'Serious obstacles' in talks of unity
By Jonathan Petre, Religion Correspondent in Rome
Last Updated: 8:51am GMT 24/11/2006
The Pope and the Archbishop of Canterbury admitted yesterday that there were "serious obstacles" to unity between their Churches, a blunt acknowledgment of Vatican disapproval of women priests and an openly gay bishop in the Anglican Church.
The Pope and the Archbishop of Canterbury at the Vatican
Pope Benedict XVI and Dr Rowan Williams made the admission in a joint declaration they signed during an audience in the Vatican that committed them to continue talks and co-operate on practical issues, but underlined the difficulties.
The declaration expressed gratitude for efforts so far at achieving unity, a process that began in earnest after an historic meeting between Dr Williams's predecessor, Archbishop Michael Ramsey, and Pope Paul VI 40 years ago.
But it added: "At the same time, our long journey together 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 Pope was even more pointed in an address to Dr Williams, referring to the "strains" facing the worldwide Anglican Church which is struggling to contain its divisions over homosexuality.
The consecration by the American branch of Anglicanism of Gene Robinson as its first openly gay bishop in 2003 has brought the 70-million-strong Communion to the brink of schism.
The Pope told Dr Williams: "Recent developments, especially concerning the ordained ministry and certain moral teachings, have affected not only internal relations within the Anglican Communion but also relations between the Anglican Communion and the Catholic Church.
"We believe that these matters, which are presently under discussion within the Anglican Communion, are of vital importance to the preaching of the Gospel in its integrity, and that your current discussions will shape the future of our relations …
"It is our fervent hope that the Anglican Communion will remain grounded in the Gospels and the Apostolic Tradition which form our common patrimony."
Dr Williams recognised in his reply that "disputes about how we apply the Gospel to the challenges thrown up by modern society can often obscure or even threaten the achievements of dialogue."
However, the joint statement did represent a breakthrough in co-operation between the two Churches at a more practical level that could lead to a growing number of joint initiatives.
It said the Churches should stand together on issues including peace in the Middle East and other regions threatened by conflict and terrorism, the importance of marriage and the family and the "negative effects of materialism".
Other areas referred to were respect for life "from conception until natural death", the poor and vulnerable, talks between different faiths and the environment.
The declaration was signed by the two as they sat side by side at a wooden table during the audience in the Papal Library during the Archbishop's first official visit to the Pope since the conclave in April last year.
There was, however, no repetition of the gesture made by the late Pope John Paul II when he met Dr Williams three years ago and, despite shaking from Parkinson's disease, bent to kiss his ring.
At the end, the Pope and the Archbishop shook hands and swapped gifts.