A GROUP of ex-Anglicans who converted to Catholicism last year have expressed their surprise and sadness at Pope Benedict's shock resignation.

Members of Darlington group of the Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham, the body into which former Anglicans are received when they convert, say they have special reason to thank the pontiff.

Father Ian Grieves, priest in residence at St Osmund's, Gainford, where the Ordinariate's Darlington group is based, said: “He has exercised his pontificate with gentle wisdom and deep humility and will be especially remembered for his clear and profound teaching.

“Those of us in the Personal Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham have particular reason to thank God for his pontificate, as he opened the way for Anglicans to enter into the full communion of the Catholic Church through his Apostolic Constitution Anglicanorum Coetibus.”

Fr Grives added: “He will forever hold a place in the hearts of those of us to whom he has been, in a particular way, a shepherd and father.”

Pope Bendict became the first pontiff to stand down since Mediaeval times, saying at 85 ill health meant he did not have the energy required to continue his duties as leader of the world's Catholic church.

Last year, Fr Grieves and more than 50 Anglicans broke away from the Church of England and converted to Catholicism.