The decision by an Anglican parish in southeast England to leave the Church of England to become Roman Catholic has taken some by surprise.

The elected parochial church council of St Peter’s, Folkestone, southeast England, which has taken the unanimous decision to secede, is seeking a meeting with the Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, to discuss procedure.

Earlier this year Pope Benedict XVI offered special provisions for members of the Church of England unhappy with the prospect of female bishops.

The Rev. Stephen Bould, the parish vicar, and the church council said they regretted having to take such action and called for a smooth transition in the interest of both parties. Bould said he was proud of the courage and faith of the lay people concerned. He told journalists after the morning service on Oct. 17 he did not know how many of the congregation would join the Catholic Church.

He also said he did he know what would happen to the 150-year-old parish church or the school, although he added that it would be wonderful if it were possible for converts to continue worshipping in the building.

The Archbishop of Canterbury, in whose diocese St Peter’s is located, was in India and there was no comment from Lambeth Palace, the headquarters of the Church of England.

The Folkestone initiative was the first taken by Anglican lay people intent on converting as a group. It came as the Bishop of Fulham, John Broadhurst, told a conference of the traditionalist pressure group Forward in Faith on Oct. 16 he would resign before the end of 2010 and enter the Catholic enclave, known as the ordinariate, created for dissident Anglicans who will be allowed to retain some of their practices.

In an interview with the Sunday Telegraph newspaper, Bishop Broadhurst accused the Church of England of breaking promises to make provision for opponents of female bishops.

“I don’t feel I have any choice but to leave the church and take up the pope’s offer,” Broadhurst was quoted as saying. “The general synod (the church’s parliament) has become vindictive and vicious. It has been fascist in its behavior, marginalizing those who have been opposed to women’s ordination,” he said. “The pope generously made an offer providing a home for our Catholic heritage at the same time as the Church of England made it clear that it does not want us.”

Members of the last Church of England general synod decided in July there was no need to further delay legislation to create women bishops or to provide male alternatives for parishes opposed to change.

Robert Pigott, the religious affairs correspondent of BBC News, commented, “Although this early decision by St. Peter’s has taken observers somewhat by surprise, it shouldn’t be seen as evidence of a flood of parishes or even priests leaving for Rome.”