Anglican Head Justin Welby Admits Gay Friends' 'Loving Relationships' Have Challenged Him

The Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby speaks at the Assembly Hall of Church House in this 2012 file photo. | (Photo: Reuters/Yui Mok)

The Most Rev. Justin Welby, new leader of the worldwide Anglican Communion, spoke ahead of his enthronement at Canterbury Cathedral, admitting that he has been "deeply challenged" by the strong relationships his gay friends have, but maintained the church's support for traditional marriage.

In an interview with BBC News on Thursday, Welby admitted that he has a number of gay friends who are in strong, monogamous relationships, and said that he was "deeply challenged" by the love that they have for each other.

Welby insisted, however, that the church does not plan on changing its opposition to the legalization of gay marriage.

"The Church of England holds very firmly, and continues to hold to the view, that marriage is a lifelong union of one man to one woman," Welby explained. "At the same time, at the heart of our understanding of what it is to be human is the essential dignity of the human being."

The British government is pushing forward with its plans to legalize same-sex marriage by 2015. Both the Anglican and Roman Catholic Church in the U.K. have maintained that social change should not be forced on society and that traditional marriage needs to be respected. Many analysts, however, are predicting that Britain will join the growing number of Western European countries that have changed their definition of marriage.

In the interview, Welby said that the Anglican Communion was not turning a blind eye to gay relationships, but that it was committed to "loving people as they are and where they are."

The current Archbishop of Canterbury stroke a similar tone as his predecessor, the Rt. Rev. Rowan Williams, who also supported traditional marriage while demanding that the church do a better job when it comes to protecting gay rights.

"You'll find that in every church and you'll find that because it imitates the character and the practice of Jesus himself," Welby added.

The Anglican leader admitted that the church is not perfect and is prone to mistakes, but they can and still are a force of much good.

"The church will certainly get things wrong, I certainly will get things wrong. We will also get much right and do so already."

Pope Francis, the newly elected leader of the Roman Catholic Church, sent his well wishes to Welby, expressing his hopes that they can maintain good relations between the two churches.

"Please be assured of my prayers as you take up your new responsibilities, and I ask you to pray for me as I respond to the new call that the Lord has addressed to me," said Pope Francis.

"I look forward to meeting you in the near future, and to continuing the warm fraternal relations that our predecessors enjoyed."

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