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Frail pope meets Anglican Archbishop over gays

October 3, 2003

VATICAN CITY — Pope John Paul II, frail and in failing health, was to meet the Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams at the Vatican Saturday for their first encounter since Williams' appointment as spiritual leader of the world's 70 million Anglicans last year.

Their meeting was not expected to be a long one, since the Pope's physical condition is giving cause for serious concern, as a number of senior church officials have openly acknowledged in recent days.

Aged 83, the pope is crippled by a combination of Parkinson's disease and arthritic complaints.

Although the Vatican and the Anglican church have in general enjoyed a friendly relationship over recent decades there are major differences between them, notably over homosexual priests, a controversy that threatens to divide the Anglican church itself.

Talks between the pope and Williams come ahead of the 25th anniversary of John Paul's ascension to the papal throne.

Williams' visit also precedes an emergency summit of Anglican bishops from around the world to discuss gay ordination.

The summit, called by Williams and to take place in London in mid-October, comes after the confirmation of openly gay cleric Gene Robinson as Episcopal bishop of the US state of New Hampshire earlier this year.

Williams, who took office as Archbishop of Canterbury in February following his appointment last year, is known for his liberal views and his support – in principle – for the appointment of gay clergy.

He raised no objection to the appointment in July of the openly gay Canon Jeffrey John as bishop for the British town of Reading.

John later withdrew his candidacy to avert a schism between conservative and liberal factions within the Church of England.

A senior prelate who had discussions with Williams on Friday said they had covered ecumenical issues, and had helped push forward work on a joint document on the Virgin Mary. But he did not conceal the concern of the Vatican about the issue of homosexual priests.

The issue of woman priests, accepted by Anglicans, but ruled out by the Roman Catholic church, has also been a bar to closer ties.

Williams's predecessor George Carey was a regular visitor to the Vatican though the Pope himself has made only one visit to predominantly Protestant Britain, back in 1982. –Sapa-AFP

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