By Muvija M
LONDON (Reuters) - Church of England bishops apologised to LGBTQI+ people on Friday for the rejection and hostility they have faced, with the Archbishop of Canterbury acknowledging that the religious body was still "very divided" on the subject.
The apology comes days after the Church of England set out proposals developed by the bishops that showed it would refuse to allow same-sex couples to get married in its churches, but said priests could bless them in church.
"We have not loved you as God loves you, and that is profoundly wrong," the bishops said in an open letter. "We affirm, publicly and unequivocally, that LGBTQI+ people are welcome and valued: we are all children of God.
"The occasions on which you have received a hostile and homophobic response in our churches are shameful and for this we repent."
The Church of England, central to one of the world's oldest Christian institutions, the Anglican communion, stood by its teaching that marriage is between "one man and one woman" in the proposals. Gay marriage is legal in Britain.
A spokesperson for gay and transgender lobby group Stonewall said the Church of England had "once again" fallen short on being inclusive and supportive of LGBTQ+ Christians.
"An apology only goes so far when so many LGBTQ+ Christians have faced hostility and discrimination for who they are," the spokesperson told Reuters via e-mail.
SLOW TO CHANGE
The most high-profile support from a religious leader for same-sex couples to get married in churches has come from the Bishop of Oxford, Steven Croft, who apologised in November for having been slow to change his views.
On Friday, Croft said: "It is very good for us to be able to say today that the church can now offer public services of blessing, but we know that we have further to go."
Croft's call for a change has been backed publicly only by a few of his fellow bishops, who along with clergy and laity form the Church of England's governing body, known as the General Synod.
"We're divided, there's no point in pretending otherwise. The Church of England and the Anglican Communion are very divided," Welby told reporters on Friday, ahead of a meeting of the synod next month where the proposals will be deliberated further.
"I'm sure that discussions will continue. But this is an enormously important point, not only within the Anglican Communion and the Church of England, but also across the global church," he added.
"It's a long journey. I'm sure that the last word hasn't been said."
(This story has been corrected to say Church of England, not UK's bishops, in the headline)
(Reporting by Muvija M; editing by William James and Alex Richardson)