The Anglican Archbishop of Sydney says he is "deeply sorry" for a letter signed by 34 church schools that argued for the preservation of laws giving them the power to discriminate against gay students and teachers.
One of the schools who signed was Dubbo’s Macquarie Anglican School.
Archbishop Glenn Davies joined the country's most senior Anglican - Melbourne Archbishop Philip Freier - in telling Attorney-General Christian Porter there was no need for laws that allow religious schools to expel gay students and sack gay teachers.
Bishop Davies said the reaction to the schools' letter showed it was untenable to express religious freedoms as exemptions to anti-discrimination laws, and he asked federal politicians to urgently replace them with "positive protection".
"The intent was to promote religious freedom for Anglican schools but I realise that it had the unfortunate consequence of affecting many gay students and teachers in our schools, for which I am deeply sorry," he said in a statement.
"There were fears that gay students were going to be expelled or gay teachers sacked. This really saddens me.
"This past week has demonstrated it is untenable that religious freedoms be expressed as exceptions in discrimination Acts. Some exemptions, such as those relating to sexuality, we do not use and have no wish to preserve."
The apology from Bishop Davies follows statements of regret from several principals who signed the original letter, which prompted an outpouring of hurt and anger from alumni late last week.
Tim Wright, headmaster of Shore, said it was "silly for us to have even thought that it made sense to say we should retain those [exemptions] and not use them".
Dr Wright described the letter as the most humiliating moment of his career. "[It] raised memories of suffering from many boys, including old boys who felt rejected by their peers," he told ABC radio.
The heads of Barker, Abbotsleigh and St Catherine's also apologised for the hurt caused by the letter.
The head of St Catherine's, Julie Townsend, said she did not realise when she signed the letter that the Sex Discrimination Act had been changed in 2013 to include the categories of sexual orientation and gender identity.
"I am sorry I was not aware ... because I can see that, in hindsight, it gives a very different slant to the letter we signed," she said in a statement to the school community.
"I apologise for putting St Catherine's into this situation and for the sadness, upset or embarrassment it may have caused you."
Abbotsleigh headmistress Megan Krimmer said: "The incongruity between saying Abbotsleigh does not discriminate, and supporting highly discriminatory legislation, albeit temporarily, has become clear."
Mr Porter is preparing the Morrison government's response to Philip Ruddock's review of religious freedom, which has exposed significant unease about exemptions to anti-discrimination law already enjoyed by religious organisations.
In the less-conservative diocese of Melbourne, Dr Freier said he was unaware of any Anglican school using its exemption from anti-discrimination laws to expel a gay student or fire a gay teacher.
Furthermore, "we have no desire to do so, and no desire for the legal right to discriminate along those lines", Dr Freier said.
The repudiation of the existing laws by the country's most senior Anglicans will put further pressure on Mr Porter to dump exemptions that allow schools to fire, or refuse to employ, gay teachers.
However, neither Archbishop directly addressed the issue of staff or prospective staff who enter a same-sex marriage, which would contravene the Anglican Church's teachings on marriage.