The Bishop of Liverpool has said he “deeply regrets” his public opposition to the promotion of Canon Jeffrey John and said that in his view “gay rights are civil rights.”

Dr John was forced to step down as Bishop of Reading in 2003 amid controversy about his sex life. He is now Dean of St Albans.

The Rt. Rev. James Jones was one of nine Diocesan Bishops who objected publicly to the proposed consecration of Dr John because he was in a gay relationship.

“I deeply regret this episode in our common life,” he wrote in an essay ahead of the Lambeth Conference in which the Bishop sets out his view on the debate about homosexuality in the Anglican Church.

“I regret too having objected publicly without first having consulted with the Archbishops of York and Canterbury and subsequently apologised to them and to colleagues in a private meeting of the House of Bishops.

“I still believe that it was unwise to try to take us to a place that evidently did not command the broad support of the Church of England but I am sorry for the way I opposed it and I am sorry too for adding to the pain and distress of Dr. John and his partner.

“I regret too that this particular controversy narrowed rather than enlarged the space for healthy debate within the church.”

Dr John formed a civil partnership with another Anglican clergyman, the Reverend Grant Holmes, in October 2006.

He was asked to stand down as Bishop of Reading by the Archbishop of Canterbury after conservative Anglicans objected to the fact that he was in a gay relationship.

Under House of Bishops guidelines, clerics are allowed to enter into a civil partnership as long as they are not engaging in sexual relations.

The Lambeth Conference, a meeting of Anglican bishops from across the world, will be held in Canterbury later this year.

The 2008 gathering has been dominated by fights about the place of gay and lesbian people in the Anglican church.

The Global South group of Anglican church leaders decided last year that it will boycott the conference and hold their own meeting in Jerusalem in June.

As many as 120 bishops out of the 800 invited will not attend unless the American part of the Anglican church (Episcopalian) repudiates its current accepting attitude towards gay clergy and relationships.

However, the Archbishop of Canterbury said that 70% of bishops had already accepted invitations to attend.

Bishop Jones said there was a “poignant irony here, for it is with Africans from contemporary Africa that many American Episcopalians are most at odds in a cause that they feel parallels the plight of and the fight for justice by their ancestors who came to America two centuries earlier.

“Gay rights are civil rights. It is a matter of natural justice.

“Failure to understand this at best mystifies and at worst angers the majority in the Episcopal Church that was once so guiltily complicit in slavery and is now so anxious to shake off the shackles of the past and prove its commitment to social justice which is such an important strand in the prophetic literature of the Bible.

“These are serious historical and contemporary moral and social perspectives that need to be understood in the international debate about human sexuality.

“For many in the Episcopal Church the rights of gay and lesbian people are seen unequivocally akin to the rights of African-Americans.”

Bishop Jones accused the media of reducing the “variety of insights” among Anglicans about homosexuality into “two clear-cut oppositional positions.”

He also said that Christians must “acknowledge the authoritative Biblical examples of love between two people of the same gender most notably in the relationship of Jesus and his beloved and David and Jonathan.”

Read the full essay here.