- The Washington Times - Sunday, October 5, 2003

VATICAN CITY — Pope John Paul II, in a meeting clouded by deepening divisions over homosexuality, yesterday warned the archbishop of Canterbury that “new and serious difficulties have arisen” in efforts to unify the Roman Catholic and Anglican churches.

The visit was the first to the Vatican by Archbishop Rowan Williams since his installation in February, and it occurred weeks after the decision by the Episcopal Church in the United States to elect its first openly homosexual bishop.

Neither John Paul nor Archbishop Williams made direct mention of the issue. Still, it was clear the pope was referring to the matter as the two men exchanged speeches following 15 minutes of private talks in the papal library.

“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.”

John Paul, who suffers from Parkinson’s disease and has looked extremely weak in recent weeks, appeared alert yesterday though he spoke slowly and slurred his words at times.

The pope spoke of the “sad division” between the Catholic and Anglican churches and said, “We share a desire to deepen our communion.”

Archbishop Williams has scheduled an emergency meeting in two weeks at which the Anglican Communion’s 38 primates will discuss the Episcopal Church’s election of Canon V. Gene Robinson as its first openly homosexual bishop. The Episcopal Church is the U.S. branch of the 77 million-member global Anglican Communion.

Archbishop Williams later said at a news conference that the pope’s view about the risks to Catholic-Anglican relations “weighs very heavily” on his church going into the emergency meeting.

He also praised the ailing pope’s “extraordinary and indomitable spirit.”

Archbishop Williams, well aware of the Vatican position, concentrated on efforts to overcome theological divisions between the churches.

“I am glad to reaffirm my commitment to the full, visible unity of the Church of Christ,” he said.

The Anglicans split from Rome in 1534 over the pope’s refusal to grant King Henry VIII an annulment.

After the Episcopalians confirmed Mr. Robinson as bishop of New Hampshire in August, several overseas bishops threatened to sever ties with the Americans.

Conservative Episcopalians within the United States threatened to break from their denomination. They will gather in Dallas next week to discuss their next move.

Vatican-Anglican relations also were strained in 1992, when the Church of England decided to ordain women.

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