Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby delivered some candid comments about the Anglican Communion's intense internal disagreements over same-sex marriage during a session at the Greenbelt Christian festival in the U.K. over the weekend.
Among a number of notable comments about the ongoing cultural battle over gay nuptials, Welby reportedly said he's "constantly consumed with horror" due to the way The Church of England has treated gays and lesbians.
Welby also weighed in on the same-sex marriage controversy after he was asked by an audience member who is reportedly seeking a civil partnership if the church will ever bless gay unions.
Speaking frankly, the faith leader said he doesn't "have a good answer" to the question, Christian Today reported.
"If we were the only church here and (there were) no other churches, and if division didn't matter it would be much easier to answer," he is quoted as saying. "Do I know when there will be a point when the blessing (of the civil partnership) will happen? No. I don't and I can't see the road ahead."
But the Christian leader said churches need to strike a balance between loving and embracing all people "who love Jesus Christ" and respecting members who believe that gay relationships are morally wrong, saying there's no easy solution to the highly contentious debate.
Welby's comments come as The Church of England deals with ongoing discussion over homosexuality. It's no secret that same-sex nuptials have been a point of contention in the Anglican Communion, with leaders voting to temporarily suspend the U.S. Episcopal Church for three years over its allowance of gay marriage.
"The traditional doctrine of the church in view of the teaching of Scripture, upholds marriage as between a man and a woman in faithful, lifelong union," read a statement from the Anglican Communion at the time. "The majority of those gathered reaffirm this teaching."
The decision was likely precipitated by the Episcopal Church's decision last year to allow clergy to marry gays and lesbians — a move that came on the heels of other controversial decisions by the U.S. church branch.
The move changed the definition of marriage from being between a man and a woman to, more generally, being between two people.
The Episcopal Church elected its first openly gay bishop in 2003 and a blessing for same-sex relationships was offered in 2012, among other changes.
Some have warned that an Anglican splinter is inevitable, with some Church of England parishes meeting this week to discuss the issue. The Telegraph likened the meeting to a "shadow synod" — a gathering that could end up forming an alternative Anglican cohort that upholds traditional teachings on marriage.
Dr. Peter Sanlon, host of this week's meeting and vicar of Saint Mark’s Church in Tunbridge Wells, England, said the group — which has no immediate plans to split from the Anglican Communion, but is setting up a cohesive structure within the church — is concerned that the church's views will change.
"If senior leaders of the Church of England water down the teaching of the Church of England on key issues like homosexuality, then this synod could easily evolve in to a new Anglican jurisdiction in England," he told the Telegraph. "The Archbishop of Canterbury has signalled that he is aware of the possibility that a significant proportion of the church will not accept a change in the church’s teaching."
He continued, "This could be the beginning of that playing out."
Polling earlier this year suggested more members of The Church of England and those affiliated with the Anglican or Episcopal tradition thought same-sex marriage was "right" (43 percent) than thought it was wrong (35 percent), with the Telegraph reporting that leaders of the Anglican Communion who oppose it could be out of step with the church's members.
The Church of England is the "mother church" of the Anglican Communion, a fellowship that includes 85 million members across the globe.