Archbishops apologise for 'hurt' caused by sex and marriage statement

The Archbishop of York, John Sentamu, (l) and the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, (r).

The Church of England's two most senior archbishops have issued an apology for the "hurt and division" caused by a statement maintaining a traditional position on sex and marriage.

After a meeting of the church's College of Bishops, Archbishops Justin Welby and John Sentamu said they acknowledged it had "jeopardised trust". However, the statement itself has not been withdrawn or retracted.

In their document, published in response to the introduction of mixed-sex civil partnerships, the House of Bishops said last week: "For Christians, marriage – that is the lifelong union between a man and a woman, contracted with the making of vows – remains the proper context for sexual activity."

It added: "Sexual relationships outside heterosexual marriage are regarded as falling short of God's purposes for human beings. The introduction of same sex marriage... has not changed the church's teaching on marriage or same sex relationships."

Liberal bishops were said to be furious and broke ranks to criticise their own episcopal statement. Some had hoped this week's meeting of the College of Bishops might retract it.

But the new statement does not do this, and simply says: "We as Archbishops, alongside the bishops of the Church of England, apologise and take responsibility for releasing a statement last week which we acknowledge has jeopardised trust. We are very sorry and recognise the division and hurt this has caused.

"At our meeting of the College of Bishops of the Church of England this week we continued our commitment to the Living in Love and Faith project which is about questions of human identity, sexuality and marriage. This process is intended to help us all to build bridges that will enable the difficult conversations that are necessary as, together, we discern the way forward for the Church of England."

The statement has already attracted criticism from both liberals and conservatives in various online discussion forums.

One campaigner for LGBT rights described it as "a non-apology apology, out of the Richard Nixon mould", while some traditionalists were disappointed that the Archbishops appeared to be reaching for cover after facing criticism for last week's statement.

The Church of England is due to complete its 'Living in Love and Faith' (LLF) project later this year. The aim of it has been to examine contemporary moral issues. It has already been made clear this will "not pronounce on the rights or wrongs of same-sex marriage" – thus by implication leaving existing Church teaching in place – but "helping people to learn how to think," according to, Bishop Christopher Cocksworth, chair of its co-ordinating group.

Bishop Cocksworth added that the LLF project was driven by the fact that people are "in need of wisdom to order their loving and sexing well", the Church Times reported. 

David Baker is a former daily newspaper journalist now working as an Anglican minister in Sussex, England. Find him on Twitter @Baker_David_A