VATICAN CITY (Reuters) – Pope John Paul on Saturday urged Christians to be committed to seeking unity of their divided Churches but, in a reference to homosexual clergy in the Anglican communion, said new ethical obstacles had surfaced.
At a vespers service in St Peter’s Basilica to mark the 40th anniversary of a Second Vatican Council document on ecumenism, the 84-year-old Polish Pope said the commitment to unity should infect ordinary Christians and not just be a matter for experts. “Unfortunately, we are faced with new problems, especially those of an ethical nature, where new divisions which impede a common witness have sprouted,” he said to some 7,000 people inside the basilica.
This was a clear reference to the crisis currently besieging the Anglican communion after the Episcopalian Church in the United States appointed an openly gay bishop in New Hampshire. The 70-million-member Anglican Church, which split from Rome in 1534, has been divided over whether to ordain openly homosexual men and whether to bless same-sex marriages. It was sparked last year by the appointment by U.S. Anglicans of Gene Robinson as their first openly gay bishop.
Traditionalist Anglicans, particularly the Africans, have denounced the move. They threaten to break with churches that bless same-sex unions and are considering ways to redraw the Anglican world map to escape liberal provinces.
Last month, Anglican leaders held a summit in London in an attempt to stop their loose association of Churches falling apart over the issue. They urged North American Episcopalians to ban same-sex marriages and the consecration of gay bishops. They asked the liberals, based in Canada and the United States, to apologize and promise it would not happen again.
As has become customary recently, an aide read part of the sermon for the Pope, who suffers from Parkinson’s disease and sometimes has difficulty pronouncing his words.
The service was attended by representatives of Anglican and Protestant Churches as well as members of the Orthodox Church, which split from Rome in the Great Schism of 1054.