Scotland’s first minister has condemned claims by a prominent Roman Catholic that the Scottish Executive is giving in to political correctness through gay adoption policies.

The Rt Rev Joseph Devine, Bishop of Motherwell told Jack McConnell he would not support “politically correct zealots” and would not “stand by and watch the destruction of Christian values and truth.”

In a letter to the First Minister of Scotland he stressed that traditional heterosexual family units were the best prospect for the emotional and psychological well-being of a child and that the gay adoption bill, published last week, should be scrapped.

Mr McConnell reacted strongly to the claims in a letter to the bishop which said, “I do not lead a devolved government of ‘politically correct social engineers’ or ‘politically correct zealots’. We do not give preferential treatment to gay couples over heterosexual couples or ‘promote the interests of alternative homosexual lifestyles over traditional family’.

“I reject absolutely any suggestion our policies are designed to damage the institution of marriage or the important role of Christian churches in Scotland. I hope you will rethink that view. Adoption would only be permitted where it is clearly in the best interests of the child.

“The courts must be satisfied that the relationship between the proposed adoptive parents is permanent and stable.”

Scotland’s education minister, Peter Peacock, launching the bill, said: “At a time when the number of adoptions is falling and the number of children living in seriously chaotic households is rising, we have to secure more opportunities for youngsters to enjoy family stability which can make all the difference.”

Senior Bishops are seeking a “conscience clause” giving the church and other faith-based groups the right to reject applicants to their adoption agencies on the basis of gender. They fear Catholic-run adoption societies will be challenged under new laws expected to come into force next year.