A while back the Pope offered Anglicans disgruntled with liberal developments within the greater communion - in particular the ordination of women and the church's stance towards homosexuality - the option of easy conversion to the Catholic faith whilst allowing them to retain a distinct identity. It prompted a heated exchange of words between Rome and the Archbishop of Canterbury, the latter rightly perceiving it to be an opportunistic attempt by the Papal authorities to gain followers from a rival at risk of schism despite itself being mired in an arguably much more serious and institutionalised global child abuse scandal.
Five Anglican bishops have now declared that they intend to take Benedict up on his offer and become Roman Catholics. All five had been known for their conservative religious sympathies - three are currently serving as 'flying bishops', ministering to Church of England parishes where congregations voted not to allow a woman priest to preside at services - and as a result their conversion has not caused great surprise. That none of them are in charge of a diocese has also minimised the immediate short-term impact.
But there are fears that this could form merely the preamble to a larger exodus of High Church Anglo-Catholics dissatisfied with Anglican liberalisation. Rowan Williams has already expressed 'regret' at the resignations and he will no doubt be concerned at this latest development in the ongoing saga that is seemingly the Anglican Communion's permanent state of affairs.
What is perhaps most surprising, however, is that such a conservative brand of religious belief - one that argues that women are incapable of leading congregations, that homosexuals are inherently evil and that has seemingly done everything in its power to cover up the abuse of children in its care all over the world - can be so attractive to nominal protestants. One wonders why they were ever a part of the Church of England in the first place.