Paul Woolley: It is the best and worst of times for Anglo-Catholic relations

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The Independent Online

Today's meeting between the Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, and Pope Benedict XVI is likely to reflect the best and worst of times for Anglican-Catholic relations.

It is not an easy moment. The Pope has announced that a new structure would be set up to allow Anglicans unhappy at the prospect of women bishops to enter full communion with Rome. It was not so much the Vatican's announcement that caused tension with Anglicans but the fact that Lambeth Palace knew almost nothing about it.

The Archbishop and the Pope will discuss these events, and the conversation is unlikely to be easy. But they will engage in a constructive and respectful dialogue. Whilst Dr Williams has already said that the two churches have "unfinished business" to resolve, he has also said that "the ecumenical glass is genuinely half-full".

The Archbishop isn't simply trying to put the best spin on a difficult situation (he doesn't do spin). His comments actually reflect the reality on the ground. Relations between the churches are good. Catholic and Anglican congregations are regularly working with each other in common cause in their shared communities.

If the meeting between the two prelates comes at a difficult time for the churches, it comes at a more difficult one for the societies they serve. It was one of Dr Williams' predecessors, Dr William Temple, who said: "The Church is the only society that exists for the benefit of those who are not its members." The Pope and the Archbishop genuinely believe that, and they will not let the part of ecumenical glass that remains empty deflect them from ensuring that Christianity speaks prophetically into the contemporary context and captures the imagination of the culture.

The author is the director of the religious think tank Theos