by Vivienne Hewitt in Rome ACCORDING to Vatican reports, a group of about 100 Anglican priests and their parishioners are ready to break away from the Church of England over the issue of women bishops and priests.
The group was last week preparing to ask Pope John Paul to create a personal prelature for them and nominate a bishop to guide them, sources said.
The protesters are said to be ready to guarantee recognition of the Roman Pontiff's Primacy as well as papal infallibility.
The Vatican is not yet commenting on the claims except to point out that such a step would not be new.
In 1980 a group of convert American Episcopalians were granted a separate status, independent of the local bishop, by the Pope.
The newly emerged 100 are reported to have made tentative .enquirie ith the Rome hierarchy about the possibility of becoming a personal prelature answerable to the Pope, rather than to local bishops along the lines of that granted to Opus Dei in 1982.
There are no details on the group's origins, but Vatican officials said the Pope would be extremely cautious before taking any decision which may aggravate the delicate balance of relations between Rome and the Church of England.
Over the past few months Anglo-Catholic negotiators have been taking advice from Catholic Canon Law experts on how to set up a personal prelature which organisers of the breakaway movement hope will retain adequate links with Canterbury, but at the same time distance its members from moves to ordain women priests and consecrate them bishops.
In contrast to concern at Anglican proposals on the role of women in the church which has impeded unity discussions between Rome and Canterbury, this latest offer was reportedly welcomed in Rome.
"It is particularly important that this reconsideration came from Lambeth at no instigation by the Vatican", said Fr Kevin MacDonald of the Vatican Secretariat for Christian Unity.