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Pope Benedict XVI has approved a document that will make it easier for Anglicans to join the Roman Catholic Church. The move comes after years of discontent in the Anglican community about the liberal attitudes of some parts of the church toward women priests and homosexual bishops.
With a new apostolic constitution, the highest form of pontifical decree, set to be published in the next few weeks, Pope Benedict has created a new church structure for Anglicans who want to join the Roman Catholic Church.
Vatican observers say the provision is a response to the disillusionment of some Anglicans over the ordination of women, the election of openly gay bishops and the blessing of same-sex unions.
U.S. Cardinal William Levada presented the new legal entity at the Vatican. He is head of the Vatican's office for the doctrine of the faith. Cardinal Levada said the new structure is a response to the many requests that have reached the Vatican over the years.
He added that Anglicans will be able to maintain their Anglican identity and many of their liturgical traditions.
"It is the hope of the Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI that the Anglican clergy and faithful who desire union with the Catholic Church will find in this canonical structure the opportunity to preserve those Anglican traditions precious to them and consistent with the Catholic faith," he said.
Cardinal Levada added the new canonical provision will allow married Anglican priests to become ordained Catholic priests. But, married Anglicans will not be able to become Catholic bishops.
Although no figures were made available by the Vatican on the number of requests that have reached the Vatican, hundreds of thousands of Anglicans are expected to join the Catholic Church, following the announcement of the new provision.
It will be the first time since the Reformation in the 16th century that communities of Anglicans reunite with the church in Rome.
It is unclear how the Vatican announcement would be received by the Anglican Communion (churches worldwide) or how it would affect ecumenical talks.