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Vatican welcome to Anglicans boldest move since Reformation

The Vatican on Tuesday opened the way for Anglican communities to switch allegiance en masse. Hundreds of thousands of Anglicans angry over the church's liberal stance on women and gays may convert.

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Britain's Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, left, from the Anglican church listens as Archbishop of Westminster Vincent Nichols from the Roman Catholic Church speaks during a news conference in London, held in reaction to the announcement of a new church structure for Anglicans who want to join the Catholic Church, Tuesday.

Matt Dunham/AP

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The Vatican launched an historic initiative Tuesday to make it easier for disgruntled Anglicans worldwide to join the Roman Catholic Church. The church said the move was not a swipe at the Anglicans but it could nevertheless result in hundreds of thousands of churchgoers unhappy with openly gay and female clerics defecting to Rome.

Pope Benedict XVI gave his approval to a new framework to bring back into the fold Anglicans who oppose their church's liberal stance on gay marriage and the ordination of women priests and gay bishops while allowing them to retain some of their separate religious traditions.

The move comes nearly 500 years after Henry VIII's desire for a divorce led him to break with Rome and proclaim himself as the head of the newly formed Church of England in 1534. The framework is the Vatican's most sweeping gesture toward any schismatic church since the Protestant Reformation in the 16th century and the Thirty Years' War that followed it in the 17th century. That war ended with the Peace of Westphalia in 1648, which acknowledged the right of monarchs rather than the Vatican to determine their national faiths, prompting Pope Innocent X to declare the document "null, void, invalid, iniquitous, unjust, damnable, reprobate, inane, empty of meaning and effect for all time."

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