In private correspondence, seen by the Daily Telegraph, Dr Rowan Williams, refutes the Anglican Communion’s traditional teaching that homosexuality is sinful.
Furthermore, he expresses his hope that the Church will change its position to be more accepting of gay partnerships.
His comments – made in a letter written shortly before he became Archbishop of Canterbury – will infuriate the conservatives who boycotted the recent Lambeth Conference in protest at the presence of liberals who elected Anglicanism’s first openly gay bishop.
Leading evangelicals have claimed that he is in an “untenable position”.
“The Bible does not address the matter of appropriate behaviour for those who are, for whatever reason, homosexual by instinct or nature,” Dr Williams writes.
“By the end of the 80s I had definitely come to the conclusion that scripture was not dealing with the predicament of persons whom we should recognise as homosexual by nature.
“I concluded that an active sexual relationship between two people of the same sex might therefore reflect the love of God in a way comparable to marriage, if and only if it had the about it the same character of absolute covenanted faithfulness.”
Although Dr Williams was known to have liberal views on the issue of homosexuality when he was appointed as archbishop in 2002, since moving to Canterbury he has tried to hold a traditional line for the sake of unity in the Church.
However, he makes clear in the letter that he believes that the Church could relax its strict teaching with time.