CANTERBURY, England — Anglican leaders have overwhelmingly decided to stay together at a summit aimed at preventing a split in their fellowship over homosexuality, Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby said Friday, a day after the group sanctioned the U.S. Episcopal Church for supporting gay marriage.
Welby, the Anglican spiritual leader, acknowledged the pain that the decision will cause gays and lesbians and apologized for the church's past wrongs against them, But he said a majority of Anglicans consider the position of the U.S. church an unacceptable deviation from doctrine.
"Everyone unanimously indicated that they wanted the churches of the Anglican Communion to walk together," Welby said. "There was no exception ... it was universal and unanimous."
Welby said there had to be "consequences" for the American churches' decision to allow gays to marry.
Episcopalians have been barred from any policy-setting positions in the Anglican Communion for three years — a decision that avoided a permanent split in the 85 million-member communion, although it dismayed liberal Anglicans.
Divisions were still evident in the shadow of the great cathedral in Canterbury, where demonstrators, many of them from conservative communities in Africa, waved signs and sang, hoping to get Welby's attention and challenge the communion to consider their rights.
Jayne Ozanne, a leading gay rights activist in the church, expressed outrage over the decision, arguing there was little "recognition at the pain this is causing," particularly for those in African communities where homosexuality is harshly punished.
"We are here talking about human beings, real people who are having their lives torn apart," she said.
Presiding Bishop Michael Curry, head of the Episcopal Church, said in a phone interview that the U.S. church would not roll back its acceptance of gay marriage.
"They heard from me directly that that's not something that we're considering," Curry said of his remarks to the other Anglican leaders. "They basically understand we made our decision, and this is who we are and we're committed to being a house of prayer for all."
He indicated Episcopalians were disappointed, but would work toward building acceptance of same-sex relationships throughout the Anglican fellowship. In this week's meeting, a majority of the Anglican leaders affirmed the teaching that marriage is only the union of a man and a woman.
"We are loyal members of the Anglican Communion, but we need to say we must find a better way," Curry said. "I really believe it's part of our vocation."
Welby will now lead a task force that will try to reconcile conflicting views over sexuality, "with the intention of restoration of relationship" with the Episcopal Church, the Anglican body in the United States.
Welby and Curry said there had been no discussion of the specifics of this process or what would have to happen over the next three years for the Episcopalians to be restored to full participation in the global fellowship.
Anglicans are the third-largest grouping of Christians in the world, behind Roman Catholics and the Orthodox.