Pope Meets Head of Anglican Church

In this picture made available by the Vatican newspaper Osservatore Romano, Pope Benedict XVI, left, shakes hands with the Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams during their meeting at the Vatican, Saturday, Nov. 21, 2009.
AP Photo/Osservatore Romano

Pope Benedict XVI met with Archbishop Rowan Williams, the leader of the Anglican communion, at the Vatican Saturday. Everything was polite for the benefit of the cameras, but the growing rift between the two shows no sign of narrowing, reports CBS News correspondent Sheila MacVicar.

There were handshakes in public, but at a moment of increased tension between the Catholic and Anglican churches, the pope and the Archbishop of Canterbury spent barely 20 minutes in private conversation.

Rowan Williams presides over the worldwide congregation of Anglicans, about 80 million people, including more than two million Episcopalians in the United States.

His church is divided over issues of homosexuality and gender.

Some Anglicans object to the ordination of women and gay men as priests and recently their election as bishops.

Last month Pope Benedict offered disaffected Anglicans the opportunity to convert to Catholicism while still retaining some of their own traditions. For example, married priests can remain married under the pope's offer.

The Vatican has been accused of "poaching." Vatican officials insist the pope is merely "reaching out."

Anglican priest Christopher Pearson is seriously contemplating the offer.

"The things that we have taught and the life we have lived, and the gospel that we have proclaimed has been continually rejected or not wanted," said Pearson.

The archbishop called the Vatican's offer "the elephant in the room." But in Rome, Williams made a point to say that his church would not backtrack on the ordination of women.

Anglican church activists like Christina Rees welcome the direction their church is taking.

"Anglicanism is moving in one direction on the issue of women's ordination, and the change, I think, would have to come from the Vatican," she said.

But this pope has made it clear that he will not budge on the issue of women as priests, even as he works to unify the Christian churches.