LONDON — Three Church of England bishops traveled to Rome last week for talks with Vatican officials about joining the Catholic Church, according to two of the bishops involved.
The bishops told the Associated Press they went to the Vatican to find out more about Pope Benedict XVI’s decision to invite disaffected Anglicans to join the Catholic Church — a sensitive issue that has roiled relations between the two denominations and threatens to overshadow the pontiff’s visit to London later this year.
The Vatican’s spokesman said he had no information about the meeting.
The Rev. Keith Newton, the bishop of Richborough, said the trip consisted of “nothing more than exploratory talks’’ and denied a report in The Sunday Telegraph that he and his colleagues had secretly promised the Vatican they were ready to defect to Rome.
“No decisions have been made,’’ Newton said.
The Vatican shocked many Britons last year when it unveiled plans to make it easier for traditional Anglicans upset over female priests and gay bishops to join the Catholic Church. The two issues have already pushed the Anglican Communion to the edge of a schism, and the Vatican’s intervention prompted some critics to say that Rome was poaching for converts at a vulnerable time for the 80 million-strong religious body.
Benedict has defended the decision, saying the invitation was made in the spirit of ecumenism.
While the offer has yet to be taken up en masse, it has been warmly welcomed by several traditionalist bishops, including Newton, who traveled to Rome two years ago following the Church of England’s decision to proceed with the ordination of women to the episcopate. Newton was joined in his most recent trip by the Rev. Andrew Burnham, the bishop of Ebbsfleet, and the Rev. John Broadhurst, the bishop of Fulham.