Sources close to the selection process for the next Anglican Bishop of Bangor in Wales have revealed that a prominent gay man is on the shortlist.
While the names under consideration are secret, the revelation that respected theologian Dr Jeffrey John is being considered has outraged conservative Anglicans.
Dr John was forced to step down as Bishop of Reading in 2003 by the Archbishop of Canterbury after conservative Anglicans objected to the fact that he was in a gay relationship.
He is now Dean of St Albans.
He entered into a civil partnership with another Anglican clergyman, the Reverend Grant Holmes, in October 2006.
Under House of Bishops guidelines, clerics are allowed to enter into a civil partnership as long as they are not engaging in sexual relations.
A leading American bishop, David Anderson, has said the Archbishop of Canterbury should “not get a free pass” on the issue.
The Archbishop, the symbolic head of the Anglican Communion, was previously Archbishop of Wales.
He has appealed for unity over the divisive issue of gay clergy.
A group of dissident Anglican leaders have formed their own group, GAFCON, in opposition to gay men or women taking holy orders and the blessing of same-sex partnerships.
The election of an openly gay man, Gene Robinson, as Bishop of New Hampshire in 2003 laid bare the deep divisions over gay issues.
“When it comes to human sexuality, nothing is ever settled – by design,” said Bishop Anderson.
“If those who advocate for the gay sexual agenda lose, they keep coming back, wearing down the orthodox with “conversation”, which means, listen to them until your ears fall off and you give up.
“Enough of this foolishness. Those who want to talk the talk and promenade about in their ecclesial vesture, but can’t walk the walk, need to be removed from leadership.”
More than 200 bishops boycotted the Lambeth Conference in August.
Held once every ten years, it is a meeting of the leaders of the Church from around the world.
He also called on American churches not to elect any more gay bishops.
In a sermon on the final day of the Conference in Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams said: “In these days together we have not overcome our problems or reinvented our structures: that will still take time.”
But despite there still being “many questions” on the issue, a Covenant to bind the Communion together is needed, he said: “We may not have put an end to all our problems – but the pieces are on the board.”
The Covenant could mean churches with new gay bishops could be expelled from the Anglican Communion.
Correspondence between an evangelical Christian and Rowan Williams uncovered last month revealed his support for gay marriage.
Archbishop Williams quoted Dr John to back his theological position.
The letters were written in 2000 and 2001, when Dr Williams was the Archbishop of Wales, and confirm his liberal stance on homosexuality.
He stated in his correspondence with Deborah Pitt, an evangelical who lived in his then-Archdiocese, that parts of the Bible relating to homosexual acts are not aimed at people who are born gay but “heterosexuals looking for sexual variety in their experience.”
“I concluded that an active sexual relationship between two people of the same sex might therefore reflect the love of God in a way comparable to marriage, if and only if it had about it the same character of absolute covenanted faithfulness,” read one letter.
In July Barry Morgan, the current Archbishop of Wales, said that if his bishops to consecrate a gay man as a priest he would back them.
“It would be my job to say ‘you have to vote according to your conscience, but I’m duty bound to tell you that it will have repercussions as far as the wider Anglican communion is concerned,’” he told The Sunday Telegraph.
“If they said they want to do that well so be it. If a priest had a partner and someone nominated them that wouldn’t be a bar to them becoming a bishop.”
Dr Morgan had strong words for those in the Church who take a hardline stance against acceptance of gay people.
“There used to be a generosity of spirit and diversity in the Anglican communion,” he said.
“There should be a backlash against this fundamentalism that has been thrust upon us.
“It is contrary to the ministry of Jesus and damaging that in the Church, we’re still fighting battles that have already been won in society.”