The Church of England’s governing body voted on Tuesday to issue an official apology for its racism over the past 70 years.
The BBC reported that Justin Welby, the archbishop of Canterbury and head of the church, said that he was “sorry and ashamed” of its history of racism at a meeting of the General Synod, the church’s legislative arm.
“I am sorry and ashamed,” Welby said. “I’m ashamed of our history, and I’m ashamed of our failure. There is no doubt when we look at our own church that we are still deeply institutionally racist. I said it to the College of Bishops a couple of years ago, and it’s [still] true.”
Welby added that the church must do its utmost to replace its “hostile environment” with a “hospitable, welcoming one” and should devote itself to stamping out racial injustice, according to the BBC.
Welby’s speech came after one delivered by the Reverend Andrew Moughtin-Mumby, a member of the synod from London’s Southwark Diocese, CNN reported. His speech centered on a specific case of racial discrimination by the church.
Moughtin-Mumby related the story of one his parishioners, Doreen Browne, whose family, he said, had been refused entry in 1961 to St. Peter’s Church in South London because of their race. The Brownes had immigrated to Britain from the Caribbean.
“Doreen’s family suffered a horrible, humiliating racism which still affects Doreen’s relationship with the church even today,” he said, according to CNN.
Moughtin-Mumby introduced the motion to issue the apology, which synod members unanimously supported.
CNN reported that the church’s apology specifically references the “Windrush generation,” which refers to the first group of immigrants from the Caribbean countries of the British Commonwealth. The British government had invited citizens from its colonies to come to England to help revitalize it after World War II.
The appellation refers to the name of one of the first ships to carry a substantial number of Caribbean immigrants to Britainthe HMT Empire Windrush, which brought hundreds of passengers from the Caribbean to the U.K. in 1948, the BBC said.
The Church of England is England’s official state church. It was founded in 1534 after King Henry VIII separated it from the Roman Catholic Church, which had refused to nullify the king’s marriage following his request. Today, it encompasses some 12,500 parishes, according to its website.