Page last updated at 14:55 GMT, Thursday, 10 July 2008 15:55 UK

Bishop 'ready to defect to Rome'

Bishop of Ebbsfleet, the Right Reverend Andrew Burnham
Bishop Burnham said the rules of the game had changed

An Anglican bishop has said he is prepared to convert to Roman Catholicism after the General Synod voted to allow women bishops.

The traditionalist Bishop of Ebbsfleet has asked the Pope, as well as Catholic leaders in England and Wales, to help him and his parishes defect to Rome.

The Right Reverend Andrew Burnham said objectors within the Church of England were feeling "shipwrecked".

He said: "We are floating in the water looking for someone to rescue us."

A Church of England group is drawing up a code of practice to reassure critics after the Synod vote earlier this week.

The Synod voted in favour of consecrating women and against safeguards demanded by traditionalists opposed to the move.

If you are in the water you just hope that help will come, you can't actually engage in the luxury of wondering what form the help will come in
The Rt Rev Andrew Burnham

Following the vote the Vatican said the result would create an "obstacle" to reconciliation between Anglicans and Catholics.

The Roman Catholic church does not ordain women.

Writing in the Catholic Herald the bishop called for "magnanimous gestures from our Catholic friends, especially from the Holy Father, who well understand our longing for unity and from the hierarchy in England and Wales".

"Most of all we ask for ways that allow us to bring our folk with us," he wrote.

Bishop Burnham hopes entire parishes under his care will convert but be allowed to remain worshipping in their existing churches under the supervision of Catholic bishops.

He told BBC Radio Four's The World at One he did not know what form the help would take, but was awaiting a response from Rome.

"If you are in the water you just hope that help will come, you can't actually engage in the luxury of wondering what form the help will come in."

'Sexist ghettos'

When asked if he had considered converting to Roman Catholicism he said: "That would be me, on my own, doing what might be right for me. I have a care for people who are trying to live out conscientiously the Catholic faith as they understand it, within the Church of England.

"That is becoming increasingly difficult, and will become impossible, and I want to help them as well."

But he said ultimately people would have to make individual decisions "because no one becomes a Catholic as part of a group".

The Church of England's draft of the code of practice will be put before the General Synod in February.

Bishop Burnham said some objectors would no doubt take part in the discussions.

"But we are not objecting to women as such, we are objecting to the way the Church of England decides to make decisions on behalf of the Church.

"It's a very small fragment of the Church... and we say that it that it simply doesn't have the authority to make fundamental changes in the Bible, in the sacraments, in the creeds or in the ministry."

He said all a code of practice can provide is "sexist ghettos" in which people could "engage in (their) own prejudices", which he said was not their objective.

They had all "prayed for clarity" with the vote, he said.

"In the end you can't both have women bishops and not have women bishops. You've either got to decide to have them or not."

"What happens to people like me who believe the Church can't make that decision? What do you do if you are playing in a game of football and someone picks up the ball and runs?

"They've changed the game. The game in a sense is over and you have to see what to do next."

A final vote on the issue of women bishops is still several years away.

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