In a Channel 4 News interview, one of the five Church of England bishops preparing to defect to Rome compares his old church to the Titanic.
The Bishop of Fulham, the Rt Rev John Broadhurst, said the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, had “a very difficult job”.
“He is leading a communion which is torn apart. And nobody wants to be captain of the Titanic when it hits the iceberg,” he added.
The Roman Catholic Church confirmed that three serving bishops and two retired bishops had decided to enter into “full communion” with the Catholic Church through the personal ordinariate.
“Nobody wants to be captain of the Titanic when it hits the iceberg.” Rt Rev John Broadhurst, Bishop of Fulham
The scheme, announced last year by the Vatican, allows Anglicans to join the Roman Catholic Church while maintaining aspects of their spiritual heritage.
As well as Bishop Broadhurst, Rt Rev Andrew Burnham, Bishop of Ebbsfleet, and the Rt Rev Keith Newton, Bishop of Richborough, will defect.
They will be joined by the Rt Rev Edwin Barnes, former bishop of Richborough, and the Rt Rev David Silk, former Bishop of Ballarat in Australia.
The decision by the five bishops comes after the General Synod of the Church of England decided to press ahead this summer with the ordination of women bishops without safeguards demanded by traditionalists.
This was in spite of threats of a walkout by Anglo-Catholic and conservative evangelical groupings within the Church of England over the issue.
The Rt Rev Burnham and the Rt Rev Newton are both so-called “flying bishops” who minister to Church of England parishes where congregations have voted not to allow a woman priest to preside at services.
The Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, said he accepted the resignations of the Rt Rev Burnham and the Rt Rev Newton with “regret.”
“I have today with regret accepted the resignations of Bishops Andrew Burnham and Keith Newton who have decided that their future in Christian ministry lies in the new structures proposed by the Vatican,” he said.
One of the leading liberals in the Church of England – the canon of St Paul’s Cathedral, Rev Giles Fraser – told Channel 4 News that if the five genuinely felt their home was elsewhere they would leave with his blessing – but, asked about Bishop Broadhurst’s comparison with the Titanic, he said he felt they should leave “with more grace”.
Bishop Alan Hopes, Roman Catholic auxiliary bishop in the Westminster Diocese, said: “We welcome the decision of bishops Andrew Burnham, Keith Newton, John Broadhurst, Edwin Barnes and David Silk to enter into full communion with the Catholic Church through the ordinariate for England and Wales, which will be established under the provisions of the Apostolic Constitution Anglicanorum Coetibus.
“At our plenary meeting next week, the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales will be exploring the establishment of the ordinariate and the warm welcome we will be extending to those who seek to be part of it.”
It also emerged last month that the parochial church council (PCC) of St Peter’s Church of England parish in Folkestone had voted to join the ordinariate.