Archbishop and Pope Discuss Unity, Admit Challenges

The Archbishop of Canterbury and Pope Benedict XVI have acknowledged that "serious obstacles" to unity between their Churches remain but have stressed the need to work towards greater understanding in a joint declaration signed by the two yesterday.

|PIC1|Dr Rowan Williams, spiritual leader of the world's 77 million Anglicans, spoke with the Pope during a 25 minute private audience before the two Church leaders signed a Common Declaration which committed them to continuing dialogue. They then joined in prayers at a chapel in the Apostolic palace.

"Our long journey together makes it necessary to acknowledge publicly the challenge represented by new developments which, beside being divisive for Anglicans, present serious obstacles to our ecumenical progress," the two leaders said in their declaration.

The leaders followed with speeches in the Pope's private study. Dr Williams told Pope Benedict that "disputes about how we apply the gospel to the challenges thrown up by modern society can often obscure or even threaten the achievements of dialogue" but assured that he came, "ready to hear and to understand the concerns which you will wish to share with me".

The Pope refrained from making explicit references to the blessings of same-sex unions and ordination of women priests and bishops in the Anglican Communion - thorny issues that have stunted ecumenical dialogue between the two Churches. He spoke, however, of the "the strains and difficulties besetting the Anglican Communion and consequently about the uncertainty of the communion itself".

"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," the Pope told Dr Williams.

Pope Benedict indicated that the future relations between the Catholic and Anglican Churches hang on the outcome of ongoing discussions in the Anglican Communion on these matters.

"We believe that these matters, which are presently under discussion in 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."

"We fervently hope that the Anglican Communion will remain grounded in the gospels and the Apostolic tradition," the Pope said.

The meeting between the two leaders marks the 40th anniversary of the historic meeting between Pope Paul XVI and the former Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Michael Ramsey, in 1966.

During his speech, the Archbishop of Canterbury displayed the ring that Pope Paul VI had given Archbishop Ramsey during their 1966 meeting and the cross he had received from Pope John Paul II which he was wearing.

He said the ring and cross were "symbolic of our shared commitment to work together for the full visible unity of the Christian family".

Speaking afterwards, Dr Williams commented that it had been a "very warm meeting".

"I think if we are not able to understand where each other is coming from in terms of our thoughts about God, our thoughts about the church, our thoughts about our vocation, then really a great deal of the negotiating and the fine detail and fine tuning has been a waste of time," he said.

"I think we need to understand each other as fellow pastors and fellow teachers in the church. I think this morning is a great step towards that."

Dr Williams is in Rome as part of six-day tour.

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