The former Archbishop of Canterbury Dr Rowan Williams admits he regularly questioned whether he had let gay and lesbian people down during his time in post.

Dr Williams retired as leader of the Church of England and head of the 85 million-strong Anglican Communion in December last year.

Appearing at the Edinburgh International Book Festival in conversation with Britain’s second female rabbi Baroness Julia Neuberger, Dr Williams said he regularly questioned whether he had let gay and lesbian people down during his time as Archbishop amid rows over the Church’s teaching on gay relationships.

“I know that is what a great many of my gay and lesbian friends would say that I did,” he said.

“I look back and I think, ‘at what point would it have been constructive to do something different that would have made a difference and take us forward?’, and I don’t know, it’s quite soon to say.

“It’s a slow fuse. The best thing I can say is that that is a question which I ask myself really rather a lot, and I don’t quite know the answer.”

As Archbishop in October 2012 Dr Williams admitted that the Church of England’s attitude to gay relationships had often been harmful to people on the receiving end of its message.

In the previous month Dr Williams said that while the Church was “wrong” not to have advocated gay equality, Prime Minister David Cameron was wrong to have embarrassed the Church of England over the issue of equal marriage.

The current Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby admitted that the Church’s opposition to equal marriage was “utterly overwhelmed” by vocal supporters in July.