LONDON – Three former Anglican bishops were ordained as Catholic priests Saturday, becoming the first ex-bishops to take advantage of a new Vatican system designed to make it easier for Anglicans to embrace Roman Catholicism.
The crowded ceremony at Westminster Cathedral in London made priests of former bishops Keith Newton, Andrew Burnham and John Broadhurst, Anglicans who had been unhappy with the church's direction.
The three declined to comment after the ordination presided over by the Most Rev. Vincent Nichols, Catholic leader in England and Wales.
Nichols called the ordination service a landmark event.
"Many ordinations have take place in this cathedral during the 100 years of its history, but none quite like this," he said. "Today is a unique occasion marking a new step in the life and history of the Catholic Church."
The groundbreaking ceremony was made possible by a 2009 ruling by the Vatican allowing Anglicans worldwide to join the Roman Catholic Church and still adhere to many Anglican traditions.
Vatican officials devised the new policy without consulting Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, the spiritual leader of the global Anglican church.
The new system is designed to entice traditionalist Anglicans opposed to women priests, openly gay clergy, the blessing of same-sex unions and other controversial policies that have caused a deep schism within the church.
Until it was put in place, disaffected Anglicans had joined the Roman Catholic Church primarily on a case-by-case basis.