Rome refuses to comment on 'secret' Anglican meetings


SENIOR VATICAN spokesman Fr Federico Lombardi was yesterday unable to confirm UK media speculation that leading Church of England bishops held a series of secret “conversion” meetings with advisers to Pope Benedict XVI in the Vatican last week. Other senior Vatican officials claimed to have no knowledge of such meetings.

Reports in yesterday’s online editions of the Daily Telegraphand the Daily Mailclaimed the Bishop of Fulham, the Rt Rev John Broadhurst; the Bishop of Richborough, the Rt Rev Keith Newton; and the Bishop of Ebbsfleet, the Rt Rev Andrew Burnham were involved in meetings with the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith last week.

The scope of the meetings was to discuss future Anglican conversions “en masse” to Rome with the bishops reportedly informing the Vatican that many Church of England clergy are keen to defect to Rome.

Were it not for the fact that all three bishops are well-known “traditionalists” – the Bishop of Fulham is the chairman of the Forward In Faith movement, noted for its opposition to the ordination of women to the Anglican priesthood and to liberal Anglican views on homosexuality – these reports might be easily dismissed. However, in the wake of the Holy See’s decision last November to create new ecclesiastical structures for disaffected, traditionalist Anglicans, the reports may not be without foundation.

Even if the reports prove untrue, they represent yet another indication of the “climate” surrounding the pope’s visit to the UK in September. In the last month, “Protest The Pope” and “Arrest The Pope” campaigns have been initiated, while last week a leaked foreign office memo contained a number of offensive proposals for the pope during the visit.

Confirmation that the traditionalist Anglicans have been in the Vatican in recent days could well increase Anglican-Catholic tensions, heightening suspicions that the Catholic Church does indeed want to enact a “dawn raid” on the Anglican Communion.