I've arrived back in London to find that five Anglican bishops -- three serving and two retired -- have announced that they will be joining the Catholic Church next year via the ordinariate scheme - and presumably bringing priests and lay people in their tow. The Daily Telegraph estimates that around 500 people are planning to follow suit.
None of the five bishops has a diocese; one had already announced his intention to be received through the Ordinariate.
The Archbishop of Canterbury said today he was accepting "with regret" the resignations of two of the bishops under his control, Andrew Bunham and Keith Newton, after they decided "that their future in Christian ministry lies in the new structures proposed by the Vatican".
Their departure will leave in place just one of the four "flying bishops" tasked by the Church of England in 1992 with overseeing Anglo-Catholics who rejected the ordination of women. And it leaves the remaining "Anglo-papists" in a far weaker position within the Church of England.
The fact that the five bishops co-ordinated their announcement suggests they want to encourage others to take the step.
The bishops will continue to serve in the Church of England until the New Year, by which time the Ordinariate of England and Wales will have been announced -- although it probably won't receive canonical recognition until at least Easter next year.
The Church of England "is going off in its own way and making up its own rules and we therefore need to belong to the older body," Bishop Burnham of Ebbsfleet (pictured) told BBC television.
Another of the exiles, the leader of Forward in Faith, Bishop John Broadhurst of Fulham, had already announced last month his intention to join the ordinariate.
The other two bishops are Edwin Barnes, former bishop of Richborough, and David Silk, former Bishop of Ballarat in Australia.
The Catholic bishops of England and Wales have issued a statement saying they welcomed the decision, and will next week be "exploring the establishment of the ordinariate".
The Vatican is expected to issue a statement on 12 November, when the English and Welsh bishops are expected to make a more detailed announcement about the timing of the future ordinariate, expected to be named after the Blessed John Henry Newman.
[UIPDATE] The five bishops have issued the following statement:
Like many in the catholic tradition of Anglicanism, we have followed the dialogue between Anglicans and Catholics, the ARCIC process, with prayer and longing. We have been dismayed, over the last thirty years, to see Anglicans and Catholics move further apart on some of the issues of the day, and particularly we have been distressed by developments in Faith and Order in Anglicanism which we believe to be incompatible with the historic vocation of Anglicanism and the tradition of the Church for nearly two thousand years.
The Apostolic Constitution Anglicanorum cœtibus, given in Rome on 4th November 2009, was a response to Anglicans seeking unity with the Holy See. With the Ordinariates, canonical structures are being established through which we will bring our own experience of Christian discipleship into full communion with the Catholic Church throughout the world and throughout the ages. This is both a generous response to various approaches to the Holy See for help and a bold, new ecumenical instrument in the search for the unity of Christians, the unity for which Christ himself prayed before his Passion and Death. It is a unity, we believe, which is possible only in eucharistic communion with the successor of St Peter.
As bishops, we have even-handedly cared for those who have shared our understanding and those who have taken a different view. We have now reached the point, however, where we must formally declare our position and invite others who share it to join us on our journey. We shall be ceasing, therefore, from public episcopal ministry forthwith, resigning from our pastoral responsibilities in the Church of England with effect from 31st December 2010, and seeking to join an Ordinariate once one is created.
We remain very grateful for all that the Church of England has meant for us and given to us all these years and we hope to maintain close and warm relationships, praying and working together for the coming of God’s Kingdom.
For those wanting more of this story, there is huge number of links to statements and reports here.