LONDON (Reuters) - Disaffected Anglican Dioceses in Papua New Guinea, the United States and Australia might consider switching to Roman Catholicism under a new constitution offered by the Pope, a traditionalist Anglican group said on Wednesday.
The Vatican has approved a document known as an “Apostolic Constitution” which paves the way for conversion while allowing Anglicans to maintain certain traditions.
About a dozen bishops from the Church of England, the Anglican mother church, are also likely to convert, according to the Forward in Faith (FiF) group, a worldwide association of Anglicans opposed to the ordination of women priests or bishops.
A possible exodus may still fail to secure much-needed stability in the Anglican Church, which has been struggling to maintain unity among its 77 million followers over the ordination of women priests and gay bishops.
“I would be surprised if any dioceses in England moved over but I think there are dioceses elsewhere in the Anglican Communion that might,” said Stephen Parkinson, director of FiF.
“The diocese in Papua New Guinea would be an obvious one, there are one or two dioceses in America which might possibly, and there is certainly a diocese in Australia that might consider it,” he added.
Individual dioceses would decide whether and how to make such a conversion, FiF said. Local worshippers who disagreed with such a move would be left without a diocese, the group added.
The Church of England could not comment on numbers likely to convert, with one source adding: “It’s all guesswork.”
But Parkinson said a figure of 1,000 Church of England priests, reported in the media, was “credible.”
Estimates of laity are “much harder,” Parkinson said.
“Inevitably if you say 1,000 priests you are then talking about several thousand laity.”
But he said he “would not be at all surprised at a dozen” bishops in England switching. However, in England, bishops were likely to move individually rather than take their entire dioceses, which tend to have diverse views, with them. Some Anglican clergy anticipated numbers would not be great, pointing to the early 1990s when about 500 switched over the ordination of women priests. Some later returned to Anglicanism.
Some priests warned the Anglican Church may still be riven by divisions even after the likely defections.
Reverend Martin Dudley, rector at London’s 12th century St Bartholomew the Great church, said: “In some ways this will weaken it for those of us who remain essentially Catholic in our view of things who do not want to move but could find ourselves left in an evangelical Church of England essentially.”
Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury and spiritual head of the Anglican Church, who was unaware of the constitution’s details until two weeks before its disclosure, has been criticized by some traditionalists for taking too “softly, softly” an approach with liberals.
Reverend Miranda Threlfall-Holmes, chaplain at University College, Durham, in northern England, and supportive of the ordination of women bishops, said she wished Williams had been more openly supportive of women over the past few years “and less desperately concerned to placate opponents of women’s ordination.”
Additional reporting by Georgina Cooper and Peter Millership; editing by Andrew Roche