By Karna Swanson
LONDON, NOV. 8, 2010 (Zenit.org).- Five bishops of the Church of England announced their resignation today from ministry in that church, and their intent to join a personal ordinariate for Anglicans wishing to enter into full communion with the Catholic Church.
The apostolic constitution “Anglicanorum Coetibus,” published a year ago, offered a way for groups of Anglicans to enter the Catholic Church through the establishment of personal ordinariates, a new type of canonical structure.
The constitution outlines that these communities will be able to retain some elements of their liturgical and spiritual traditions while being unified under the Pope.
The U.K. bishops who announced their resignations include Bishop Andrew Burnham of Ebbsfleet, Bishop Keith Newton of Richborough and Bishop John Broadhurst of Fulham. These three bishops are known as “flying bishops,” as they minister to the more traditional faithful who don’t accept the Anglican move toward ordination of women to the priesthood.
Two retired bishops also resigned: Retired Bishop Edwin Barnes of Richborough, and retired Assistant Bishop David Silk of Exeter.
In their statement, signed by all five, the bishops explained that they have for years followed the process of dialogue between Anglicans and the Catholic Church “with prayer and longing.”
“We have been dismayed, over the last 30 years, to see Anglicans and Catholics move further apart on some of the issues of the day, and particularly we have been 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 two thousand years,” they explained.
The bishops said “Anglicanorum Coetibus” was to them an answer for those seeking unity with Rome: “With the ordinariates, canonical structures are being established through which we will bring our own experience of Christian discipleship into full communion with the Catholic Church throughout the world and throughout the ages.
“This is 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.”
The five said that now is the time to “formally declare our position and invite others who share it to join us on our journey.” With that they resigned from their pastoral duties in the Church of England, effective at the end of the year.
“We remain very grateful for all that the Church of England has meant for us and given to us all these years and we hope to maintain close and warm relationships, praying and working together for the coming of God’s Kingdom,” they added.
Anglican Archbishop Rowan Williams of Canterbury said in a statement today that he accepted with “regret” the resignations of the bishops, “who have decided that their future in Christian ministry lies in the new structures proposed by the Vatican.”
“We wish them well in this next stage of their service to the Church,” he added, “and I am grateful to them for their faithful and devoted pastoral labors in the Church of England over many years.”
Forward in Faith, the international association of Anglicans who reject the ordination of women as priests or as bishops, assured the five resigning prelates of “the love, prayers and support of all its members and of our grateful thanks to them all for their ministries to us.”
“We likewise assure the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Bishop of London of our prayers, as they seek to discern how the sees of Ebbsfleet, Richborough and Fulham are to be filled,” the association added.
Bishop Alan Hopes, an auxiliary bishop of Westminster, welcomed the decision in a statement issued on behalf of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales. He said the conference “will be exploring the establishment of the ordinariate, and the warm welcome we will be extending to those who seek to be part of it.”
“Further information will be made known after the meeting,” he added.
To date, no ordinariate has been created anywhere in the world, although Anglicans in the United Kingdom, the United States, Australia and Canada have stated their intentions to join the Catholic Church.
However, Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi, the director of the Vatican press office, confirmed today that “the make-up of a first ordinariate is being studied, according to the norms established by the Apostolic Constitution ‘Anglicanorum Coetibus,’ and any further decisions regarding this will be communicated at the proper moment.”
Last month, Anglican Bishop John Broadhurst of Fulham announced his intention to resign at a meeting of Forward in Faith International, of which he is chairman. In his announcement, the prelate listed multiple reasons for the departure from the Church of England, most importantly the disagreement over the ordination of women.
Bishop Broadhurst will continue with Forward in Faith International, which is not affiliated with the Church of England.
ZENIT spoke with Bishop Broadhurst via telephone at his residence in the United Kingdom. He indicated that his decision was reached after prayerful discernment and consideration, and that he has been thinking about entering into the Catholic Church for over 45 years.
When asked if he would remain in active ministry upon entering the Catholic Church, Bishop Broadhurst responded: “Whatever the Holy Father likes and permits, I will do. I do not intend to ride off into the sunset. As a priest, I have a responsibility to minister and if permitted, I will continue to do so.”
According to Bishop Broadhurst, there is a gathering momentum in the Anglican Communion among those dissatisfied with the Church of England’s acceptance of women’s ordinations. He added that the invitation of the Holy Father to Church of England members is one of great generosity.
Asked if others of his congregation would follow, Bishop Broadhurst responded: “There will be more [entering] the Catholic Church; however each needs to make their own decision. This decision is mine alone, for myself. Others, though, are considering the direction that they want to go — either to remain or [join] the Catholic faith.”
Bishop Broadhurst posted a pastoral letter on his Web site in which he explained his decision, admitting it will come as a “shock” for some, while for others it will be expected.
He stated his intention to join the Catholic Church through a personal ordinariate, and said that he has been committed to the process of seeking unity with Rome for some four decades.
“Recent decisions in our own church have made a positive outcome to these talks less and less likely,” he said. “The Holy Father has made what seems to me a positive and generous offer to Orthodox Anglicans, and I do not feel any choice but to accept.
“The consequence of this will be that our Catholic and Anglican heritage exists in two different places. It is important that we all remain friends and do not do anything to undermine or criticize each other.”
He noted that his final act as a bishop of the Church of England will be the celebration of Mass at Gordon Square on Nov. 20, the eve of Christ the King. “I hope to see many of you there,” he said.[Hugh J. McNichol contributed to this report]