The Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams has said that he can see no "theological objections" to a woman leading the Anglican Communion in the future, and also that he believed that many Christians allowed their views to become so strong that they risked being bigoted against homosexuals.
The comments have come in a television interview at the weekend that is sure to reignite two of the most controversial topics currently bringing the Anglican Communion to the brink of a schism.
On ITV, interviewer Melvyn Bragg asked if the Archbishop could see a time when women could take over the post of the Archbishop of Canterbury – the position that leads the worldwide Anglican Church. In response Dr Williams commented that he could see such an event occurring.
He said, "If the Church of England decides to ordain women as bishops then I think it would be difficult to restrict that. But that brings in the critical mass of support for women bishops in the Anglican Communion that would make it possible to have a woman Archbishop of Canterbury. So while I might not personally see any theological objection I can see quite a lot of hurdles to be overcome."
Dr Williams said that the Church had moved very slowly on the issue as a consensus could not be found: "I guess it’s partly because the church tends to move only when there is more than just minimum consensus on this."
When asked about homosexuality, Archbishop Williams said that the Bible clearly showed a sanctity of marriage for the expression of sexual relationships.
He thought that there was pressure from some Christians to accept that homosexual relationships have elements of the same qualities associated with marriage. The Archbishop said, "And I think one of the problems we face at the moment is distinguishing between two rather different things. One is the sort of hesitation which many people quite rightly feel about moving too quickly to a new scheme which might jeopardise what’s said about marriage. And the other is, if you like, plain prejudice and bigotry about homosexuality as such, of which there is an awful lot in Christian circles."
Although Dr Williams has done much work over the past year to heal the increasing rift between Christian liberals and conservatives, but his new statements have been said by many commentators as likely to stir up tensions once again.
The huge rift that has opened up in the Anglican Church came about largely from the Episcopal Church in America (ECUSA) making the decision to ordinate the openly gay Gene Robinson as Bishop of New Hampshire. Archbishop Williams has also found it hard to balance his decisions with that of his own Church of England, as he was forced to withdraw his initial support in appointing gay priest Jeffrey John as Bishop of Reading by furious evangelicals and conservatives.