Ex-Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams says views on gay people led church to not tackle child abuse

Former Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams has said child sex abuse in the Church may have been ignored due to an awkwardness around gay people.

Williams said the Church of England “overcompensated” for earlier repressive attitudes to gay clergy with a reluctance to deal rigorously with priests who sexually abused children.

He told an independent inquiry into child sex abuse that church leaders 30 or 40 years ago did not want to be “judgmental about people’s sexual activities”.

Queen Elizabeth II speaks with then Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams (Getty)

In recent years, “more and more people [are] coming out of the closet. The question of clergy sexuality has been more openly discussed. The change in climate has been quite striking… I think there has been a sea change.”

He went on: “At a time when people were beginning to feel awkward about traditional closeted attitudes, there was perhaps an overcompensation, [people] saying, ‘Well, we don’t want to be to be judgmental about people’s sexual activities.

“We must therefore give people a second chance and understand the pressures,’ and so on.”

He suggested that “a rather paradoxical consequence of the traditional view of homosexuality within the church [is that] you want to overcompensate a bit for it.”

Pope Benedict XVI meets with then Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams (Getty)

Williams has previously said that people are still upset he didn’t push the gay rights agenda more while he was Archbishop from 2002 to 2012.

He told the Telegraph that his gay friends still tell him that he let them down on the issue.

Referring to comments he made last year, he said: “That’s what they say to me. And still do. There are friendships that have been really damaged by that.”

“I think people expected me to push the agenda harder than I did.

“But I don’t think that an Archbishop can be a campaigner in quite that sense.”

He admitted two years ago that the church “was wrong” on gay equality, and said “all institutions need to wake up to the case for equality”. 

His successor as Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, said that it was “almost impossible” for some Christians to accept same-sex marriage.

In an interview with Alistair Campbell last year Welby refused to give a “straight answer” on whether gay sex is a sin, prompting criticism from some.