Vatican Praises Steps by Anglicans

Vatican City - The Vatican on Thursday praised steps by Anglican leaders to discourage the election of gay bishops and the blessing of same-sex unions, saying there were foundations for further dialogue and cooperation.

The assessment came after Anglican leaders on Feb. 24 asked the U.S. Episcopal Church and the Anglican Church of Canada to temporarily withdraw from a key council of the world Anglican communion because of the crisis that threatened to split their 77 million members.

The elevation of V. Gene Robinson as bishop of New Hampshire in 2003 -- the only openly gay Anglican bishop -- and subsequent blessings of same-sex unions in the United States and Canada, also jolted Anglican-Catholic relations. The Vatican has strongly objected to same-sex unions, and says homosexual acts are "intrinsically disordered."

The Anglicans split from Rome more than four centuries ago when King Henry VIII bolted in 1534 over the pope's refusal to grant him an annulment. Catholics and Anglicans have been engaged in talks to overcome theological divisions for 35 years.

Pope John Paul II warned in 2003 that Robinson's election could mean "serious difficulties" in efforts to unify Catholics and Anglicans, and meetings of a joint committee that has worked to reach common ground were put on hold.

In a statement Thursday, the Vatican office that deals with other Christian faiths announced that work of the committee would resume and that a document that was due to be issued on Mary but was put off because of the crisis would be presented May 16 in Seattle.

The statement praised the way Anglican leaders had dealt with the crisis, saying "they have offered new hope that our dialogue can continue to make progress toward the full communion."

In their Feb. 24 decision, Anglican primates asked the North Americans not to attend the next meeting of the Anglican Consultative Council, which is a body of bishops, priests and lay people from national Anglican churches who meet and consult in between the once-a-decade Lambeth Conferences for the primates.

However, Anglican leaders also recommended a hearing be organized at the council's gathering in June to allow the North American churches to send representatives who could explain their views on homosexuality.

"The Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity is of the opinion that these developments affirm the general thrust and conclusions of the understanding of the nature of the church put forward in the (joint Anglican-Catholic) dialogue to this point, and that this provides a foundation for continued dialogue and ecumenical cooperation," the statement said.

The Vatican's office on Christian unity, which is headed by German Cardinal Walter Kasper, praised the Anglican leaders for also affirming in their Feb. 24 decision "the traditional Christian understanding of marriage and human sexuality."