“Ecumenical winter” in Rome as Archbishop plans to visit Pope

The Anglican church might be tearing itself to pieces trying to decide whether to consecrate gay bishops, but Pope Benedict certainly knows where he stands on the issue.

The American church’s decision to consecrate gay bishop Gene Robinson has set the Anglicans and Catholics further apart, and the blessing of same-sex unions in Canada’s Anglican Church has added to the tension between the two largest branches of the Christian church. It’s a climate that former Archbishop John Carey has called “ecumenical winter”.

Certain of a somewhat frosty reception in Rome, Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams has bravely revealed plans to meet with Pope Benedict. The visit will mark the 40th anniversary of Archbishop Michael Ramsey’s meeting with Pope Paul VI, which was the first formal meeting of the Anglican and Catholic churches since Henry VIII’s break away from Rome over 300 years ago.

Williams hoped that his trip to the Vatican will be a fruitful one, commenting: “My visit this autumn is an opportunity to continue that rich tradition of visits between Canterbury and Rome.”

Speaking to The Times, Carey said relations between the churches had soured: “since the American church’s decision to consecrate Gene Robinson which goes completely against the Catholic position and the historic position of the Anglican communion as well.”

The Roman Catholic Church has been working with its “separated brothers” to build bridges with other Christian churches since the Second Vatican Council (1965). Pope Benedict is an advocate of “unity in diversity”, an ideal which Williams also supports. But as long as Anglicans lack unity in their approach to the gay bishop issue, unity with the Catholic church seems very far away.