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UK Catholics say 5 Anglican bishops converting

LONDON --Five Church of England bishops announced Monday they are converting to Catholicism following an invitation to disaffected Anglicans from Pope Benedict XVI -- the highest-profile defectors among conservatives opposed to gay bishops and female clergy.

The Catholic Bishops' Conference of England and Wales said Bishop of Ebbsfleet Andrew Burnham, Bishop of Richborough Keith Newton, Bishop of Fulham John Broadhurst -- as well as retired bishops Edwin Barnes and David Silk -- have decided "to enter into full communion with the Catholic Church."

Burnham and Newton are "flying bishops," who minister to Church of England parishes where congregations have voted not to allow a woman priest to preside at services.

Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, spiritual leader of the world's Anglicans, said he had accepted the resignations of Burnham and Newton, "with regret."

"We wish them well in this next stage of their service to the Church," he said.

Broadhurst, leader of the traditionalist group Forward in Faith, announced his intention to leave the Church of England last month, accusing the Anglican church of being "fascist in its behavior" and marginalizing those opposed to the ordination of women.

The Vatican moved last year to make it easier for traditional Anglicans upset over the appointment of female priests and gay bishops to join the Catholic Church, whose teaching holds that homosexual activity is sinful.

The pope invited Anglicans to join new "personal ordinariates," which allow them to continue to use some of their traditional liturgy and be served by married priests.

Differences over the elevation of gay clergy have caused turmoil within the Anglican Communion, an association of churches with 80 million members in about 160 countries. Some conservatives have quit in protest, while the U.S. Episcopal Church -- the branch of the Anglican Communion in the United States -- has appointed two gay bishops since 2003.

Williams has tried with limited to success to keep his fractious communion together through compromise.

The bishops' conversion follows a decision in July by the Church of England to press ahead with the ordination of female bishops without safeguards demanded by traditionalists.

The five bishops said in a statement that they were "distressed" by developments in Anglicanism "which we believe to be incompatible with the historic vocation of Anglicanism and the tradition of the Church for nearly 2,000 years."

They said they would be resigning from all Church of England pastoral responsibilities at the end of the year "and seeking to join an Ordinariate once one is created."

The Vatican confirmed that the bishops were joining the Catholic church and said the new structure was still under study. 

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