2007 looks set to be another turbulent year in the Anglican church, with reports that more than 50 gay and lesbian priests have entered into civil partnerships since December 2005 likely to re-ignite debate over homosexuality.

The General Synod of the Church of England will hold the first of its twice-yearly meetings in February. Evangelicals will press for an open debate on the issue of homosexual clergy, Christian Today reports.

The Council of Bishops came to decision in 2005 that clergy may enter into civil partnerships if they confirm to their bishop that they are fulfilling an earlier ruling that bars all Church of England priests from having any same-sex relationships.

Church Society, an evangelical organisation, accuse some gay and lesbian priests of not fulfilling the criteria set down by the bishops.

“Many of these people have defied the guidance. These are men and women who are in active sexual relationships. These figures expose the bishops’ failure of leadership,” said chairman George Curry.

Gay Anglican group Changing Attitudes revealed the figures, which show that four lesbian priests and at least 47 gay priests are in civil partnerships.

“Civil partnerships have helped to increase the stability of same-sex relationships and reduced the social exclusion to which lesbian and gay people are often subjected,” said Changing Atttudes director Colin Coward.

Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams will face more problems in February, The Sunday Times reports. A meeting in Tanzania with bishops from around the world is being held to try to heal the rift over the ordination in the USA of openly gay bishop Gene Robinson.