Pope Benedict has sent a message to the spiritual head of the Anglican Communion, the Archbishop of Canterbury, urging the hundreds of bishops gathered for a global meeting to find the solution to their divisions in God’s Word.
“The words and the message of Christ are what offer the real contribution to Lambeth and only in being faithful to the message … and God’s words can we find a mature way … to find a road together,” said the Pope in his message to Dr. Rowan Williams this week.
The Roman Catholic Church and Anglicans have been in consistent dialogue for the last three decades in an effort to establish closer unity between the two communions. The ordination of homosexual and female clergy in parts of the Anglican Communion has, however, threatened to derail talks.
The Pope, who is currently in Australia for World Youth Day, has signaled the extent of his concerns by taking the unprecedented step of sending three cardinals to join in the Lambeth Conference, held only once every 10 years.
They include the head of the Roman Catholic Church in England and Wales, Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O’Connor; the president of the Pontifical Council for Christian Unity, Cardinal Walter Kasper; and Prefect of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples, Cardinal Ivan Dias.
Earlier in the year, Cardinal Kasper told Anglican leaders that it was time to “clarify its identity.”
"Does it belong more to the churches of the first millennium – Catholic and Orthodox – or does it belong more to the Protestant churches of the 16th century? At the moment it is somewhere in between, but it must clarify its identity now and that will not be possible without certain difficult decisions,” he said.
Kasper, who was invited to speak at the global Anglican conference by Williams, said at the time that the conference should be used to clarify “fundamental questions” in order to ensure continued dialogue between Catholics and Anglicans.
More than 600 bishops arrived in Canterbury for the start of the conference on Wednesday, while another 230 are staying away in protest of the participation of pro-gay bishops.
The conference will begin in earnest on Sunday with a celebration in Canterbury Cathedral.
[Editor's note: The Christian Post reporter Jennifer Lyle provided this report.]