Archbishop of Canterbury Visits Benedict XVI

Rowan Williams Notes 2 Sides to Story of Vatican-Anglican Relations

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VATICAN CITY, MAY 5, 2008 (Zenit.org).- The archbishop of Canterbury, ahead of a private meeting with Benedict XVI, acknowledged that the Anglican Communion is going through an "unprecedentedly difficult time."

Archbishop Rowan Williams told Vatican Radio before his encounter with the Pope today that he was expecting "a fairly informal and low-key meeting."

Williams added: "I hope to bring him up to date on our plans about the Lambeth conference, perhaps to discuss with him a little what's going to be happening at the [Christian-Muslim] conference this week at Palazzola and just touch base with him about China, the initiatives we're involved in with regard to the churches in China."

The Anglican leader is in Rome this week for the 7th Building Bridges seminar with Christian and Muslim scholars, scheduled for Tuesday through Thursday.

And he explained some of the initiatives regarding China: "We've been trying to build relationships with scholars of religious studies in China. We brought a group over a little while ago to meet some British theologians and that was very constructive; so it's really a question of keeping the door open for something more than polite exchanges but more real theological dialogue."

Holy See relations

Vatican Radio noted that some people consider the current relationship between the Holy See and the Anglican Communion to be in its most difficult moment since the Second Vatican Council.

"It depends where you're looking from," Williams responded. "I think that in terms of the conflicts within the Anglican Communion then yes, it's an unprecedentedly difficult time, no two ways about that."

The Anglican Communion is facing a fracture because parts of the group, notably the Episcopal Church in the United States, have approved the ordination of women and homosexuals as bishops.

However, Williams noted that partially through the work of the Anglican Center in Rome, "tremendously deep foundations have been laid" in the Anglican-Catholic relationship.

The Anglican Center was founded in 1966 on the wave of ecumenical enthusiasm engendered by Vatican II and the birth of the Anglican-Roman Catholic International Commission.

The center aims to encourage a special relationship between Anglicans and Roman Catholics through enabling full and frank discussion and debate on issues which unify them, and on those which divide them. The director is also the archbishop of Canterbury's representative to the Holy See.

During his time in Rome, Williams will preside at a service for the inauguration of the new director of the Anglican Center in Rome, the Reverend David Richardson.

Williams said the work of the center is "the other side of the story" regarding the Anglican Communion's relationship with Catholicism.

"Partly because of the work of the previous couple of directors, especially Bishop John Flack, tremendously deep foundations have been laid of personal trust and confidence and in terms of ease of access and honesty of discussion," he said. "I think we're in a very good phase and I'm absolutely confident the new director will be building on that."