Rowan Williams to visit Pope this month

Vatican City - Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, spiritual leader of the world's Anglicans, will make his first official visit to Pope Benedict on November 23 at the Vatican, Church sources said on Friday.

The timing is significant because this year marks the 40th anniversary of the historic meeting between his predecessor, Archbishop Michael Ramsey, and Pope Paul VI in 1966.

That was the first formal meeting between the heads of the two churches since Henry VIII broke with Rome in the 16th Century.

In the past 10 years, relations between the two Churches have been strained over the issue of women priests and homosexual bishops.

The blessing of same-sex unions in Canada's Anglican Church and moves to ordain women bishops in the Church of England are two issues that are driving Anglicans and Catholics further apart after decades of optimistic dialogue.

The Catholic Church, which accounts for just over half of the world's 2 billion Christians, has been working since the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965) to try to overcome the splits in Christianity with Anglicans, Protestants and Orthodox.

In 2003, the last time he visited a pontiff, Williams was told by the late Pope John Paul that allowing openly homosexual clergy in the Anglican Communion was a "serious difficulty" on the path to Christian unity.

The 77-million-strong Anglican communion is feeling the tremors set off when the Episcopal Church in the United States appointed an openly gay bishop in New Hampshire in 2003.

Anglican bishops from Africa, Asia and Latin America have strongly criticised a homosexual clergy and have suggested that dissenting U.S. Episcopalians should set up their own church.

The Catholic and Anglican Churches had already been divided over the ordination of women priests, which the Church of England, mother church of world Anglicanism, approved in 1992 and first carried out two years later.

Last July, the governing body of the Church of England voted to allow women to be bishops.

The Episcopal Church approved the ordination of women priests and bishops in 1976. It plans to install its first woman primate, or head of the church, on Saturday when Nevada Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori is made presiding bishop.