The process will allow groups of Anglicans, including bishops and married priests, to join the Catholic Church some 450 years after King Henry VIII broke from
The number of Anglicans wishing to join the Catholic Church has increased in recent years as the Anglican church has welcomed the ordination of women and openly gay clergy and blessed homosexual partnerships, said Cardinal William Joseph Levada, the head of the
Their talks with the
"The Catholic Church is responding to the many requests that have been submitted to the Holy See from groups of Anglican clergy and faithful in different parts of the world who wish to enter into full visible communion," Levada said.
Levada said "hundreds" of Anglicans around the world have expressed their desire to join the Catholic Church. Among them are 50 Anglican bishops, said Archbishop Joseph Augustine Di Noia of the Congregation of the Divine Cult.
The Anglicans will be able to retain their Anglican rites while recognizing the pope as their leader,
While married Anglican priests may be ordained as Catholic priests, the same does not apply to married Anglican bishops, Levada said.
"We've been praying for this unity for 40 years and we've not anticipated it happening now," Di Noia said. "The Holy Spirit is at work here."
The Church of England said the move ends a "period of uncertainty" for Anglican groups who wanted more unity with the Catholic Church.
Both groups have a "substantial overlap in faith, doctrine and spirituality" and will continue to hold official dialogues, the archbishops of
"Those Anglicans who have approached the Holy See have made clear their desire for full, visible unity in the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church," Levada said. "At the same time, they have told us of the importance of their Anglican traditions of spirituality and worship for their faith journey."
Preserving Anglican traditions, such as mass rites, adds to the diversity of the Catholic Church, he said.
"The unity of the church does not require a uniformity that ignores cultural diversity, as the history of Christianity shows," he said. "Moreover, the many diverse traditions present in the Catholic Church today are all rooted in the principle articulated by