London Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams said Tuesday that he will attend the funeral of Pope John Paul II, becoming the first serving leader of the Church of England to attend a pontiff's burial.
At the funeral, he would be wearing a ring presented by Pope Paul VI to a previous archbishop of Canterbury, Michael Ramsey, Archbishop Williams's office said.
Archbishop Ramsey, who was then retired, attended Paul VI's funeral.
Pope John Paul visited Canterbury Cathedral during his trip to Britain in 1982, and Archbishop Williams has described the late pontiff as a “faithful and prayerful friend of the Anglican Church.”
England's national church split from Rome more than four centuries ago when Pope Clement VII refused to annul the marriage of King Henry VIII to Catherine of Aragon.
Efforts to heal the breach have been impeded in recent years by innovations in the Anglican world. During John Paul's papacy, the Church of England and some other Anglican national churches began ordaining women as priests; a few also have female bishops, both unacceptable to Rome.
The Vatican also openly sided with conservative Anglicans who opposed the election of V. Gene Robinson, an openly gay man, as the Episcopal Church's bishop of New Hampshire.
John Paul met Archbishop Williams, the spiritual leader of the Church of England and leader of the 70 million-member worldwide Anglican communion, in 2003. The Pope warned the Archbishop that the case of Bishop Robinson could mean “serious difficulties” in efforts to unify Roman Catholics and Anglicans.
The Vatican recently issued a broad condemnation of homosexuality, calling it a “troubling moral and social phenomenon” and restating the position that homosexual acts were “intrinsically disordered.”