VATICAN CITY -- Pope Benedict XVI confirmed Monday he would visit Britain later this year, a trip that has grown fraught following his move to welcome into the Roman Catholic Church groups of Anglicans upset over the ordination of gays and women.
No dates were announced. Officials at both the Vatican and in Britain say the visit is planned for September.
Benedict confirmed his plans in a speech to visiting British bishops, saying he hoped the trip would "strengthen and confirm" the faith of Catholics across the country.
He urged the bishops to help disaffected Anglicans who want to convert to Catholicism. "I am convinced that, if given a warm and openhearted welcome, such groups will be a blessing for the entire Church," he said.
The Vatican announced last October it was making it easier for Anglicans to become Catholic, essentially creating independent dioceses for converts who could still maintain certain Anglican traditions, including having married priests.
The unprecedented invitation shocked Anglicans and Catholics alike - particularly in Britain, seat of Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, the spiritual leader of the worldwide Anglican Communion.
Neither Williams nor Britain's Catholic bishops were consulted by the Vatican, and they were only advised of the new rules shortly before they became public. Williams pointedly raised his concerns about the way in which the announcement was made when he met with the pope last November.
"Clearly many Anglicans, myself included, felt that it put us in an awkward position," Williams told Vatican Radio at the time.
The Vatican has said it was merely responding to the many Anglican requests to join the Catholic Church and has denied it was poaching for converts.
But the move strained Catholic-Anglican relations and is sure to affect Williams' 77-million Anglican Communion, which was already on the verge of schism over homosexuality and women's ordination issues before the Vatican intervened.
Read it all here. It may be prudent for the upcoming Church of England Synod to consider this development very carefully.