Churchgoers in almost 300 parishes that disapprove of women priests may take advantage of Pope Benedict XVI’s offer to change denomination if their “flying bishops” lead the way.
However the Church of England is expected to make a last-ditch attempt to stop the disillusioned groups leaving, by offering them concessions over the introduction of female bishops.
The Church of England clergy who held talks with members of the powerful Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith are “flying bishops”, who provide “episcopal oversight” to parishes that cannot accept women priests.
Anglican clergy who resign their priestly orders, even those who are married, could become Catholic priests under the terms of the unprecedented “poaching” offer made last year.
However not all of the traditionalists in the Church of England will cross over, as some will feel unable to accept the more rigid structure of the Catholic church or the power of the Pope.
In addition, many may be persuaded to stay in July when the General Synod, the Church of England’s governing body, holds a critical meeting to decide how to make the historic step of ordaining women bishops.
Detailed plans — due to be published this month — are unlikely to include substantial provisions for traditionalists who oppose female leadership in the church but Synod could alter the plans in order to prevent an exodus of Anglo-Catholics.
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