Pope warns of strain with Anglicans over gay clergy

Pontiff says 2 churches face `serious difficulties'


VATICAN CITY - Pope John Paul II told the archbishop of Canterbury yesterday that the acceptance of openly gay clergy members by many Anglicans presented "new and serious difficulties" in relations between the two churches.

His remark came during the first meeting here between the pope and the current archbishop, the Most Rev. Rowan Williams, the spiritual leader of more than 75 million Anglicans worldwide.

Williams assumed that post this year and soon confronted a furious debate over homosexuality that threatens to rend the Anglican Communion. Its U.S. branch, the Episcopal Church USA, has elected an openly gay bishop for New Hampshire.

The pope did not explicitly mention that yesterday. But he was obviously referring to the issue when he assessed the relations between Anglicans and Roman Catholics. "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, reading from prepared remarks. "These difficulties are not all of a merely disciplinary nature. Some extend to essential matters of faith and morals."

At a subsequent news conference, Cardinal Walter Kasper, head of the Vatican office in charge of relations with other Christian denominations, made clear that one of those matters was homosexuality.

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