Catholic sources yesterday dismissed as incredible the report that Cardinal Basil Hume, the Archbishop of Westminster, might make Dr Leonard a bishop on his conversion, pointing out that he would be the Church's first married bishop for many centuries and that the Pope has in recent weeks reiterated his support for a celibate clergy.
However, there is no doubt that Dr Leonard will become a Roman Catholic priest soon and the Cardinal has singled him out for praise as a notable theologian when expounding his plans to convert married Anglican priests who oppose the Church of England's decision to ordain women.
There were married bishops in the Gaelic-speaking part of the Irish Catholic church until the Reformation, but elsewhere in Christendom they were always uncommon.
Informed sources suggest that Dr Leonard will be made a monsignor, a distinction awarded in the past to irregularly consecrated bishops who returned to the Church of Rome. The title is an honorific one bestowed by the Vatican upon favoured priests.
Dr Leonard was Anglican Bishop of London from 1981 to 1991. During that decade he was leader of the Anglo-Catholic resistance to women's ordination. He is still a central figure in the dreams of the sizeable faction of Anglican clergy which believes that the Roman Catholic Church will become the dominant force in English religious life when they join it in protest against women priests.
Estimates on the number who will leave vary from 60 to about 1,000; there are at least 1,000 women deacons waiting to become priests next spring in the Church of England.
Cardinal Hume told a news conference last week that 156 Anglican priests had had talks with their local Roman Catholic bishops about moving over. But one leader of Forward in Faith, the main grouping of Anglicans opposed to women priests, said that 500 were planning to leave over the next few years.
He pins his hopes on a 'second wave' of converts arriving after the first few hundred have established that the experiment is a success.
Under the terms of the women priests' legislation, the Church of England will pay compensation to priests who decide to leave over the issue at any time over the next 10 years, which makes all calculations difficult and imprecise.
During his time as Bishop of London, Dr Leonard fortified that diocese as a citadel of resistance to women priests.Reuse content