The archbishop of Canterbury has said he would rather see the Church of England lose its privileged status as the established church of the country than risk the global church fracturing over disagreements on same-sex marriage, the Guardian has been told.
Justin Welby, who will crown King Charles in a religious ceremony in May, reportedly made the comment at a private meeting with about a dozen MPs at Westminster on Monday.
The MPs raised concerns about the prospect of the C of E offering blessings to same-sex couples who have legally married, but continuing to refuse them a church wedding.
Several MPs broached the question of whether the C of E should retain its status as the established church when it was out of step with the law of the land and with public opinion.
Welby replied that he would rather see the church disestablished than risk losing conservative groups within the global Anglican church, the Guardian has been told by people present.
A spokesperson for the archbishop said they did not recognise the comments attributed to Welby.
Disestablishment of the C of E would be a momentous break in a history stretching to the 16th century, and would lead to the church losing its reserved seats in the House of Lords.
The issue of marriage equality and LGBTQ+ rights has been causing deep and painful divisions within the C of E and the global church for four decades. Since same-sex marriage legislation for England and Wales was passed in 2013, the C of E has continued to refuse to allow same-sex couples to marry in church, and it is exempt under the Equality Act.
Next week the C of E’s legislative body, the General Synod, will consider a recommendation from bishops to allow clergy to bless same-sex civil marriages. Church weddings for same-sex couples will continue to be prohibited.
The bishops’ proposal was intended to be a compromise that would keep progressives and traditionalists from splintering from the church over the issue. But both sides have reacted furiously to the proposal. Progressives say the move would mean gay Christians are still second-class citizens in the church; traditionalists say it is a break with biblical teaching that marriage is between a man and a woman.
A number of MPs have threatened parliamentary intervention unless the C of E aligns itself with the law. A cross-party group of about a dozen MPs met at Westminster on Wednesday to discuss possible next steps.
Tony Baldry, formerly the second estates commissioner, who answers questions in parliament on C of E matters, briefed the meeting on past interventions on the issues of female bishops and of divorcees being allowed to marry in church.
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