Bridging a 475-year-old rift dating back to King Henry VIII's split with Rome, Pope Benedict XVI has made the historic decision to allow disaffected members of the Anglican communion to join the Catholic church. Converts would be allowed to keep many of their distinctive traditions. This has been called the "most sweeping gesture" the Vatican has made toward any schismatic church since the Reformation.

What does this mean? The 77-million member Anglican communion has been riven by conflict over ordaining women and gay clergy in recent years. The pope's decision could allow entire communities to leave the church, unraveling the attempts of Rowan Williams, Archbishop of Canterbury, to heal divisions. The biggest reactions are from England, where many writers are asking whether this will result in an exodus of Anglicans, and pondering how it could change the Catholic Church.

  • High Growth African Congregations May Split writes Nick Squires in the Christian Science Monitor. "The initiative was in response to years of lobbying by Anglicans who had become disenchanted with Anglican liberalism, a dissatisfaction which reached a crisis point in 2004 when the Episcopal Church in the United States ordained the first openly gay bishop, Gene Robinson of New Hampshire."
  • Archbishop Was Forced to Grin and Bear It, writes Ian Murray at National Review. "It may mean that the current Archbishop of Canterbury, has, in his desire to please everyone, presided over a schism that could prove fatal to his Church...There are signs, for instance, that His Grace had his arm twisted by the (Catholic) Archbishop of Westminster in their making a joint announcement."
  • Anglican Churches Will Slide Into Irrelevance, says Scott Richert at About.com's Catholic Blog. Richert gives a Catholic perspective, saying the Anglican church's embrace of liberal reforms is to blame. "A few observations: By endorsing this statement, especially the first paragraph ('accept the Petrine ministry as willed by Christ for his Church'), the archbishop of Canterbury has essentially signaled that the game is over. Those in the Anglican Communion who truly believe that the Church is meant to be one, and to have one visible head, now have no excuse not to return to Rome...Parts of the Anglican Communion will now enter into full communion with the Catholic Church, and the rest will see its long, slow slide into irrelevance pick up pace."
  • An Assertive Decree in the Interest of Worshipers, writes the editorial board of the Telegraph (UK). "The Pope's proposed high Anglican enclave within the Roman Catholic church offers a half-way home to those who will never be reconciled to the liberal reforms in the Anglican Communion - which might now avoid the schismatic clash that for so long has seemed inevitable over the ordination of women bishops. If that is now a less problematic issue for the Church of England, then Dr Williams may yet have cause to thank the Pope, even if he presently feels deeply aggrieved at the peremptory manner of this decree."
  • Solution to Catholic Clergy Problems, writes Andrew Brown at the Guardian. "For a start, this establishes a tradition of married Roman Catholic clergy in the west. The language, the services, and the gorgeous choral music of Anglicanism are more obviously attractive, but the real long term significance of this announcement is the talk about seminaries. Those who leave now will not be the last Anglican Catholics...If the former Anglicans can train up successors who will also be able to have wives, the Roman Catholic church may have found a way to escape the prospect of a largely gay priesthood to which the doctrine of compulsory celibacy appeared to condemn them. It is ironic that Anglican efforts to deal honestly with the problem of sexuality should have provided the Catholics with the excuse they needed to strike this decisive blow. God always did move in mysterious ways."