The Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, has spoken about his fear that the Anglican church might not be able to remain united in the face of deepening rows over gay and lesbian clergy.

Williams, who is head of the Anglican communion worldwide, has been trying to hold the opposing wings of the church together since taking up his post in 2002.

Fundamentalist and evangelical factions, notably in Africa and the US, have threatened to break away from the church because of their opposition to gay people taking holy orders or entering into civil partnerships.

The decision of New Hampshire Anglicans to appoint out gay man Gene Robinson as their bishop in 2003 caused serious divisions.

The appointment of a woman, Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori, as head of the US Anglican communion, caused even more tension, exacerbated by her support of Bishop Robinson and of civil partnerships.

Many on both sides of the divide are openly talking about a schism, with the most likely outcome being the fundamentalists forming their own hardline church, whie the bulk of the church would remain in communion with the Archbishop.

Speaking to ITV as part of a documentary on Canterbury Cathedral, Dr Williams appears to be pessimistic that the church can continue as a united denomination.

“We can’t take it for granted that the Anglican communion will go on as it always has been,” he said.

“There’s no way of moving on without asking the hard questions.”

Those questions will be on the agenda at a meeting of the 38 Anglican primates taking place in Tanzania next month.

This crucial meeting could see the first steps to splitting the Anglican movement.