaching authority of the (Roman Catholic) church. It would be an irony if one was dismissed not for believing too little but for believing too much. But signing now means I have to begin a process for a new future.'