Dressed in their black cassocks, the three Anglican bishops had hoped to pass unnoticed as they emerged from the Vatican into the shadows lengthening across St Peter’s Square.
Having just assured one of the Pope’s key advisers of their momentous decision to defect to Rome, they walked along the cobbled streets fearful of being recognised, hoping to keep these discussions to themselves.
But they were betrayed even before they had returned to England, with word of their meeting spreading from one rectory to another, angering and alarming clergy loyal to the Archbishop of Canterbury, who feared he was being undermined by this papal gambit tempting disaffected Anglicans to join the Roman Catholic Church.
This week, the plots hatched behind closed doors in the Vatican last year will be played out in the open as the former bishops lead dozens of clergy and hundreds of worshippers in taking up this historic offer.
They will be confirmed in services that will mark a significant watershed in the Anglican Church’s long-running battle over moves to allow women to become bishops.
It represents a new beginning for those entering the Catholic Church, but their departure has deeply wounded the Church of England, which is already riven by bitter rows over gay clergy, and now faces an exodus of traditionalists.
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Traditionalists? In what way? Those that are defecting from the Church of England are not Anglican traditionalists. They use the 1969 Roman Rite Liturgy and hold and teach the doctrines contained in the 1992 Roman Catholic Catechism. They are Roman Catholics in everything but name. Anglican traditionalist is not an appropriate term for them.