Rowan Williams, the retiring Archbishop of Canterbury, has said in a new interview that Christians are committing a grave error by making gays and lesbians feel condemned, which he suggested might also be putting their mental health at risk.
"I think that although the Church has in recent years tried quite hard to say we are not condemning a person as such for what their sexual orientation is, and that's a very serious commitment, nonetheless there is of course a hangover, a feeling of 'yes, you're condemned in your entirety for what you are, not for what you do but for what you are,'" Williams said after a lecture organized by the think tank Theos, as reported by the Guardian.
"If people are getting the message that they are condemned for what they are, of course there's a very serious mental health impact. I hope that's not what the Church is doing; I certainly don't think it's what the Church should be doing," he added.
The leader of the worldwide Anglican Communion, who will be stepping down from his position in December, noted that the church has often failed to deliver clear messages to young Christians who identify as gay.
Williams has remained opposed to plans by the British government to change the legal definition of marriage to include same-sex couples, but has often said that church has not done enough to make gay people feel welcomed and included in the Christian body.
"We've not exactly been on the forefront of pressing for civic equality for homosexual people and we were wrong about that," Williams previously said in further reflection on his time in charge.
"Thinking back over things I don't think I've got right over the last 10 years, I think it might have helped a lot if I'd gone sooner to the United States when things began to get difficult about the ordination of gay bishops, and engaged more directly with the American House of Bishops," he added about regrets during his time as archbishop.
Meanwhile, it was reported that the Church of England committee has failed to decide on a new leader to replace Williams. It was hoped last week that a three-day meeting would come up with a "preferred candidate" and a "runner-up," which would have been submitted to Queen Elizabeth II and British Prime Minister David Cameron, but now the ruling body will have to meet in again in October to arrive at a consensus.
In the most recent interview, Williams said that he hopes that his successor will have a tough skin but also be willing to take risks in the numerous important decisions that will be expected of him.
"You're here to try and say what you believe you've been given to say … to try and share a particular picture of what the world is like, of what God is like, which of course leads you into sometimes risky and anything but infallible judgments about particular issues of the day," the archbishop said.
"Looking at the names that have been mentioned as my successor, I don't think any of them is going to have that problem, frankly. I'm very glad of that," he added.
Despite the controversies surrounding his time as head of the Anglican Communion, Williams said that he does not believe he is leaving the Church of England more divided than when he first took charge.
"There is no golden age in the Church's history, we may think 'oh, it was relatively problem-free then' – one of the advantages in this job of being a Church historian is that you know that is not true. When I think I have got problems, I think, well, at least it is not the fourth century, at least it is not the 17th century," he said.