The Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, is in New Orleans today meeting with bishops of the American branch of the Anglican church.

It has been widely reported that he will demand guarantees from them that no more gay bishops will be ordained and that the American church will not bless gay relationships.

Human rights activist Peter Tatchell, who is standing for the Green Party as a parliamentary candidate at the next election, accused the Archbishop of betraying his principles and the gay community.

“He would not appease a racist or an anti-Semite cleric, so why is he appeasing homophobes within the Anglican communion?” he said.

“He is allowing the church’s agenda to be dictated by the voices of unreason and intolerance. By letting his concern for the unity of the Anglican communion lead him to reward homophobic tantrums, Williams is putting his own earthly authority ahead of moral principle.”

Private meetings between Archbishop Williams and the American bishops will take place today and tomorrow in what has been described as a “watershed moment” for the worldwide church.

The crisis over gay issues began in 2003 with the ordination in New Hampshire of the first openly gay bishop, Gene Robinson.

Evangelical and conservative American Anglicans have rejected the authority of gay-friendly bishops in their country and are seeking religious leadership from a range of African leaders.

The Anglican church in Rwanda, Nigeria and Uganda have all taken control of parishes in the US who dissent from the view that there is a place for gay people in the church.

Some Anglicans think that even if the Archbishop can persuade his colleagues to give him the assurances he seeks, it will not avoid an irrevocable split in the 77-million member Anglican communion.

One senior churchman told The Guardian: “The Africans are creating their own form of Anglicanism.

“It is not traditional, welcoming, inclusive Anglicanism, it is saying who can join and who cannot.

“The Holy Spirit does not work like that, like some aircraft, looking for somewhere to land and then taking off again, because he doesn’t approve of some of those in the church.”

Archbishop Williams has spoken publicly several times of his fear that the Anglican church might not be able to remain united in the face of deepening rows over gay and lesbian issues.