Vatican softens line on former Anglican priests

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THE VATICAN is considering softening the conditions under which Anglican priests who have left the Church of England after its decision to ordain women will be able to become Roman Catholics, Cardinal Basil Hume said yesterday.

The Cardinal was speaking at the end of a regular meeting of the Roman Catholic Bishops' Conference of England and Wales. He said he had visited Rome twice since Christmas to ask for rulings on the case of Anglican clergy such as Dr Graham Leonard, the former Bishop of London, who led the fight against women priests in the Church of England. These men believe they may have found a loophole in the Vatican's 1896 condemnation of Anglican priesthood as 'utterly null and void'.

Since 1932, many Anglican ordinations have been attended by 'Old Catholic' bishops: members of schismatic Catholic churches which broke away from Rome in the 18th and 19th centuries. Those bishops could in theory have transmitted their valid priestly orders to the Anglicans they have ordained. In that case, the Cardinal said, some priests and bishops could be conditionally reordained as Roman Catholics, in a ceremony which would imply that they might have been Catholic priests while still members of the Church of England.

But the decision in each individual case would depend on proof that the priest or bishop concerned had not meant to be ordained into the Church of England, but into the Catholic Church, the Cardinal explained. Speaking after the press conference, one of his aides said that there might be few such cases, but there would be some.

Many of the priests who had left the Church of England after it decided to ordain women had only joined it in the first place to work towards unity with Rome, the Cardinal said. It was 'absolutely wrong and an injustice' to say that they wanted to become Roman Catholics simply to escape from women priests. What had happened was that they had realised that the churches were 'no longer converging, but on parallel lines again'.

The other main decision of the Bishops' Conference dealt with the publication in English of the new catechism of the Catholic Church, delayed for over a year by American anti-feminists who succeeded in removing almost all the inclusive language used about men and women in the first draft. 'Some people may feel excluded by the style and choice of language used in this translation,' the Cardinal said. 'This would be deeply regrettable.'