Archbishop Rowan Williams backs gay, celibate bishops

Archbishop of Canterbury Dr Rowan Williams
Image caption Dr Williams says there are "standards" the clergy are expected to observe

The Archbishop of Canterbury said he has no problem with gay people being bishops as long as they are celibate.

Dr Rowan Williams spoke of his personal support for the consecration of gay bishops in the Church of England.

But he said he would never endorse bishops in active gay relationships because of tradition that requires gay clergy to remain celibate.

But equality campaigners said his words in the Times put Church unity above the rights of gay and lesbian people.

His comments could deepen Church of England divisions over gay clergy, drawing criticisms from liberals because it shows a difference in approach for homosexual and heterosexual people, and from Conservatives who say that stance is at odds with church teaching.

Dr Williams said he had been conscious of the issue of homosexuality as "a wound in the whole ministry" since his appointment as Archbishop of Canterbury in 2002.

But he had to decide against endorsing gay relationships for clergy and bishops because "the cost to the Church overall was too great to be borne at that point".

He said: "To put it very simply, there's no problem about a gay person who's a bishop. It's about the fact that there are traditionally, historically, standards that the clergy are expected to observe. So there's always a question about the personal life of the clergy."

Dr Williams admitted that one of the most difficult periods in his eight years at Lambeth Palace came when he blocked the appointment of the gay, celibate cleric Jeffrey John to the post of Bishop of Reading.

He said he let down Dr John, who was instead appointed Dean of St Albans.

But Human rights campaigner Peter Tatchell told The Times that the Archbishop was being inconsistent.

"Yet again, Rowan is sitting on the fence regarding gay clergy. I don't know how Rowan sleeps at night.

"Before he became Archbishop of Canterbury, he supported gay inclusion and equality. Now he victimises gay clergy like Jeffrey John and goes out of his way to accommodate some of the most hateful Christian homophobes in the world.

"In his eyes, Church unity is more important than the human rights of lesbian and gay people."

In his interview Dr Williams also revealed he will retire before his full term as Archbishop ends in 10 years, saying: "I will not be doing this job when I'm 70."