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The Deacon's Bench

Pope Benedict’s historic outreach to Anglicans continues to make history — and make waves:

Anglicans who defect to Rome in protest at plans to ordain women bishops could be allowed to continue worshipping in their Church of England buildings, a leading official said today.

Hundreds of priests and parishioners are expected to take up the Pope’s offer to convert to Roman Catholicism and join a new body for Anglicans who disagree with the ordination of women bishops when it is established next year.

Church authorities have insisted that defectors will not be able to retain their parish buildings when they leave the Anglican family.

But today the Church’s most senior official, William Fittall, raised the prospect of a historic compromise.

Mr Fittall, secretary general of the General Synod, said it would be “entirely possible” for those who convert to Roman Catholicism to be allowed to share their former churches with Anglicans who remain in the Church of England.

Speaking ahead of a meeting of the General Synod, the Church’s “parliament”, later this month, Mr Fittall said: “It would be a matter for the local Anglican bishop concerned whether he was content for that to be the case.”

Church buildings in some areas are already shared with other denominations, such as Baptists and Methodists, he said.

Many Anglican churches were originally built centuries ago as places of worship for Catholics. In some cases, sharing facilities could allow Roman Catholics to worship in historic English churches for the first time since the Reformation.

The move could also provide necessary financial help for parishes that decide to lease churches to Roman Catholic congregations for a fee. More than 12,000 Anglican churches are listed and many struggle to raise funds for essential maintenance.

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