The Pope received Williams this Saturday morning, and according to a Vatican press release, "in the course of the cordial discussions attention turned to the challenges facing all Christian communities at the beginning of this millennium, and to the need to promote forms of collaboration and shared witness in facing these challenges."
The private meeting also “focused on recent events affecting relations between the Catholic Church and the Anglican Communion, reiterating the shared will to continue and to consolidate the ecumenical relationship between Catholics and Anglicans," the press release said.
Both the Holy Father and the Anglican Primate expressed their hope in the Anglican - Roman Catholic International Commission (ARCIC), due to meet in the next days to start the "third phase" of ecumenical dialogue.
ARCIC was established by Pope Paul VI and the Archbishop of Canterbury Michael Ramsey in 1967. It worked in two phases. The first phase was completed with the publication of a report in 1981, dealing with three topics: the Eucharist, Ministry and Authority.
The second phase covered a vast range of topics including: Salvation and the Church, in 1986; The Church as Communion, in 1991; Life in Christ: Morals, Communion and the Church, in 1993; The Gift of Authority, in 1999. It culminated with the publication of "Mary: Grace and Hope in Christ," in 2005.
Despite the advancement in theological dialogue, the effort toward unity was critically damaged by the 1992 decision of the Anglican Communion to allow the ordination of women.
A preparatory commission for a third phase of ARCIC met in London in October 2007. Over coming days, the commission entrusted with preparing the third phase of the international theological dialogue is due to meet and establish the next issues to be discussed.
During a conference in Rome early this week, the Archbishop of Canterbury said that "divisive" issues such as the ordination of women should be avoided to focus on other ecclesiological, less conflictive issues.
But well-known British Catholic commentator Damien Thompson asked skeptically on Saturday:
"There’s going to be a 'third phase' of this waffle? To discuss what? Tips on where to buy the tastiest organic biscuits to serve after Sunday morning services?"
Pope Benedict XVI and the Anglican Primate Rowan Williams, Archbishop of Canterbury, have agreed to maintain momentum in the ecumenical dialogue between the two churches despite the fact that the Apostolic Constitution Anglicanorum Coetibus will imply the reception of some half a million Anglicans into the Catholic Church.