LONDON – The Anglican Church is on the brink of separation over homosexuality, and the head of the worldwide denomination has admitted that he fears losing control of the situation.
Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams says that he feared anything that set Christians more deeply at odds with each other.
"And because I am an ordinary, sinful human being, I fear the situation slipping out of my control, such as it is," he says in a documentary on Canterbury Cathedral to be broadcast on ITV - the most popular commercial television channel in Britain.
"I fear schism – not because I think it's the worst thing in the world but because, at this particular juncture, it's going to be bad for us. It's going to drive people into recrimination and bitterness."
In the documentary, the archbishop says: "We can't take it for granted that the Anglican Communion will go on as it always has been.
"Of course that's unsettling," he adds, "of course that's painful for everybody, but there's no way of moving on without asking the hard questions."
Williams’ comments, which will be leapt on by critics who accuse him of weak leadership, come at a highly sensitive time for the worldwide Anglican Communion, which is being pulled apart by warring factions.
The Archbishop of Canterbury will chair a make-or-break summit in Africa next month with his fellow primates, the archbishops who head the 38 self-governing churches or provinces that make up the 70 million-strong Anglican Communion.
Williams is hoping that a compromise will emerge, allowing conservatives and liberals to co-exist relatively peacefully until a more formal split can be worked out over the next decade.
Meanwhile, the Anglican head is facing fresh turmoil in the Church of England following the disclosure that more than 50 gay or lesbian priests have "married" in civil partnership ceremonies.