A Romford priest has written an open letter to Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams after Dr Williams said the gay “lifestyle” was at odds with the church’s teaching.

Father John-Francis Friendship, who is in a civil partnership, wrote that Dr Wiliams’ comments on gays did “immense harm” to the gospel and criticised his use of the word “lifestyle”.

He told PinkNews.co.uk that he could not see why a gay person would want to join the church right now.

The open letter was written as a response to a statement from Dr Williams following a decision by US Anglicans to ordain gay clergy.

Dr Williams said last month that the church may have to accept “two styles of being Anglican” in order to avoid a schism over the issue.

He added: “A person living in such a union cannot without serious incongruity have a representative function in a Church whose public teaching is at odds with their lifestyle.

“A blessing for a same-sex union cannot have the authority of the Church Catholic, or even of the Communion as a whole . . . It is hard to see how they can act in the necessarily representative role that the ordained ministry, especially the episcopate, requires.”

In response, Fr John-Francis wrote an open letter to the Archbishop which has been signed by around 80 people.

He wrote: “We do not believe that your ‘Reflections’ speak to the needs of our own culture or society. In particular we believe your references to civil partnerships as a “chosen life-style” and your assertion that those who have made such a commitment are in the same position as “a heterosexual person living in a sexual relationship outside the marriage bond” do immense harm to the gospel.

“Whilst we applaud your desire that we are called to “become the Church God wants us to be, for the better proclamation of the liberating gospel of Jesus Christ” we find no indication of how that can be for those who are not heterosexual, nor any indication of what that liberating gospel might be.”

Fr John-Francis told PinkNews.co.uk: “I felt some of the ways he expressed himself were extremely detrimental to gay and lesbian people.

“If the church is saying that they only recognise the state of marriage in which people can express a physical relationship and anything else is sinful but will still not recognise civil partnerships, then that’s a Catch-22. We’re not recognised as married so we’re damned if we do, damned if we don’t.

On Dr William’s usage of the phrase “chosen lifestyle”, he said: “I think lifestyle is what wallpaper you put up, to most people. It’s not how you live and your relationship.”

He added: “A lot of people in the church are very frightened. It’s getting similar to not being able to say you’re Jewish. It’s a fear of being ostracised, being reviled, in certain parts of the church. The Church of England says its against prejudice but its burying its head in the sand. They are closing their eyes.

“I wanted to write the letter to give a voice to those who felt they couldn’t sign it, or write their own letter. I’ve had a lot of positive feedback.

“I don’t think that gay and lesbian people would find good news in what the church is saying now. In a society in which we are judged as open and inclusive, where the state is saying, ‘you’re welcome, you’re equal’, we should be judged exactly the same as heterosexuals are.

Fr John-Francis, who said he has worked with gay people who have been hurt by the church’s stance on gays, said: “It does immense harm. I know the harm it has done to individuals on an emotional level.

“I don’t see why a gay person would want to join the church right now. It does more harm than good.”

Fr John-Francis’ letter follows a statement from 13 progressive groups in the Church of England who are pushing for gay ordinations of bishops and same-sex blessings.

They plan to fight for a liberal majority of seats in the General Synod in order to turn the church around to full acceptance of gays. The next elections will be held in 2010.

To read Fr John-Francis’ letter in full, visit his Facebook group.