Archbishop of Canterbury to visit Pope

The Archbishop of Canterbury Dr Rowan Williams, spiritual leader of the world's more than 70 million Anglicans, will make his first official visit to Pope Benedict on 23 November at the Vatican, Church sources announced Friday.

The meeting will have particular significance as this year sees the 40th anniversary of the historic meeting between former Archbishop of Canterbury Michael Ramsey and Pope Paul VI in 1966.

That was the first formal meeting between the heads of the two Churches since England's King Henry VIII broke with Rome in the 16th Century.

The recent decades have seen both Churches make considerable efforts to reconcile their differences although during the last 10 years relations have been strained over the issue of women priests and homosexual bishops.

In particular, the blessing of same-sex unions in Canada's Anglican Church and moves to ordain women bishops in the Church of England are two issues that have driven a wedge between Anglicans and Catholics in recent times.

The Catholic Church has been working since the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965) to try to overcome the splits in Christianity with Anglicans, Protestants and Orthodox.

Dr Williams in his last visit to a pontiff in 2003 was warned by the late Pope John Paul II that allowing openly homosexual clergy in the Anglican Communion was a "serious difficulty" on the path to Christian unity.

The consecration of the openly gay Gene Robinson as Bishop of New Hampshire in 2003 by the US Episcopal Church has brought the Anglican Communion to the brink of schism. Meanwhile Global South primates have suggested that the liberal US Episcopalians form their own church.

The ordination of women priests has long been a sore point in Catholic-Anglican relations. The Church of England, mother church of world Anglicanism, approved the ordination of women priests in 1992 while the governing body of the Church of England voted to allow women to be bishops last July.

The Episcopal Church approved the ordination of women priests and bishops in 1976. It installed its first woman primate on Saturday when Bishop of Nevada Katharine Jefferts Schori was made presiding bishop.