LONDON -- Three former Anglican bishops were received into the Catholic Church just hours after they officially gave up their ministries in the Church of England.
Bishops Andrew Burnham of Ebbsfleet, John Broadhurst of Fulham and Keith Newton of Richborough will be soon ordained as priests for a special Anglican ordinariate that will be set up in England later in January.
Their resignations took effect at midnight Dec. 31, and they were received into the Catholic Church the afternoon of Jan. 1 during a Mass in London's Westminster Cathedral.
They will be ordained as Catholic deacons at Allen Hall seminary, London, Jan. 13, then as priests at a ceremony in the cathedral Jan. 15. They will be incardinated into the English ordinariate, which is expected to be formed by papal decree the second week of January, when Pope Benedict XVI is also expected to appoint an ordinary.
The ordinariate will be the first to be created since the pope issued the apostolic constitution "Anglicanorum coetibus" Nov. 4, 2009, to allow the group reception of disaffected Anglo-Catholics into the Catholic Church.
Similar in structure to a military diocese, it permits former Anglicans to retain much of the patrimony and liturgical practices, such as married priests.
Also received into the church at the Jan. 1 Mass were Judi Broadhurst, the wife of the former bishop of Fulham, and Gill Newton, the wife of the former bishop of Richborough.
Three former Anglican nuns -- Sr. Carolyne Joseph, Sr. Wendy Renate and Sr. Jane Louise -- who had left the Sisters of St. Margaret to join the ordinariate, were also received into the church during the Mass, along with an unspecified number of former lay Anglicans.
The Mass was celebrated by Auxiliary Bishop Alan Hopes of Westminster, the most senior former Anglican priest in the Catholic Church in England and Wales.
The ceremony was not publicized by the Catholic authorities and was described by witnesses as "low-key."
One of them, Fr. Sean Finnegan, a Catholic priest from Shoreham by Sea in southern England, wrote on his blog later that the former bishops wore suits and ties.
After they were received into the faith they were given the sacrament of confirmation and "returned to their places to gentle applause," Finnegan wrote.
"One of the sisters, descending the steps, grinned at the congregation and gave two thumbs up," he said.
The three former bishops were among five who in November declared their intention to join the forthcoming ordinariate. The other two had already retired but will be ordained Catholic priests by Lent.
The ordinariate is initially expected to include of about 50 former Anglican bishops and clergy and hundreds of lay worshippers divided into about 30 groups.
Most will be received into the Catholic Church during Holy Week in April after undergoing an intensive period of instruction.
Anglican pastors who wish to become Catholic will be ordained and incardinated into the ordinariate by Pentecost, June 12.
Most former Anglican groups will be encouraged to share church buildings with their local Catholic parishes.
Discussions to form possible personal ordinariates in the United States, Canada and Australia are also in progress.