(Photo: Osservatore Romano / Handout)
Archbishop of Canterbury Dr. Rowan Williams met Pope Benedict XVI at the Vatican Saturday to discuss relations between Anglican and Roman Catholic Churches.
The heads of the two church bodies met in private for 20 minutes – the first time they have come together since the Vatican announced a new structure within the Catholic fold to accommodate disillusioned Anglicans.
The Vatican said in a statement after the meeting that discussions between the two leaders had been “cordial” as they “turned to the challenges facing all Christian communities; and the need to promote forms of collaboration and shared witness in facing these challenges.”
The talks reflected “the shared will to continue and to consolidate the ecumenical relationship between Catholics and Anglicans,” the statement added.
The Roman Catholic Church and the worldwide Anglican Communion have been dialoguing on unity for decades but relations became strained after Anglican provinces began to ordain women.
The pope last month approved a new structure making it possible for Anglicans upset over the ordination of women to join the Roman Catholic Church while retaining some of their Anglican traditions.
The new structure will be headed by former Anglican prelates who will provide spiritual care for Anglicans who want to convert to Catholicism. Former Anglican clergy who are married may be ordained as Catholic priests but not bishops.
At the time, Williams said he did not perceive the Vatican's move as "a commentary on Anglican problems" and believed that it would have "no negative impact" on relations between the Anglican Communion and Catholic Church.
He made it clear in a speech at the Gregorian Pontifical University on Thursday that there would be no going back for Anglicans on the decision to ordain women. He said the prohibition on women clergy in the Roman Catholic Church had become a “clear obstacle” to unity between the two church bodies and claimed that provinces that accepted the ordination of women had not lost their holiness or ability to serve one another.
The need for Christian unity in the face of growing secularism and the pope’s visit to the United Kingdom next year also were also mentioned during Saturday’s meeting. The trip would be the first papal visit to the United Kingdom since Benedict’s predecessor John Paul II made a pastoral visit in 1982.