Page last updated at 15:12 GMT, Saturday, 21 November 2009

Archbishop of Canterbury and Pope to 'seek closer ties'

The Archbishop of Canterbury shakes hands with the Pope in Rome

The Archbishop of Canterbury and the Pope agreed to seek closer relations between Anglicans and Catholics at a meeting in Rome, the Vatican has said.

It follows tensions over the Vatican's offer to welcome disenchanted Anglicans into the Catholic fold.

Pope Benedict's proposal would allow Anglicans to convert while preserving many of their traditions and practices.

A Vatican statement said the "cordial" talks reiterated "the shared will" to move toward closer relations.

It said the discussions, which lasted around half an hour, "also focused on recent events between the Catholic Church and the Anglican Communion."

One meeting is not going to resolve the differences between the two sides over these really large issues that separate them
Duncan Kennedy, Rome correspondent

It was the first meeting between the Pope and the Archbishop, Dr Rowan Williams, since the Vatican initiative.

The archbishop, who is head of the 70 million-strong worldwide Anglican Communion, has said he does not believe the initiative will harm relations.

Some Anglicans have accused the Pope of interfering at a sensitive time for the Church of England.

'Negative' issues

The Vatican says its invitation came in response to pleas from Anglicans unhappy about the creation of women bishops.

BBC Rome correspondent Duncan Kennedy said: "The way the commentators are looking at this is that it is good the two men are talking, but really one meeting is not going to resolve the differences between the two sides over these really large issues that separate them."

Dr Williams has signalled he would like to build a new relationship, emphasising shared fundamental beliefs rather than "negative" secondary issues such as women clergy, our correspondent added.

Another cause of discord in the worldwide Anglican communion has been the election of an openly gay bishop and the blessing of same-sex unions.

Under the terms of the Pope's proposed Apostolic Constitution, groupings of Anglicans would be able to join "personal ordinariates".

This would allow them to enter full communion with the Catholic Church, which has more than one billion members worldwide, but also preserve elements of the Anglican traditions.

The first English clergy could convert early next year.

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