Three former Church of England bishops who are opposed to the consecration of women bishops were ordained as Roman Catholic priests on Saturday, the first traditionalist Anglicans to take up an offer by Pope Benedict.
The three bishops were ordained at Westminster Cathedral in central London during a ceremony carried out by the head of the Roman Catholic Church in England and Wales, the Archbishop of Westminster, Vincent Nichols.
They became the founding members of the world's first ordinariate, a Church subdivision proposed by the pope in 2009 to let traditionalists convert while keeping some Anglican traditions.
About 50 priests and 30 groups of parishioners from the Anglican mother church, the Church of England, are expected to follow in the first wave and enter full communion with Rome.
Defections by traditionalists were triggered by the Church of England's decision last year to consecrate women bishops.
"This is a unique moment and the Catholic community in England and Wales is privileged to be playing its part in this historic development in the life of the Universal Church," Nichols said in a statement ahead of the ordination.
In a homily during the ordination, the three were told they had an "important and demanding future."
Other groups of Anglicans in Australia and North America have expressed interest in the pope's offer, and other ordinariates are expected to be established in other parts of the world.
The pope's offer caused tension between Rome and the Church of England, where many felt the announcement was handled badly and sidelined their spiritual head, the Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams.
Differences appeared to be smoothed over however during the first state papal visit to England and Wales last September when he was received warmly by Williams.
The Catholic Church has set up a fund of 250,000 pounds to help support the new ordinariate, which will be called the Personal Ordinariate of our Lady of Walsingham. Their patron will be the 19th century English convert John Henry Newman, whose beatification was proclaimed by the pope during his trip.
Those moving over to Rome are likely to have to share church buildings with their local diocesan Catholic church.
The three bishops, John Broadhurst, Andrew Burnham and Keith Newton, had to be ordained as Catholic priests because the Vatican does not recognise Anglican ordinations. Two retired bishops are set to follow.
The three will oversee the spiritual preparation of like-minded Anglican priests and lay people for their reception into the church in the spring.
"I do not see my reception into the Catholic Church as a radical break but part of the on-going pilgrimage of faith which began at my baptism," Newton, who will head up the ordinariate," said in a statement.
Married Anglican priests will be accepted but married bishops cannot retain their higher status.
This story by Avril Ormsby can be found at uk.reuters.com.