One of the Roman Catholic church’s most senior figures has said he is still confident that the church’s followers will be able to opt-out of new gay rights laws.

The Archbishop of Birmingham said that he is still hopeful of a “common sense solution” to the issue.

On Monday the Prime Minister announced that there would be no exemptions to the Sexual Orientation Regulations.

Instead, the rules will apply to adoption agencies at the end of 2008.

This means that Roman Catholic-run agencies will have nearly two years to adjust to the new regulations, which outlaw discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation when accessing goods and services.

Archbishop Vincent Nichols, in an interview with the Birmingham Post, conceded that the Roman Catholic church will have to accept that gay couples can legally adopt, but welcomed the delay in implementation of the new rules.

“We welcome the two-year review and hope to use this time to explore any way that the Catholic agencies can secure their work in the future,” he told the Post.

“It gives us the opportunity to look at different practical arrangements, such as with Catholic doctors who can work with NHS clinics but it’s recognised they can’t play any part in abortions. I would hope that the same principle can be achieved.”

The Sexual Orientation Regulations will be laid before Parliament this month and are set to become law in April.

The Archbishop thinks that the 21-month breathing space granted to Catholic adoption agencies will lead to devout followers still being allowed to opt-out of dealing with gay couples.

Archbishop Nichols took another opportunity during the interview to say that he thinks gay parents are deficient:

“I don’t think for a minute that a same-sex couple would produce a gay child, but they would not be as complementary as having a mum and dad.”

He warned that granting equal rights to gay people meant creating, “a new norm, a new moral law, and that, I believe, is not broadly accepted in our society.”

The Archbishop is regarded a prominent candidate to replace Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O’Connor as leader of the Roman Catholic church in England and Wales. The Cardinal is set to retire when he reaches 75 later this year.

Nichols has been one of the most vocal opponents of the new anti-discrimination laws, in keeping with the new ‘hard line’ approach towards gay rights advocated by Pope Benedict.

Last year he threatened to stop co-operating with the Government over schools, charity programmes and adoption agencies if the regulations are implemented.