Archbishop Welby welcomes blessings for same-sex couples but won't perform them

Church of England bishops have said they will not allow same-sex couples to be married by their priests - instead they will offer special 'blessing' prayers for those in a civil marriage or partnership.

The Archbishop of England has "joyfully" welcomed proposals to bless same-sex married couples, but said he will not personally carry them out due to his "pastoral responsibility for the whole communion".

Justin Welby spoke as the Church of England issued a formal apology for its historic rejection and exclusion of LGBTQI+ people.

Plans to allow such blessings for the first time were outlined earlier this week, but the position on gay marriage will not change and same-sex couples will still be unable to marry at church.

The blessings have been welcomed by some as progress on what is a divisive issue, but others have said they do not go far enough.

Mr Welby said while he is "extremely joyfully celebratory" of the proposals, he will not offer them in his role as the highest-ranking religious leader of a church which has varying views on the subject.

He told a press conference at Lambeth Palace Library: "Because of my pastoral care and responsibility of being a focus of unity for the whole communion I will, while being extremely joyfully celebratory of these new resources, I will not personally use them in order not to compromise that pastoral care."

Mr Welby also spoke movingly of a parish priest he had known in the past who was gay.

He said: "The next thing I heard was that the pressure of living with the church’s attitude had led to his suicide."

The Archbishop added he wished the priest could be "here today because I think he would be able to feel that, perhaps it wasn’t everything he wanted, but it said that he wasn’t a lesser".

Veteran campaigner Peter Tatchell described the offer of a blessing for same-sex couples as "an insult" and dismissed the Church of England’s apology for its treatment of LGBTQI+ people as "worthless" without any progress on allowing gay marriage.

Peter Tatchell talking to the media during a protest against the Qatar FIFA World Cup 2022. Credit: PA

The pastoral letter, penned by Bishops of the Church and published on Friday, stated: "We want to apologise for the ways in which the Church of England has treated LGBTQI+ people - both those who worship in our churches and those who do not.

"For the times we have rejected or excluded you, and those you love, we are deeply sorry.

"The occasions on which you have received a hostile and homophobic response in our churches are shameful and for this we repent.

"As we have listened, we have been told time and time again how we have failed LGBTQI+ people.

"We have not loved you as God loves you, and that is profoundly wrong.

"We affirm, publicly and unequivocally, that LGBTQI+ people are welcome and valued: we are all children of God."

The Church of England’s General Synod, sometimes known as the church’s parliament, will be asked to discuss the blessings proposals in detail during its meeting from February 6 to 9, with the main debate set for February 8.

It was one of the biggest news stories of our time - and it's still not over. So what did Boris Johnson know about Downing Street’s notorious parties? With fresh revelations from our Number 10 sources, in their own words, listen to the inside story...