Barring gay bishops' spouses from Lambeth Conference was 'painful' but necessary, says Archbishop of Canterbury

Most Rev. Justin Welby said he wanted the communion to "disagree well" on the issue of homosexualityREUTERS/Jean Pierre

The Archbishop of Canterbury has defended his decision to ban the spouses of gay bishops from attending a major conference next year.

Archbishop Justin Welby told The Times that the decision had been "painful" but necessary to bring as many people as possible to the Lambeth Conference taking place in Canterbury in 2020. 

The conference is held around once every decade and brings together bishops from the worldwide Anglican Communion for discussion, prayer and reflection. 

More recently, the gathering has been strained by divisions in the communion over homosexuality, with churches from the Global South being opposed to gay marriage blessings and ordination, while Churches in North America and Scotland have embraced them. 

GAFCON, an orthodox Anglican group, has said that liberal bishops should not be invited to the conference, while the Anglican Churches of Nigeria and Uganda are planning to boycott the event. 

Archbishop Welby said the decision not to invite the spouses of gay bishops was a "lose-lose situation".

"Well over 90 per cent of the Anglican communion are conservative on issues of sexuality. I've invited all the bishops, including those in same-sex marriages. And I had to consider . . . getting as many people as possible there and excluding as few as possible. It's a lose-lose situation," he said.

He continued: "I had to take what is a really difficult and painful decision to say, in order for the conference to be as representative as possible and get all the bishops there and not have the risk of some provinces not coming because they felt I was pushing the envelope too far, that I couldn't ask all the spouses."

He added that he wanted the communion to "get to the point where we are able disagree well and that's while affirming the doctrine of marriage in its traditional Christian form".