LONDON -- The spiritual head of the Anglican Church, Archbishop Rowan Williams, backed gay people becoming bishops on Saturday as long as they remain celibate, risking more divisions within the Church on the issue.
Making one of the most explicit statements he has made on the subject, the head of the Church of England told the Times newspaper that he had "no problem" with their consecration.
But he would not endorse gay clergy in active relationships because of tradition and historical "standards" that require celibacy, he said in the interview.
Williams went to great lengths to explain why he stands with conservatives against gay clergy when it comes to doctrine.
He said 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".
The Archbishop said that since his appointment eight years ago he knew the gay issue as "a wound in the whole ministry".
"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," Williams said.
His comments provoked an angry response from campaigners who accused him of being inconsistent because they say he previously blocked the appointment of a celibate homosexual cleric.
"Yet again, Rowan is sitting on the fence regarding gay clergy ... I don't know how Rowan sleeps at night," rights campaigner Peter Tatchell was quoted as saying.
Conservatives say his stance is at odds with 2,000 years of Christian teaching, the Times reported.
His views may endanger an Church unity scheme to be based around a new covenant on which all branches of the Church agree.
© 2015 Thomson/Reuters. All rights reserved.