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Archbishop of Canterbury would support appointment of gay bishops, if they pledge celibacy

LONDON (AP) — Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams was quoted Saturday as saying he is not opposed to the appointment of gay people as bishops, if they pledge to remain celibate.

Williams, the spiritual leader of the Anglican Communion, was quoted as telling the Times of London that he could in the future support the appointment of homosexual bishops — but not those in active sexual relationships.

"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. So there's always a question about the personal life of the clergy," Williams was quoted as telling the newspaper.

The archbishop has been accused by equality campaigners of inconsistency because celibacy is not regarded as compulsory for heterosexual clergy.

Differences over the elevation of gay clergy have caused turmoil within the Anglican Communion — an association of churches with 80 million members in about 160 countries. Some conservatives have quit the association in protest, while the U.S. Episcopal Church — the branch of the Anglican Communion in the United States — has appointed two gay bishops since 2003.

Last year, the Vatican put forward plans to make it easier for traditional Anglicans upset over the appointment of female priests and gay bishops to join the Catholic Church, whose teaching holds that homosexual activity is sinful.

Williams earlier this year blocked the appointment of the Very Rev. Jeffrey John, a celibate gay cleric, to the post of bishop of Reading, and imposed sanctions on the U.S. Episcopal Church over the elevation of Mary Douglas Glasspool, a lesbian, to a position as an assistant bishop.

Williams said the issue of homosexuality has become "a wound in the whole ministry" since his appointment as archbishop in 2002.

He told the Times that in the past he had ruled against endorsing gay relationships for clergy, and against the appointment of John as a bishop, because "the cost to the Church overall was too great to be borne at that point."

Gay rights campaigner Peter Tatchell said Williams had gone too far in seeking to accommodate conservative Anglicans. "Before he became Archbishop of Canterbury, he supported gay inclusion and equality. Now he victimizes gay clergy," Tatchell told the newspaper.