VATICAN CITY – The ailing Pope John Paul II met with the archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams to discuss “new and serious difficulties” in the two churches’ relationships, October 5. The event marked the first meeting between the two leaders since the beginning of Williams’ tenure this February.
The Anglican Communion, with more than 75 million members worldwide, has come under serious scrutiny since its American branch – the Episcopal Church USA – appointed an openly gay bishop for New Hampshire.
Though the pope did not explicitly mention this during his speech Saturday, it was implied through his assessment of the current state of relations.
"As we give thanks for the progress that has already been made, we must also recognize that new and serious difficulties have arisen on the path to unity," the pope said, sitting beside the archbishop.
"These difficulties are not all of a merely disciplinary nature; some extend to essential matters of faith and morals."
With increasing secularism in the world, the pope continued, "the church must ensure that the deposit of faith is proclaimed in its integrity and preserved from erroneous and misguided interpretations."
At a news conference following the speech, Cardinal Walter Kasper, head of the Vatican’s Church relations committee said clearly that one of those issues was homosexuality.
The pope did not attend the news conference.
Williams, who was present at the conference, expressed his desire to continue the generally warm relations shared by the two churches over the past four decades.
"I hope that none of what we have achieved over these many years of friendship will be lost," the archbishop said.
Archbishop Williams has scheduled an emergency meeting in two weeks with the 38 primates of the Anglican Communion to discuss the Episcopal Church’s election of Canon Gene Robinson as its first openly homosexual bishop.
During the conference, Williams mentioned that the pope’s view on the risks to Catholic-Anglican relations “weighs very heavily” on the call for an emergency meeting.
Cardinal Kasper commented, “I hope and pray that the Anglican Communion will find a constructive solution to the present situation, both for the sake of the Anglican Communion itself and for the sake of our relations as well."