Former Anglican becomes Spain's first married priest

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Zimbabwe-born Evans David Gliwitzki, 64, was accompanied by his wife, two grown-up daughters, son-in-law and granddaughter when the Bishop of Tenerife ordained him on Saturday in the Church of Notre-Dame de la Concepcion in the town of La Laguna.

Moments before the ceremony, attended by hundreds of well-wishers from Britain and the US, the bishop's spokesman confirmed that Fr Evans "would continue being married to his wife, Patricia". But Bishop Felipe Fernandez was keen to squash any hint of a radical new trend for the Spanish church.

The ordination of Fr Evans was "a very singular exception", the bishop insisted, and ruled out "the abolition of the rules of celibacy for Catholic priests". But confronted with the reality of priestly paedophilia, and hidden offspring, many faithful may consider Fr Evans less of an exception than a pioneering role model.

The acceptance of the married Church of England minister into the Catholic Church marked "a gesture of respect to the Anglican Church, which permits married priests," the episcopal spokesman said. He added that the measure was the fruit of ecumenical meetings in the Vatican between Anglicans and Catholics co-ordinated by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict XVI, in which Fr Evans had participated. His case was approved by the late Pope John Paul II and the Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, the spokesman said.

Fr Evans, whose father was a Polish Catholic and mother an Anglican, worked for decades for the Zimbabwe national railway network until 1984, when he was ordained as a Church of England minister. He campaigned enthusiastically for the unity of Catholic and Anglican churches, before converting to Catholicism in 1992.

Following approval from Rome, Spain's Bishop's Conference began the process for ordination more than two years ago, instructing the Bishopric of Tenerife to welcome him "in an open and multicultural atmosphere, in a province where various Christian confessions coexist". Last June he was ordained as a deacon, in the final step before priesthood.

The new priest conducts his first mass today in the parish of Our Lady of Carmen, in La Laguna, in the north of the island, where he received instruction about Catholic rites under Bishop Fernandez's personal tutelage. But Fr Evans is expected to be posted to a parish in the south of the island, where a high proportion of the Canary Islands' large British population is concentrated, "whose needs will be perfectly attended to," the bishop's spokesman added.

The ordination marks the latest controversy in a turbulent year for the Spanish church. The Socialist government legalised gay marriages in June, to popular acclaim, although Archbishop Rouco of Madrid condemned practising homosexuals for "sinning massively". Months earlier, bishops first approved condoms to combat Aids, then denounced them, following prodding from Rome.