A Roman Catholic Cardinal who has repeatedly attacked gay adoption and same-sex marriage has addressed the legislative body of the Church of England.
Cormac Murphy-O’Connor, the leader of the Catholic Church in England and Wales, called for closer co-operation with the Anglicans, who ordain women priests and have a strong liberal tradition in favour of equality for gay people.
It was the first time he has addressed the General Synod of the Church of England.
Its 467 members are divided into the House of Bishops, the House of Clergy and the House of Laity. It annual meets two or three times a year to set policy on church matters and discuss current issues.
Cardinal Murphy-O’Connor said that bringing the Church of England back into full communion with Rome is still the “ultimate goal.”
“The current difficulties in the Anglican Communion are a source of concern for all,” according to a statement on his website.
Among the issues dividing the Anglicans are the blessing of gay relationships and the ordination of openly gay and lesbian people.
“Divisions within any Church or Ecclesial Community impoverish the communion of the whole Church,” he said.
“We Roman Catholics cannot be indifferent to what is happening to our friends in the Anglican Communion and, in particular, in the Church of England.”
Last year Cardinal Murphy-O’Connor linked gay people to drug and alcohol abuse and claimed that parents want their children to be taught that marriage is superior to all other “lifestyles.”
He has also attacked gay adoption, accusing the government of “legislating for intolerance.” He threatened to close Catholic adoption agencies rather than comply with the law that they accept gay couples as adoptive parents.
This week’s General Synod will consider whether to ordain women bishops, but is to ignore the rows over gay issues.
It will also debate the financial crisis, its work in impoverished areas and whether or not priests should be banned from membership of the BNP.
The House of Bishops decided in 2005 that Church of England clergy may enter into civil partnerships as long as they remain celibate but said “clergy should not provide services of blessing for those who register a civil partnership.”
By contrast the Roman Catholic Church deems all gay people to be “intrinsically disordered” and Pope Benedict XVI has taken steps to exclude homosexuals from ordination as priests.
“The Church, while profoundly respecting the persons in question, cannot admit to the seminary or to holy orders those who practise homosexuality, present deep-seated homosexual tendencies or support the so-called ‘gay culture’,” according to a 2005 document on the criteria for priesthood.
“Such persons, in fact, find themselves in a situation that gravely hinders them from relating correctly to men and women.
“One must in no way overlook the negative consequences that can derive from the ordination of persons with deep-seated homosexual tendencies.”
The Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, will address the General Synod on last year’s Lambeth Conference and last week’s Primates Meeting in Egypt.
Church leaders made little progress on the issue of gay and lesbian clergy at their latest meeting.
The ordination of an openly gay bishop in New Hampshire in 2003 led to splits among the Communion, with traditionalist and fundamentalist Anglicans threatening to form their own church.
At the conclusion of the Lambeth Conference in July 2008 Archbishop Williams, said the “pieces are on the board” for a settlement.
The conference, held once every ten years, is a meeting of the leaders of the Church from around the world.
Last year more than 200 traditionalist bishops boycotted the event over the acceptance of gay clergy.
“In these days together we have not overcome our problems or reinvented our structures: that will still take time,” he said.
But despite there still being “many questions” on the issue, a Covenant to bind the Communion together is needed, he said: “We may not have put an end to all our problems – but the pieces are on the board.”
The Covenant could mean churches with new gay bishops could be expelled from the Anglican Communion.
In a reference to the bishops who refused to attend the Conference Dr Williams said: “In the months ahead it will be important to invite those absent from Lambeth to be involved in these next stages.”
He added that the Communion must not just be “an association of polite friends,” rather, it must “embrace deeper and more solid ways of recognising and trusting each other.”