Archbishop Bathersby, who co-chairs the International Anglican-Roman Catholic Commission for Unity and Mission (IARCCUM), said in a joint statement with Anglican Bishop David Beetge that the London Times report, which carries the headline: "Churches back plan to unite under Pope", is "unfortunate".
The bishops say that the Commission's proposal was "prematurely reported in a way which misrepresents its intentions and sensationalises its conclusions."
The Times claims that a yet to be released proposal, which have been agreed by senior bishops of both churches, is contained in a 42-page statement prepared by the IARCCUM.
Set up in 2000 by the former Archbishop of Canterbury, Lord Carey of Clifton, and Cardinal Edward Cassidy, then head of the Vatican's Council for Christian Unity, the Commission's aim was to find a way of moving towards unity through "common life and mission".
The document leaked to the Times is the Commission's first statement, Growing Together in Unity and Mission.
The Times says that the report acknowledges the "imperfect communion" between the two churches but says that there is enough common ground to make its "call for action" about the Pope and other issues.
In one significant passage the report notes: "The Roman Catholic Church teaches that the ministry of the Bishop of Rome [the Pope] as universal primate is in accordance with Christ's will for the Church and an essential element of maintaining it in unity and truth."
In another paragraph the report goes even further: "We urge Anglicans and Roman Catholics to explore together how the ministry of the Bishop of Rome might be offered and received in order to assist our Communions to grow towards full, ecclesial communion."
Other recommendations include inviting lay and ordained members of both denominations to attend each other's synodical and collegial gatherings and conferences. Anglican bishops could be invited to accompany Catholic ones on visits to Rome.
The report adds that special "protocols" should also be drawn up to handle the movement of clergy from one Church to the other. Other proposals include common teaching resources for children in Sunday schools and attendance at each other's services, pilgrimages and processions.
Anglicans are also urged to begin praying for the Pope during the intercessionary prayers in church services, and Catholics are asked also to pray publicly for the Archbishop of Canterbury.
Responding to the leak, Archbishop Bathersby told the Sydney Morning Herald that a suggestion that an agreement was close was too strong.
Neither church had yet officially launched the report. It is being considered by the Vatican, where Catholic bishops are preparing a formal response, the Archbishop says.
Sydney's Catholic Archbishop, Cardinal George Pell, also said unity was "highly unlikely".
The Anglican Bishop of North Sydney, Dr Glenn Davies, could not see his church submitting to the Pope's authority. "We believe Jesus Christ is the true leader of the church. If a Pope gives a directive, every parish priest follows it. If the Archbishop of Canterbury offers a directive, most ministers of a parish would think that a nice piece of advice. The very thought we would hand over our authority would be a romantic notion at the least."
But Archbishop Bathersby said that discussion about a universal primate has been going on since 1976.
"There is a fair degree of support within the Anglican Communion - within that there would be freedom and diversity," he told the Herald.
In a later statement, IARCCUM described the purpose of the document as "to foster discussion and reflection".
Suggestions of imminent unity "need to be put into proper perspective", the statement said.
Churches back plan to unite under Pope (Times Online, 19/2/07)
Pope an Anglican? Church unity plan (The Age, 20/2/07)
Clarification re Times article on Anglican-Roman Catholic relations (Independent Catholic News, 19/2/07)
LINKS (not necessarily endorsed by Church Resources)
International Anglican-Roman Catholic Commission for Unity and Mission (Holy See)
Anglican - Roman Catholic International Commission
Anglican women bishops dash unity hopes: Cardinal Murphy-O'Connor (CathNews, 15/6/06)
Cardinal tells Anglicans that women bishops would destroy unity (CathNews 8/6/06)
Anglican-Catholic talks to continue says Bishop (CathNews 2/3/06)
20 Feb 2007