Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury, is to meet behind closed doors with gay Anglicans to discuss the current crisis in the Church.

The Times revealed details of the “secret” meeting. The fact that those attending are expected to abide by confidentiality rules has upset gay Christians.

A spokesman for the Archbishop played down the significance of his meeting with gay priests and others.

“It should come as no surprise that the archbishop is meeting pastorally with clergy and others affected by the current debates in the Church,” a spokesperson for Rowan Williams told The Times.

“Such encounters extend right across the range of opinions within the Church.”

These are testing times for the Anglican communion, which is deeply divided over the role of gay men and lesbians in the Church.

Archbishop Williams is under intense pressure to hold the communion together, but conservative African bishops are constantly undermining his authority as spiritual leader of the 77-million member religion.

At the “secret” church service for gays and lesbian Anglicans, he will give a speech entitled: “Present realities and future possibilities for lesbians and gay men in the Church.”

“We are astonished at the attempts to make the meeting clandestine when it would be far better to have this in the open,” Reverend Richard Kirker of the Lesbian and Gay Christian Movement told The Times.

“The fact that he wants to go there without anyone knowing he’s going there makes it quite clear that he has an attitude towards the event that he doesn’t have at any other meetings.”