By a unanimous vote, the Anglo-Catholic group Forward in Faith Australia has established a working party guided by a Catholic bishop to explore how its followers can convert to Roman Catholicism.
The group, which also has members in Britain and the United States, is believed to be the first within the Anglican Church to accept Pope Benedict XVI’s offer to create an Anglican Ordinariate, the Daily Telegraph reports.
The Ordinariate, a form of ecclesiastical jurisdiction, will enable Anglicans to enter full communion with the Catholic Church while retaining parts of their spiritual heritage.
Bishop David Robarts, chairman of Forward in Faith Australia (FIFA), said members felt excluded by the Anglican Church in Australia, which had not provided them with a bishop to represent their views on homosexuality and women bishops.
"In Australia we have tried for a quarter of a decade to get some form of episcopal oversight but we have failed," he told the Daily Telegraph. "We're not really wanted any more, our conscience is not being respected."
Bishop Robarts, 77, said it had become clear Anglicans who did not believe in same-sex partnerships or the consecration of women as bishops had no place in the “broader Anglican spectrum.”
“We're not shifting the furniture, we're simply saying that we have been faithful Anglicans upholding what Anglicans have always believed,” he continued. “We're not wanting to change anything, but we have been marginalized by people who want to introduce innovations.”
“We need to have bishops that believe what we believe," he added, saying that converting to Rome would allow the group to retain their Anglican culture without sacrificing their beliefs.
The unanimous vote to investigate the establishment of an Ordinariate was held last Saturday at a Special General Meeting of FIFA at All Saints Kooyong in Melbourne.
The meeting issued a statement saying it received with “great gratitude” Pope Benedict XVI’s Apostolic Constitution proposing the Ordinariate. It also expressed commitment to care and support those who feel unable to be received into the Ordinariate.
The FIFA meeting “warmly welcomed” the appointment of Bishop Peter Elliott as a delegate of the Australian Catholic Bishops’ Conference. It also established a working group called Friends of the Australian Ordinariate, inviting FIFA members and other interested persons to provide their names and addresses to the group.
Bishop Robarts said his group was the first Forward In Faith branch to embrace Pope Benedict’s offer so strongly. Other Anglo-Catholics are waiting to see if the Anglican Church will allow them significant concessions on the introduction of women bishops, such as a male-only diocese.
The Traditional Anglican Communion, which has already broken away from the Anglican Communion, is another group to have declared that its members will become Catholic under the Apostolic Constitution.
In other Anglo-Catholic news, Telegraph reporter Damian Thompson reported on Feb. 17 that the former assistant Anglican Bishop of Newcastle Paul Richardson was received into full communion with the Church in January. He served as an Anglican bishop in Papua New Guinea and was diocesan bishop of Wangaratta in Australia.
Richardson said he was not planning to join the Ordinariate but has not ruled out ordination as a Catholic priest.