Pope John Paul II warned the archbishop of Canterbury on Saturday of "serious difficulties" in efforts to unify the Roman Catholic and Anglican churches, pressing the Vatican's case against the U.S. Episcopal Church's election of its first openly gay bishop. The visit was the first to the Vatican by Archbishop Rowan Williams since his installation in February and came two weeks before an emergency meeting of the Anglican Communion's 38 primates to discuss the controversial election of the openly gay V. Gene Robinson as bishop of New Hampshire.
Williams said the pope's view about the risks to Catholic-Anglican relations "weighs very heavily" on his church as he prepares for the emergency meeting. "I hope none of what has been achieved in all these years will be lost," he said.
The Vatican recently issued a new broad condemnation of homosexuality that urged Catholics and non-Catholics alike to unite to stem a trend toward granting legal recognition of same-sex unions. The document called homosexuality a "troubling moral and social phenomenon" and repeated the Vatican's position that homosexual acts are "intrinsically disordered."
Neither the pope nor Williams made direct mention of the issue, but it was clear the pope was referring to it as the two men exchanged speeches following 15 minutes of private talks. "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," John Paul said, sitting side by side with Williams. "These difficulties are not all of a merely disciplinary nature; some extend to essential matters of faith and morals."