Pope, Anglican leader discuss obstacles to unity

Vatican City - Pope Benedict and the Archbishop of Canterbury acknowledged on Thursday that issues such as women priests and gay bishops in the Anglican Church were serious obstacles to unity.

The Pontiff, in an address to Rowan Williams on his first Vatican visit since Benedict's election last year, spoke of "strains and difficulties" besetting the Anglican Communion.

He told Williams that recent developments, "especially concerning the ordained ministry and certain moral teachings", had affected not only the Anglican Communion's internal relations but also those with the Catholic Church.

The two talked for 25 minutes in private and held a joint prayer service in a modern Vatican chapel covered with mosaics.

In the past 10 years, ties between the two Churches have been strained over the issue of women priests and homosexual bishops in the 77-million member Anglican Communion.

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

In a declaration signed by the two and in formal speeches made in the Pope's private study, both men committed themselves to the quest for unity but did not gloss over difficulties.

"Our long journey makes it necessary to acknowledge publicly the challenge represented by new developments which, besides being divisive for Anglicans, present serious obstacles to our ecumenical progress," the declaration said.

The timing of Williams' visit was significant because this year marks the 40th anniversary of the historic meeting between Archbishop Michael Ramsey and Pope Paul VI.

That 1966 meeting was the first formal encounter between the heads of the two Churches since England's King Henry VIII broke with Rome in the 16th century.

The Anglican Communion is feeling 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 criticized 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.

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.

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