VATICAN CITY – Five Anglican bishops have decided to join the Catholic Church and step down from their current positions within the Church of England, a Vatican spokesman said. Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi, director of the Vatican press office, confirmed to reporters a statement issued on Nov 8 by the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales welcoming the five bishops. Fr Lombardi said that a “constitution” that would govern the entry of former bishops of the Anglican Communion was being studied.

One year ago, Pope Benedict XVI established a special structure for Anglicans who want to be in full communion with the Roman Catholic Church while preserving aspects of their Anglican spiritual and liturgical heritage. The move was seen as a means of reaching out to those unhappy with recent Anglican decisions on the ordination of women and the acceptance of homosexual behaviour in some areas.

Fr Lombardi said, “Regarding the declaration of five bishops until now belonging to the Anglican Communion who have decided to join the Catholic Church and who therefore are obliged by conscience to resign from their current pastoral duties in the Church of England, we can confirm that the constitution of a first ordinariate is under study, according to the norms established by the Apostolic Constitution ‘Anglicanorum coetibus,’ and that any further decisions regarding this will be communicated at the proper moment.”

Father Lombardi was referring to a statement issued on Nov 8 by the Episcopal Commission of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales that said, “We welcome the decision of Bishops Andrew Burnham, Keith Newton, John Broadhurst, Edwin Barnes and David Silk to enter into full communion with the Catholic Church through the Ordinariate for England and Wales, which will be established under the provisions of the apostolic constitution ‘Anglicanorum coetibus.’”

In a statement released on Nov 8 the five bishops, who resigned their posts effective Dec 31, said that despite ecumenical efforts, they had been “dismayed, over the last 30 years, to see Anglicans and Catholics move further apart on some of the issues of the day”. They said they were particularly “distressed by developments in faith and order in Anglicanism which we believe to be incompatible with the historic vocation of Anglicanism and the tradition of the church for nearly 2,000 years”.

The five said that “Anglicanorum coetibus” was “both a generous response to various approaches to the Holy See for help and a bold, new ecumenical instrument in the search for the unity of Christians, the unity for which Christ himself prayed before his passion and death”.

“It is a unity, we believe, which is possible only in eucharistic communion with the successor of St Peter,” they said.

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