BY ANNA ARCO IN LONDON AND NICK PISA IN ROME
THE TIME has come for Anglican leaders to choose between Protestantism and the ancient Churches of Rome and Orthodoxy. the Vatican has said.
Cardinal Walter Kasper, the president of the Pontifical Council of Christian Unity, said it was time for Anglicanism to "clarify its identity".
Speaking on the day that the Archbishop of Canterbury met Benedict XVI in Rome, he said he expected the 20-minute conversation between the pair to focus on a joint determination to continue dialogue.
But he said that "certain fundamental questionswould have to be clarified for dialogue to be possible.
"1 expect of the conversation that it will firstly be said that we are interested in the continuation of the dialogue, which is essential for us and that we regret that it has ground to a certain halt, and secondly that we hope that certain fundamental questions will be clarified in July's Lambeth Conference so that dialogue will be possible."
He said: "Ultimately, it is a question of the identity of the Anglican Church. Where does it belong? Does it belong more to the Churches of the first millennium — Catholic and Orthodox — or does it belong more to the Protestant churches of the 16th century) At the moment it is somewhere in between. but it must clarify its identity now and that will not be possible without certain difficult decisions."
The moment of crisis has arisen because Dr Williams, the leader of the world's 77 million Anglicans, faces rebellion at the Lambeth Conference from both conservative and liberal Anglicans over the ordination of women bishops and openly gay priests. The conference takes place every 10 years and so any decisions taken are likely to have repercussions for at least the next decade.
The Anglican leader is in Rome this week for the seventh Building Bridges seminar with Christian and Muslim scholars, and met the Pope on Monday for the second time.
Speaking on. VaticanRadio before the meeting. Dr Williams said that he aimed to bring the Pope "up to date on our plans about the Lambeth Conference". When. the interviewer pointed out that relations between the Holy See and the Anglican Communion are at their most fraught since the Second Vatican Council, Dr Williams said: "It depends where you are coming from. I think that in terms of the conflicts within the Anglican Communion, then yes it's an unprecedentedly difficult time, no two ways about that."
Cardinal Kasper, at Oxford University to deliver the Inaugural John Henry Newman lecture which was sponsored by The Catholic Herald. said he hoped that the Lambeth Conference would be the deciding moment for Anglicanism. "We shall work and pray that it is possible, but I think that it is not sustainable to keep pushing decision-making back because it only extends the crisis," he said.
The German cardinal has been invited to speak at Lambeth and will be joined by Indian Cardinal Ivan Dias, head of the Congregation for the Evangelisation of Peoples.
One Vatican source said: "Pope Benedict's views on homosexuality and women priests are widely known but the fact he has given the go ahead for a cardinal to speak at Lambeth is a clear sign of his support for Dr But Cardinal Kasper's comments will be interpreted as an attempt by Rome to put pressure on the Church of England not to proceed with the ordination of women bishops or to sanction gay partnerships, both serious obstacles to unity.
They have come at an extremely sensitive time for the Anglican Communion, which is threatening to fragment as rival factions become ever more polarised.
Anglican Bishop Gene Robinson of New Hampshire, whose attempts to enter into a civil union with his gay partner have angered conservative Anglicans, plans to attend the public events of the conference although he has not been invited by Dr Williams. Bishop Robinson criticised Dr Williams last week for not holding Anglicans accountable for statements offensive to gay people.
On the other side of the spectrum rebel conservative bishops, headed by Archbishop Peter Akinola of Nigeria, dismayed by Dr William's refusal to condemn homosexuality outright, plan a rival conference in the Holy Land in June.
Ecumenical dialogue between Rome and the Anglican Comrnunion ground to a halt in 2006. Cardinal Kasper said at the time that a decision by the Church of England to consecrate women bishops would lead to "a serious and long-lasting chill". But last month the Church of England's Legislative Drafting Group published a report preparing the ground for women bishops, who are already ordained in most Anglican provinces.
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