Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby
Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby (L) speaks with protesters on the grounds of Canterbury Cathedral REUTERS/Toby Melville

The Archbishop of Canterbury has apologised to the LGBT community for the "hurt and pain" caused to them by the Anglican Church. Justin Welby's statement on 15 January followed the church's decision to impose sanctions against the US Episcopal Church for its acceptance of same-sex marriage, an act that was "a fundamental departure from the faith and teaching held by the majority of our provinces on the doctrine of marriage".

The statement followed a summit held in Canterbury during which the issue of gay marriage and the church was discussed at length between the conservatives and liberals, a subject which threatened to create a permanent schism between the two groups.

However, the church body reached a decision that marriage should continue to be a sacrament between a man and a woman. "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. The majority of those gathered reaffirm this teaching," read a statement by the Anglican Church.

During a press conference following the summit, Welby said: "It's a constant source of deep sadness that people are persecuted for their sexuality. I want to take this opportunity personally to say how sorry I am for the hurt and pain, in the past and present, that the church has caused and the love that we at times completely failed to show, and still do, in many parts of the world including in this country."

Referring to the fractious debate within the church he added: "I don't agree with everyone around the communion, and they certainly don't agree with me." While the US Espiscopal Church is not being punished, it has been banned from representation on key bodies and barred from voting on issues relating to doctrine or strategy for a period of three years.

Following the decision of the primates, protesters gathered outside Canterbury Cathedral shouting "Shame on you." Welby told the media: "The group outside... reminds us of the pain and suffering of many LGBTI people around the world and the extreme suffering in some countries where they are criminalised."

While they decided to take the conservative road in relation to same-sex marriage, the primates did express their support for the LGBT community, along with their regret at having treated the community harshly in the past.

In a communiqué titled "Walking Together in the Service of God in the World", the primates said they condemn "homophobic prejudice and violence and resolved to work together to offer pastoral care and loving service irrespective of sexual orientation. This conviction arises out of our discipleship of Jesus Christ.

"The Primates reaffirmed their rejection of criminal sanctions against same-sex attracted people."

They added that the Christian church and the Anglican communion have "caused deep hurt" by the way they have treated people based on their sexual orientation. They went on to say that they "express their profound sorrow and affirm again that God's love for every human being is the same, regardless of their sexuality, and that the church should never by its actions give any other impression".