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Pope and Anglican leader seek stronger ties, but still ‘divided’

Pope Benedict XVI and the Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, have prayed together and committed to strengthening Roman Catholic-Anglican ties, but the two remained divided over key issues, including the ordination of women priests and the role of homosexual clergy.

The Pope and the spiritual leader of the Anglican Communion met at the Vatican on 23 November to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the meeting between the then spiritual leader of the Anglican Communion, Michael Ramsey, and Pope Paul VI, in 1966.

Benedict did not identify in detail areas of difficulty between the two churches, but he did speak of the "the strains and difficulties besetting the Anglican Communion and consequently about the uncertainty of the communion itself".

In a speech the pontiff told Williams: "Recent developments, especially concerning the ordained ministry and certain moral teachings, have affected not only internal relations with 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," said the Pope.

He said the meeting 40 years ago was "filled with great promise, as the Anglican Communion and the Catholic Church took steps towards initiating a dialogue about the questions to be addressed in the search for full visible unity. There is much in our relations over the past 40 years for which we must give thanks".

The "recent developments" referred to by the by Pope are believed to hinge on the decision of some Anglican "provinces" different regional churches call themselves, to accept women as priests. It also refers to the consecration the Episcopal Church, the Anglican church in the United States, of an openly gay divorced bishop, who openly lives with another man.

A Common Declaration signed by Benedict XVI and Williams noted:

"Over 35 years, the Anglican – Roman Catholic International Commission has produced a number of important documents which seek to articulate the faith we share … There are many areas of witness and service in which we can stand together: the pursuit of peace in the Holy Land and in other parts of the world marred by conflict and the threat of terrorism; promoting respect for life from conception until natural death; protecting the sanctity of marriage and the well-being of children in the context of healthy family life."

"At the same time," said the declaration, "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 … We commit ourselves in our continuing dialogue to address the important issues involved in the emerging ecclesiological and ethical factors making that journey more difficult and arduous."

(c) Ecumenical News International