Over 500 Church of England clergy are meeting today to consider the Pope's offer for them to join their own section of the Roman Catholic Church. But sceptics point out that false claims of a 'mass exodus' have been made before.
Some 400 Anglican clerics opposed to women priests left the Church of England when the decision to ordain women was first taken in the 1990s. But around 30 later returned, having discovered that Rome does not tolerate dissent of the kind they had been used to practising, and predictions of thousands leaving the mother church of the 77 million Anglican Communion - which are now being made again - proved false.
Following the Vatican's latest move, which was taken without even informing the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, some hardline anti-women and anti-gay priests in the Church of England are said to feel ""flattered" by Rome's attention and by the possibility of being allowed to maintain some of their liturgical and other practices.
Catholic campaigners for reform are less keen about a new faction of what they would see as reactionaries in the Church, though they point out that ironically, an influx of married Anglican priests may re-open the celibacy debate that Pope Benedict has so far refused.
Today, former archbishop Lord Carey, a conservative evangelical who actively supported the cause of women in the priesthood, has denounced the "discourtesy" of Rome's move.
"I think in this day and age this was inexcusable that Rome decided to do this without consultation," he said.
However, to many in the Vatican, whose church claims 1.2 billion adherents worldwide, Anglicanism has always been a small and curious phenomenon - infinitely less important than its own structures, pretensions and elaborate infighting might suggest.
The official Catholic view is that Anglican priestly orders are "null and void" and that even the Archbishop of Canterbury is "a dubiously baptised layman".
Many Anglicans see themselves as helping to unite Protestant and Catholic traditions within the global church. But the Church of England's commitment to wider ecumenism has waned significantly in recent years and Rome is persistent in its view that Christian unity must involve recognition of its primacy.
Now one of the leaders of the Forward in Faith group has declared that he had been intending to join the Roman Catholic Church anyway.
Father Geoffrey Kirk declared: "It will be my intention whatever happens to become a Roman Catholic. I am close to retirement, and I may well choose to defer my retirement in order to see that my parish transfers itself to the Roman jurisdiction, as well as myself."
Critics say that the claims of defending "Anglican tradition", frequently made by hardline Catholic and some Evangelical factions in the Church of England, have always been misleading, as Kirk's pronouncement confirms to them, and they advise potential recruits to the Catholic Church "to read the small print".
Priests from Forward in Faith are unhappy about the way women bishops are being introduced into the Church of England and want male ghettos and privileges to be maintained.
They will now have to decide how to respond to Pope Benedict's invitation.