In an interview with the BBC Welby, a former oil industry executive, said: “You see gay relationships that are just stunning in the quality of the relationship.”

Whilst saying he adhered to the church’s formal standing on homosexuality he said he was “challenged as how to respond to it”.

Speaking ahead of his enthronement as the Anglican church’s 105 Archbishop of Canterbury, Welby spoke of the distinction between doctrine and pastoral care.

“There’s a very big difference between the ideals we hold to, and that are essential to hold to, and also pastoral practise.

“In pastoral practise you work with people as they are,” he added.

Asked whether this meant he meant that the church would turn a blind eye to gay relationships Welby said: “It’s not turning a blind eye. It’s about love people as they are and where they are.”

Welby, who is firmly in favour of the ordination of female bishops, said that the church needed to work out ways of dealing with differences.