The Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby has defended the Church of England’s position on gay relationships from an attack by former MP Ann Widdecombe, saying the issue is “complex” and that “people can’t help being gay”.

During the hour-long phone-in segment featuring the Archbishop with LBC’s James O’Brien, the head of the Church of England took a call from former MP Ann Widdecombe, and defended the church’s acceptance of gay people.

Less than a day after describing MP Nigel Evans as “truthful, considerate, kind and gentle”, Widdecombe attacked the Church of England for its position on same-sex relationships. Mr Evans is on trial, and denies rape, two indecent assaults and six sexual assaults.

She called into the show to say: “As you’ll be aware, I left the Church of England in 1993, and one of the reasons I left was because … the Church of England never seems to know what it thinks about anything. We couldn’t get a clear steer on abortion. It is quiet on a whole range of issues. What I want is a Church which says what is right, regardless of whether it is popular or not, says what is wrong, but gives a very straightforward teaching.”

She went on: “The last straw for me was when the Church decided to ordain women… the nature of the debate in that Synod was not ‘is this theologically right’, it was ‘if we don’t do that we won’t appeal to the modern world’, but your pews aren’t full.”

The Archbishop responded: “The church is quite clear that sex outside marriage is wrong. And marriage is between a man and a woman. That seems to be a pretty clear statement. I don’t think you’re right on that, I just think we try to say things with a certain amount of charity and respect for the complexity of issues that people in this world face.”

Widdecombe then asked the Archbishop to clarify, simply saying: “Is homosexuality wrong?”, to which he responded: “I’m not going to answer that straightforwardly because it is a complex issue. People can’t help being gay and every human being’s dignity has to be respected. If you put the same question to the Pope, you get the same answer.”

On the ordination of women, Mr Welby said he thought it was “the right thing to do theologically”.

Widdecombe continued to add: “I’m not picking on homosexuality because I want to pick on gays.”

When asked by O’Brien “Why do you care so much Ann”, she responded to say she sought a clearer answer from Mr Welby.

Another caller started her question saying “I don’t want to sound in any way homophobic, Jesus died for all of us – we’re all terrible sinners. I know the church has done some horrible things to offend the gay community, so I don’t want to sound homophobic, or to start a big debate about the homosexual issue.”

She went on: “I think the bible makes it clear that homosexual practice is wrong,” and asked at which point the Church of England would oppose the Government, using the example of: “If for example the Government said they were going to shut every church tomorrow, and we are going to take a huge amount of public money and use it so that David Cameron can build a mansion for himself on the moon.”

He responded: “In terms of where we draw the line on what we oppose, there are so many examples through history, it’s where very often things are clearly, deeply immoral, deeply wrong. (I am not talking about the sexuality issue here.)

“And particularly when we are doing things that are actually against our fundamental constitution.” The Archbishop went on to talk about the persecution of the Jews in Germany in the 1930s, including by his own family.

Continuing, he said the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act was “properly passed”, and so the church accepts that, and “lives with a new situation… It doesn’t mean that one necessarily means the Act was a good thing, or a bad thing, but simply we need to recognise the facts on the ground.”

Going on, he said it was “unacceptable”, that adulterous politicians had in the past spoken out strongly against same-sex marriage.

“We must be careful when throwing stones, as none of us have clean conscience,” he said, concluding that the bible states that “all sex outside of marriage is wrong.”

During the debate, Justin Welby said he hoped the first female bishop would be appointed in early 2015.

He also spoke out about the Church of England’s perceived reluctance to support same-sex relationships, saying that African Anglicans could be attacked or killed as a result.