Anglican leader discusses Vatican recruitment bid with pope
The Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, held talks with Pope Benedict XVI in Rome on Saturday just two weeks after the Vatican extended a hand to conservative Anglicans dismayed by steps to ordain women and openly gay clergy.
AFP - Pope Benedict XVI and the Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams sought to ease tensions between the Roman Catholic and Anglican churches at "cordial" talks at the Vatican on Saturday.
The private meeting came just two weeks after the Vatican made it easier for disgruntled Anglicans to convert to Catholicism -- a move that caught Williams off-guard, saying he was informed of it "at a very late stage."
In the meeting, described by the Vatican as "cordial" and by Williams as "friendly," the Anglican leader said he voiced "concern about the way in which the announcement... was handled."
"Clearly many Anglicans, myself included, felt that it put us in an awkward position for a time," Williams told Vatican Radio after the meeting.
However, he said, media descriptions of the Vatican's overture "as a kind of dawn raid on the Anglican Communion misunderstands the process that happened."
British news media had painted Williams' visit, though scheduled long before the controversy, as a "showdown" after the Vatican unveiled an "apostolic constitution" easing the way for Anglicans to join the Catholic fold.
The Times of London described the move, announced on October 20 and promulgated on November 9, as "potentially the most explosive development in Anglican-Catholic relations since the Reformation."
The Vatican statement said the two men recalled that a joint commission was to meet shortly to prepare a new round of "theological dialogue" between the two churches.
Williams said the pope's "main message... was that the constitution did not represent any change in the Vatican's attitude to the Anglican Communion as such."
The Archbishop of Canterbury added that there was a "good chance" that matters such as the ordination of women and papal primacy would be on the table at the next round of talks.
The Vatican's move, which could attract hundreds of Anglicans from around the world who oppose women and openly gay clergy, was a response to what the Holy See called "repeated and insistent" petitions.
But Williams said the overture was "not a question of the Roman Catholic Church seeking to attract by advertising or special offers... and in that sense I don't particularly worry about it."
Observers expected a show of unity during Williams' Rome visit, ironically to take part in long-planned events to mark the 100th anniversary of the birth of Johannes Willebrands, a Dutch cardinal who was a pioneer in Catholic ecumenism.
The two church leaders will "want to demonstrate good will and show that ecumenism is going forward on other issues," veteran Vatican watcher Bruno Bartoloni said ahead of Saturday's encounter.
"What has happened in reality is that both sides have recognised that ecumenism has failed," Bartoloni told AFP. "The Catholic Church has made clear that they will never agree on the question of women priests and bishops."
As a result, he said: "The Anglican reactionaries will go over to the Catholic Church. It actually suits both sides."
The Vatican's new framework for Anglicans to become Roman Catholics "is not going to halt ecumenical progress," said Reverend Doctor R. William Franklin, associate director of the American Academy in Rome.
"People are saying they are not being prevented from going forward," he told AFP.
In a lecture at Rome's Gregorian University on Thursday, Williams spoke of the "ecumenical glass (being) genuinely half-full" while acknowledging they had "unfinished business" to resolve.
The event "did a lot to help defuse the situation," said Franklin, who is also an academic fellow at the Anglican Centre in Rome.
While appearing conciliatory, Williams also laid down what he called a "challenge to recent Roman Catholic thinking" on women priests.
The archbishop asked: "Is there a way of recognising that somehow the corporate exercise of a Catholic and evangelical ministry remains intact even when there is dispute about the standing of female individuals?"
The Anglican Communion split from Catholicism in the 16th century, when Pope Clement VII refused to grant King Henry VIII a divorce.
The Church of England is the mother church of the worldwide Anglican Communion, which has about 77 million followers. The Catholic Church counts some 1.1 billion faithful.