Desmond Tutu has called for the Anglican Church in Africa to stop “obsessing” with gay priests and same-sex marriages.

The Nobel Peace Prize winner and former Archbishop of Cape Town said that church leaders in Africa were not paying enough attention to problems in Zimbabwe, HIV/AIDs, or the crisis in Darfur.

He told ABC News: “There are so many issues crying out for concern and application by the church of its resources, and here we are, I mean, with this kind of extraordinary obsession.”

“Certainly there’s not been anything like the same standing up to the evil and exercising the prophetic ministry that one would have expected from the church – and that has been very … distressing.”

Anglican communities across the world have been divided by the issue over sexuality.

The Anglican church in South Africa is the only one on the continent that has a liberal attitude towards women priests.

Most African churches are implacably opposed to gay or lesbian clergy and regard homosexuality as biblically forbidden.

Earlier this year, PinkNews.co.uk reported how the legendary anti-apartheid campaigner told a conference in Nairobi that gay hate was the same as racism.

Dr Tutu, who was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1984, told journalists: “For one to penalise someone for their sexual orientation is the same as penalising someone for something they can do nothing about, like ethnicity or race.

“I cannot imagine persecuting a minority group which is already being persecuted.”

Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury, has ruled out a discussion on sexuality at the next Lambeth Conference in 2008, but stressed that Anglican bishops should focus on “the listening process.”