By ROBERT BARR
The Associated Press
Tuesday, March 15, 2011; 10:07 AM
LONDON -- About 900 members of the Church of England have taken the first step toward becoming Catholics, the Roman Catholic Church in England and Wales said Tuesday.
The converts participated in a Rite of Election, the first step toward confirmation, over the weekend, the church said.
They will be joining the Personal Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham, established by Pope Benedict XVI to receive Anglicans who increasingly have felt isolated since the Church of England decided in 1992 to ordain women as priests.
Tensions have grown as the governing General Synod moves to allow women to become bishops while denying any specific protection for traditionalists. Converts joining the ordinariate will be allowed to keep some Anglican liturgy and traditions.
The largest number, some 240, were reported in the diocese of Brentwood east of London, followed by 167 in the south London diocese of Southwark and 100 in Birmingham. The Catholic agency says converts included 61 former Church of England priests.
"I am greatly encouraged that these people will be received into the Catholic Church at Easter as members of the Ordinariate," said Father Keith Newton, the priest in charge of the new group.
The Church of England has 22,000 clergy and claims 1.7 million active members.
Benedict caught Catholic and Anglican leaders in England by surprise in October 2009 when he gave them very late notice of his announcement that he was creating the ordinariate.
The ordinariate takes its name from an 11th-century vision by a woman in Walsingham in eastern England, who claimed the Virgin Mary led her in spirit to Nazareth to see the place where the Bible says an angel told Mary she would bear a son.