The symbolic head of the Anglican communion has been criticised by a leading American cleric for spending too much time and effort attempting to placate conservative bishops.

The Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, has had a turbulent year trying to lead the communion towards some sort of common position on the issue of gay clergy.

At the Lambeth Conference last month, more than 200 bishops boycotted the meeting of Anglican leaders held once a decade.

Earlier in the summer more than 300 evangelical and conservative bishops instead attended their own meeting, GAFCON.

John Bryson Chane, Bishop of Washington, is the first liberal bishop to speak out since the Lambeth boycotts.

“There was far too much recognition of those who chose not to participate in this Lambeth conference and far too little recognition of those bishops who chose to come,” he said.

At the conference the Archbishop of Canterbury asked for a moratorium on the consecration of bishops in same-sex partnerships to allow time for the Church to agree on a common position.

Bishop Chane said he does not see how he could abide by that request.

“In order to placate those primates and bishops who chose to absent themselves and to quell the growing dissension within the Church of England over the decision to ordain women bishops, and the issues of human sexuality in holy orders, Williams sought what he believed was a middle way that unfortunately continues to marginalise the Canadian and American churches.”

The first openly gay bishop, Gene Robinson, was elected in the diocese of New Hampshire in the American Episcopalian (Anglican) Church in 2003.

The Communion has been split over the issue of gay clergy, and there are even divisions among different parishes.

At Lambeth Archbishop Williams said the Communion could tackle the issue of homosexuality in the Church and the “pieces are on the board” for a settlement.

In a sermon on the final day of the Conference in Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams said: “In these days together we have not overcome our problems or reinvented our structures: that will still take time.”

But despite there still being “many questions” on the issue, a Covenant to bind the Communion together is needed, he said: “We may not have put an end to all our problems – but the pieces are on the board.”