Priests disturbed by converts plan: 'Special treatment' for Anglicans questioned

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The Independent Online
A GROUP of five Roman Catholic priests have said they are 'deeply disturbed' by the proposal to make special arrangements for the conversion of Anglicans opposed to the ordination of women. Their open letter published yesterday represents the first stirrings of grass-roots Roman Catholic dislike of present arrangements.

The priests' open letter urges the leadership of their Church to consult with ordinary Catholics resentful that converts appear to be receiving special treatment.

'Although the stated aim of such arrangements is 'eventual total integration', the potential for disruption and confusion is alarming,' they write. 'We feel that the publicity surrounding these current developments is undermining the credibility of the Church among our own people.'

Last month, the Catholic Bishops Conference of England and Wales announced that 'temporary pastoral arrangements' could be made for priests or groups of laity who converted in the wake of the Church of England General Synod's decision to ordain women.

This fell far short of the 'Roman option' envisaged by supporters of the Anglican former Bishop of London, Dr Graham Leonard, who had hoped that as many as 1,000 Anglican priests could have become Catholics, along with their congregations, their churches and their liturgy.

None the less, Bishop Alan Clark of East Anglia said he believed there would have to be married Catholic parish priests as a result of the conference decision. There are eight married Catholic priests in England. All are former Anglicans, but none have been given parish posts, for a mixture of financial and political reasons. Celibacy is enforced on all priests who are born Roman Catholic.

Last Sunday, a pastoral letter was read out in Britain's Roman Catholic churches urging a welcome to converts.

Last Saturday, at a rally of Anglican opponents of women priests, Ann Widdecombe, the Under-Secretary of State for Social Security, urged as many as possible to follow her example and convert to Roman Catholicism. If Rome ordained women, she said, it would be time to move to the Russian Orthodox.

But many Roman Catholics in England are moderately in favour of women priests and dislike the idea that opposition to women's ordination should constitute a 'fast track' route to acceptance in their Church.

The five signatories of the open letter are Fr Oliver McTernan of London, Dr Sean Hall of Ushaw College, Durham, Fr Owen Hardwicke from Wrexham, Fr Peter Morgan, of Liverpool, and Fr Richard McKay, Bristol.