The Archbishop of Canterbury has announced plans to meet with the church in the US to discuss gay priests and same-sex marriage.

Rowan Williams, the spiritual head of Anglicans worldwide, warned yesterday that the controversial issue could divide the church.

Williams is currently visiting Canada.

He admitted to journalists that these are difficult times for the worldwide Anglican Communion and the division over sexuality has been “getting much more deep and bitter and threatens to divide us.”

Williams said his aim is to “keep people around the table as long as possible on this to understand one another.”

If the 77-million strong Anglican Church is to bless certain forms of behaviour, then it cannot simply be settled by one decree from the church’s leading figure, he said.

“It’s not just about nice people who want to include gay and lesbian Christians, and nasty people who want not to include them.

“If there is to be any change on the church’s attitude on gay and lesbian behaviour then I would hope it would be a change of attitude on the part of the church as a whole.”

He also acknowledged that there was a “political element” to the divisive issue.

Williams’ visit to US Episcopal Church is scheduled for late September.

The Church face exclusion from the Anglican Communion if they do not stop blessing same-sex marriage and ordinating gay priests by September 30.

This is Williams’ first visit to Canada in seven years, and follows criticism from the head of the Canadian church in the British press.

Archbishop Andrew Hutchison said in The Daily Telegraph earlier this month that William’s handling of the gay issue was “disappointing” and “lacking” at critical points.

However, at yesterday’s news conference, Hutchison seemed to have changed his tune. He referred to Williams as “a man of deep spirituality.”

The next Lambeth conference, which is held every decade to discuss global doctrine, will meet next year.