BY PIERS MCGRANDLE
PROPOSALS TO TURN married Anglican vicars into Roman Catholic priests were sent to the Pope for approval last week, following the half-yearly meeting of the Catholic Bishops Conference.
However, married clergy are to be barred from actually becoming parish priests, as the Catholic Herald exclusively revealed three months ago. It is felt that the presence of married parish priests would disturb the Catholic community.
The news that the Catholic Church has paved the way for convert married clergy to take full part in the community as parish priests will delight Anglo-Catholics, many of whom believed that the Church could only offer themchaplaincies.
Fr John Broadhurst, whose Anglican traditionalist group, Forward in Faith, numbers more than 28,000 followers told the Catholic Herald: "It was a very significant statement that will be seen by our group as a positive development the greatest fear was that for married clergy the only possibilities would be chaplaincy jobs whereas now it does not come as a matter of course. My notion is that about 1000 priests will now move over."
Bishop Vincent Nichols, area Catholic bishop in North London and Cardinal Hume's right-hand man concerning married convert priests, said that the bishops were "with one mind and heart" and were echoing the Pope's recent remarks to Cardinal Hume, when he said "With such men, you must be generous; please be generous."
"In due time", added the bishop, "these words will -nape the response of the
Catholic community as well."
Fr Graham Leonard, the former Anglican Bishop of London and now a Catholic priest, said that the move gave him "much encouragement".
He said: "We look forward to a common approach by the Bishops in response to Anglican clergy who seek full communion."
The proposals will, almost certainly, be approved in a number of weeks. A panel of three bishops has been set up to determine the merits of each convert priest's case. The three bishops are former Anglican Bishop Alan Clark, soon to retire from East Anglia, Bishop John Brewer of Lancaster and Bishop Leo McCartie of Northampton.
Despite the new proposals, married Anglo-Catholics wishing to become Catholic priests still face a daunting task ahead. Each candidate will need to be sponsored by his local Catholic bishop, who will then put forward plans both for training and financial provisions for the family if the convert is accepted.
A key element in selecting candidates will center around what Bishop Nichols referred to as the "coherence" of the
family. Both the priesthood and marriage were "two important vocations", which should not conflict.
The bishop also averred that the norm for the Catholic priesthood was still celibacy; if a clergyman was widowed, he would not be allowed to remarry.
A former Anglican priest, now a Catholic layman, said: "What we now need is a nation-wide training programme to ensure that all would-be priests receive adequate and equal training.
"The statement is a welcome departure. For too long, it has been cutting off its nose to spite its face: there's a shortage of priests, churches are closing, and here were a number of potential priests asking for their vocations to be tested."
But a would-be convert warned: "The problem of inconsistency between dioceses remains. In some dioceses, Anglican priests who are ready to convert are treated extremely well; in others, however, they suffer an offhand treatment at the hands of the bishop. This has not been addressed sufficiently and it could cause trouble."