Church power anti-Christian, says Archbishop

By Cahal Milmo
Monday 25 November 2002 01:00

The new Archbishop of Canterbury set down his marker for radical reform of Anglicanism last night when he condemned it for being obsessed with "anti-Christian" trappings of power.

In remarks likely to reopen the debate over whether the Church of England should be disestablished, Rowan Williams said that the Anglican communion was too interested in the minutiae of status and titles.

Dr Williams, the Archbishop of Wales until he was selected in July to succeed Dr George Carey, also reopened the debate on homosexuality by saying that he saw a case for the recognition of faithful same-sex relationships.

His remarks were made in a BBC2 documentary, An Archbishop Like This, to be broadcast on Sunday.

Asked about the hierarchy of the worldwide church which he now heads, Dr Williams said that it had "bought very deeply" into a cult of status.

He said: "It's one of the most ambiguous things in the whole of that culture – the concern with titles, the concern with little differentiations, the different coloured buttons.

"There's something profoundly – I'll say it – anti-Christian in all of that. It's about guarding position, about fencing yourself in. And that is not quite what the Gospel is."

Dr Williams, who describes himself as "gloomy Celt", said he accepted that the worldwide Anglican church, riven by schism over issues such as women priests and bishops, could fall apart. But the new archbishop, who prefers to wear plain black and has spoken favourably of the disestablished church in Wales, said it would wrong to think an established Church of England could be dismantled at a single stroke.

On homosexuality, he said that the Bible was very clear in condemning a heterosexual who indulged in homosexual acts for gratification. But he added: "Does that automatically say that that is the only sort of homosexual activity there could ever be? What about those people who – with prayer and thought and seriousness and adulthood – say 'I've never known anything different'? What are we to say to them."

The archbishop stopped short of calling for gay marriage, saying that such language was not appropriate. But he added: "I can see a case for acknowledging faithful same-sex relationships."

When his appointment was announced, he was welcomed by the lesbian and gay Christian movement as "a real friend".

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