Hundreds of Anglicans entered the Catholic Church through the Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham on Ash Wednesday, March 9.
Official figures are not yet available, but the Catholic magazine The Tablet has reported that about 20 priests and 600 lay people from around England are entering the Church. Five former Anglican bishops were among the first to join the ordinariate, this past Jan. 15.
Pope Benedict XVI established the ordinariate, a special church structure, to allow Anglicans to join the Catholic Church while retaining some of their customs and liturgy.
Controversy in the Anglican Communion over theological and moral issues such as the ordination of women as priests and bishops has driven some to seek to enter the Catholic Church.
One of the converting priests, Rev. David Lashbrook delivered his farewell sermon at St. Marychurch in Torquay in southwestern England, the Associated Press reports. He said he believes the Anglican Church’s General Synod is “trying to make the church conform to the culture rather than being faithful to new life found in Jesus Christ.”
Mary Huntington, press officer for the Catholic Diocese of Brentwood in the area of east London, said that 241 adults and children, including seven priests, will enter the Catholic Church there.
The entering Anglicans will not be able to receive Communion until they are Confirmed shortly before Easter. Former Anglican priests will be ordained at Pentecost.
Rev. Simon Chinery, a curate at two Anglican churches in Plymouth, said he felt “a sense of peace, a sense of excitement and some nervousness” as he prepared to join the Catholic Church.
He said Pope Benedict had made the process for Anglicans wanting to join the Catholic Church easier. In his view, the Church previously had admitted them “stealthily” through “a side entrance,” but now “the front door has been thrown open and the welcome mat laid out.”
Other clergy and congregations are still considering whether to join the Catholic Church.
Howard Dobson, spokesman for the Church of England’s Archbishops’ Council, said that about two dozen of the church’s 22,000 ordained clergy have decided to join the ordinariate at present. The church claims 1.7 million active members, but it does not keep track of laity who leave.