Religious leaders have lost faith in Scotland’s First Minister over controversial plans to allow gay couples to adopt.

Jack McConnell met clergymen yesterday amid reports that the Bishop of Motherwell, Joseph Devine, a vocal opponent of the Adoption and Children Bill, wrote to Labour and Liberal Democrat MSPs outlining his disillusionment with the Scottish Executive.

A source told The Times: “The Catholic hierarchy no longer has any confidence in the ‘ruling elite’ at the Scottish Parliament.”

Mr McConnell’s meeting coincided with the fifth year anniversary of the September 11 terrorist attacks, he told The Times: “It is important that all communities and faiths stand together against terrorism, and promote tolerance, understanding and celebration of diversity and freedom in these difficult times.”

Relations between Mr McConnell and Bishop Devine have been tense since the bill was launched in March. In a letter to the First Minister earlier this year, the bishop 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 should be scrapped.

Mr McConnell reacted strongly to the claims stating, “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.”

The bill aims to counter a significant reduction in families available for vulnerable children by allowing gay and unmarried couples to adopt.

It proposes measures to make the process of adoption easier and to provide better protection.

Present laws only allow one partner in an unmarried couple to adopt.