- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 1, 2003

From combined dispatches

VATICAN CITY — Pope John Paul II held his weekly general audience yesterday amid growing concern about his health, but skipped reading much of his prepared address, apparently to conserve his strength.

Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, a senior Vatican official and member of the pope’s inner circle, was quoted Tuesday as saying that John Paul was in poor health and urged the faithful to pray for him.

The pope appeared to be more alert in the second half of yesterday’s audience, allowing dozens of newlyweds and groups of visitors to have their picture taken with him as he sat on his throne.

Concerns over the pope’s heath come amid deepening doctrinal divisions between the Vatican and the Anglican Communion over the latter’s homosexuality stance that cloud this weekend’s visit by the archbishop of Canterbury.

In a statement released yesterday, the Pontifical Council for the Promotion of Christian Unity outlined what it said was continuous progress in bringing the two churches together.

The document made no mention of the explosive decision of the U.S. Episcopal Church to elect its first openly homosexual bishop in August. The archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, holds his first official meeting with the pope on Saturday, when he will get a readout of the Vatican’s reaction to the U.S. decision.

Archbishop Williams is to convene an emergency meeting of the Anglican Communion’s 38 church primates to discuss the matter in two weeks.

Publicly, the Vatican has kept silent about the vote’s impact on Catholic-Anglican relations, in an apparent attempt to not prejudge the outcome of this weekend’s sensitive meeting. But privately, Vatican officials concede the decision is a new issue, although not one that will sever relations.

The head of ecumenical affairs at the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, Bishop Stephen Blaire, has gone further, though, saying the decision had “serious implications” for Anglican-Catholic ties and had created “new ecumenical challenges.” Those relations were already strained in 1992, when the Church of England decided to ordain women.

At the time, the Vatican, which reserves the priesthood for men, called the decision a “new and grave obstacle to the entire process of reconciliation with the Catholic Church.” That decision also divided the Anglican Communion, and several hundred Anglican priests defected to Catholicism as a result.

The 83-year-old pope, who has difficulty speaking because of Parkinson’s disease, significantly shortened his main, two-page address in Italian at the start of yesterday’s audience.

At one point while he was reading in Italian, a clear look of frustration came over his face and he stopped briefly. The crowd broke into applause to cheer him on and he continued the audience for thousands of people in St. Peter’s Square.

Later, speaking slowly, he read brief comments in other languages. He told his Polish listeners at the audience that “God willing,” he would make a brief trip to the southern Italian city of Pompeii next Tuesday to visit a sanctuary there.

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