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The Archbishop of Canterbury warned today of the "absolutely catastrophic" consequences for Christians in other countries if the Church of England decided to solemnise gay marriages.
Archbishop Justin Welby said that a visit to a mass grave for persecuted Christians in Nigeria in January “burnt into his soul” the effect that decisions made at Lambeth Palace could have.
The Christians were killed by their neighbours who thought that their tolerance of homosexuality would corrupt others, he explained during an LBC radio debate hosted by James O’Brien.
“There were 369 bodies,” he said. “I was standing with relatives. That burns itself into your soul, as does the suffering of gay people in this country.”
He said that church leaders in South Sudan had begged him not to change policy on gay marriage because they feared recrimination and would no longer be able to accept help from the Church.
Archbishop Welby admitted that he personally had “hesitations” about celebrating gay marriage, but added that the Church had treated gay people badly in the past and must respect the dignity of every person.
“Personally I have a real hesitation. I am incredibly uncomfortable saying that, because I really don’t want to say no to people who love each other, but you have to have a sense of following what the teaching of the Church is. It’s not a simple issue – it’s something I wrestle with every day, and often in the middle of the night.”
At one point during the hour-long interview, which was interspersed with questions from listeners, Archbishop Welby was forced to defend his view on gay marriage to the former Conservative MP Ann Widdecombe, who called the programme to complain that the Church's stance on moral issues such as abortion and gay marriage was unclear and was the reason she left to become a Catholic in 1993.
“We try to say things with charity and respect,” Archbishop Welby argued.
Elsewhere in the interview he said that food poverty and fuel poverty were moral issues, and that he wanted to live in a country where the economy did not force people to resort to food banks. Citing Catholic social teaching on the common good, he said that Churches were working together to help the most needy in society.