A group of Anglican leaders from around the world have rejected the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, as their leader after the Church of England backed prayers of blessing for same-sex couples.
Archbishops representing 10 of the 42 provinces in the Anglican Communion have signed a statement saying they no longer consider Mr Welby “leader of the global communion”.
They added the Church of England was “disqualified” as their historic “Mother Church”.
It is the first time that the Archbishop of Canterbury’s leadership has been rejected by such a large group of churches.
Since its formation in 1867, the incumbent Archbishop of Canterbury has taken the role of spiritual leader of the Anglican Communion, which is a global fellowship of 42 Anglican churches.
He has no formal power – instead, he has moral authority and is seen as the “first among equals”.
Lambeth Palace, the official residence of the Archbishop of Canterbury, said no formal change to the Anglican Communion’s structure could be made without approval from its four governing “instruments”.
The 10 archbishops, plus two from breakaway conservative provinces in the US and Brazil, are opposed to the blessing or marrying of gay couples.
They make up part of the membership of a group called the Global South Fellowship of Anglican Churches (GSFA), which claims to represent 75% of Anglicans around world, particularly across Asia and Africa.
The signatories include the GSFA’s chair, Archbishop Justin Badi of South Sudan, along with the archbishops of Chile, the Indian Ocean, Congo, Myanmar, Bangladesh, Uganda, Sudan, Alexandria and Melanesia.
In a statement on Monday they said they are “no longer able to recognise the present Archbishop of Canterbury as the first among equals leader of the global communion”.
“The Church of England has chosen to break communion with those provinces who remain faithful to the historic biblical faith,” the statement said.
Earlier this month the Church of England, which is led by Mr Welby, approved prayers of blessing for gay couples for the first time. However, its position on gay marriage has not changed and same-sex couples will still be unable to marry in church.
The plans, set out by bishops last month, have been criticised by those who think they go too far – and those who think they don’t go far enough.
A spokesperson for Lambeth Palace said it “fully appreciates” the GSFA’s stance but added the “deep disagreements” among Anglicans over sexuality and marriage are long-standing, and that reforms in one province do not affect rules in the others.
“In a world of conflict, suffering and uncertainty, we must remember that more unites us than divides us.
“Despite our differences, we must find ways to continue walking and working together as followers of Jesus Christ to serve those in need,” they said.