The Vatican is publicly stressing its progress in forging closer ties with the Anglican Communion despite deepening divisions over homosexuality that cloud this weekend's visit by the archbishop of Canterbury. In a statement released Wednesday, the Pontifical Council for the Promotion of Christian Unity outlined what it said is continuous progress in bringing the two churches together, making no mention of the explosive decision of the U.S. Episcopal Church to elect its first openly gay bishop in August. The archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, holds his first official meeting with Pope John Paul II on Saturday, when he will get a readout of the Vatican's reaction to the U.S. decision. He convenes an emergency meeting of the Anglican Communion's 38 church primates to discuss the matter in two weeks.
In its statement the Council on Christian Unity noted that Williams's predecessor, Archbishop George Carey, had frequently called on the pope--six times over the course of his 11-1/2 year term, more than all of his predecessors combined. "These exchanges of visits are a clear sign of the desire of the Anglican Communion and the Catholic Church to continue to operate together toward the goal of full communion," the statement said, adding that both churches had also formed two joint commissions that have reached agreement on several theological issues over the years. Those initiatives stemmed from the 1962-1965 Second Vatican Council, which called for new ecumenical initiatives with the Anglican Communion. The Anglicans split from Rome in 1534 over the pope's refusal to grant King Henry VIII an
annulment. The Episcopal Church is the U.S. branch of the 77 million-member global Anglican Communion.
After the Episcopal Church confirmed V. Gene Robinson as its first openly gay bishop in August, several overseas bishops threatened to sever ties with the Americans, and conservative Episcopalians within the United States threatened to break away from their denomination. U.S. conservatives will gather in Dallas next week to discuss their next move. Publicly the Vatican has kept silent about the vote's impact on
Catholic-Anglican relations, in an apparent attempt to not prejudge the outcome of this weekend's sensitive meeting. But privately Vatican officials concede the decision is a new issue, although not one that will sever relations.