BY MURRAY WHITE
THE BISHOPS OF England and Wales have opted unanimously to ease the path to conversion of disaffected Anglicans, Cardinal Basil Hume revealed last week.
In their statement, the bishops said for the first time that groups of Anglicans would be allowed to stay together for a temporary period, not just before and during their reception but also afterwards. The aim was still "eventual total integration", the Cardinal said.
"It remains an open question. An Anglican minister could remain with his flock while going through his own formation," he said .
The bishops'statement, made after their November meeting, went further than the cautious line taken at their Low Week Conference in April. The Cardinal unveiled practical arrangements which gave a "warm welcome" to Anglican converts.
But at the press conference at Ambrosden House he acknowledged that more thorough arrangements would be necessary in the event of a large number of conversions. "The picture of 4,000 Anglicans marching down Ambrosden Avenue is not something that we have faced. If that were to happen, we would have to sit down and study the implications," he said.
More than 150 Anglican clergy have so far approached the Catholic hierarchy to enquire about the possibility of "moving to Rome", the Cardinal confirmed after the Bishops' November Meeting.
If the plans are wellreceived in Anglican quarters, the actual number of conversions, resulting from the Church of England decision a year ago to ordain women, could be many times that number. The Minister of Agriculture, John Gummer, and the former Anglican Bishop of London, Dr Graham Leonard, are expected to be among the converts.
Bishop Leonard told the Catholic Herald: " I very much appreciate this recent statement by Cardinal Hume and find it most encouraging. I was especially glad to see it was unanimous'.
The Cardinal is to fly to Rome next Friday, together with Bishops Alan Clark, Cormac Murphy-O'Connor and Vincent Nichols, to discuss the plans with the Pope and leading Vatican officials. On the agenda will be the "sensitive" question of the ordination of former Anglicans who are married, and in particular of Bishop Leonard.
Cardinal Hume moved quickly this week to dismiss suggestions that the former Bishop of London would be made a bishop upon entry into the Catholic Church. The Cardinal told the Catholic Herald: "The possible reception of Bishop Leonard will be among the issues discussed in Rome with the Pope. There never has been any question of him acting as a