Page last updated at 17:31 GMT, Tuesday, 9 February 2010

Church must tackle diversity - Archbishop of Canterbury

Dr Rowan Williams: "I am profoundly sorry"

The Archbishop of Canterbury has called on all sides in controversies in the Church of England to give consideration to the views of other Christians.

Dr Rowan Williams told the Church's general synod "megaphone tones" were being used over issues such as women bishops and gays in the Church.

He apologised for views in the west causing harm to Christians elsewhere.

Some traditionalists praised the speech for encouraging Christians to take on board diverse views.

Dr Williams said: "Most of us in this chamber hold the ordination of women as bishops as a 'good', something that'll enhance our faithfulness to Christ and our integrity in mission.

"But that good is at the moment jeopardised in two ways - by the potential loss of those who can't see it as a good, and by the equally conscience-driven concern that there are ways of securing that desired good that'll corrupt it or compromise it fatally."

Careless language

Dr Williams raised the example of the liberal American Episcopal Church ordaining gay bishop Gene Robinson.

He pointed to the impact that this had had on Anglicans in Malaysia, who live alongside Muslims and whose freedom to operate there is compromised.

Dr Williams said it was so easy in such debates to use careless language and cause damage.

Robert Pigott
Robert Pigott, Religious affairs correspondent, at the synod

Dr Williams told the synod meeting here at Church House that it must face up to what he called a "tragic fact" - that it was simply impossible for all sides in a debate like that about women bishops to get exactly their own way.

He told Anglicans that they'd asked wider society to respect its freedoms while guaranteeing those of others, most recently during the debate on the government's new Equality Bill, but had often been unwilling to extend the same consideration to each other.

His speech was also a rebuke to Anglicans around the world involved in the bitter dispute about homosexuality.

Dr Williams said they'd caused chaos, schism, broken relationships and shattered trust.

He said Anglicans had even sometimes undermined the reputation of Christianity itself.

He said: "The debate over the status and vocational possibilities of LGBT [lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender] people in the Church is not helped by ignoring the existing facts, which include many regular worshippers of gay or lesbian orientation and many sacrificial and exemplary priests who share this orientation.

"There are ways of speaking about the question that seem to ignore these human realities or to undervalue them.

"I have been criticised for doing just this, and I am profoundly sorry for the carelessness that could give such an impression."

The chairman of conservative evangelical Church group Reform, the Reverend Rod Thomas, told the BBC he believed the Archbishop's address was positive for traditionalists.

He said: "I thought it was a very wise speech, asking Christians to bear with one another and to care about the impact they're having on one another, and not to so pursue what they want to see that they effectively exclude people from the Church.

"If that's going to be applied to the women bishops debate then we clearly need to see a legal provision for people who are going to have difficulty with women bishops."

Christina Rees, head of the Women and the Church (Watch) group, said: "I think it was a caution to the Church and a plea that we behave with Christian integrity, and to recognise it's not simplistic.

"There are competing 'goods' and competing freedoms and competing rights.

"What I didn't hear is any request for a compromise deal specifically on women bishops, but just a word from him to be aware of our Christian concern for all people involved."

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