Equality minister Harriet Harman yesterday confirmed that the government will not attempt to force through clarifications on who churches must employ.

The government had tabled amendments to the Equality Bill to clarify that churches can only discriminate against gays and lesbians when hiring people for jobs leading worship or teaching doctrine.

There were fears that churches were not complying with equality legislation for posts such as administrators or youth workers.

Three amendments relating to this were voted down in the House of Lords last week and the Pope took the unprecedented step of criticising such provisions as “violating the natural law” and restricting religious organisations.

Ms Harman is thought to have made the climbdown to avoid a continuing dispute with church leaders in the face of the Pope’s visit in September.

Yesterday in the Commons, Ms Harman said: “The amendment which we moved in the House of Lords did not and was not intended to change that policy position; what it sought to do was make the distinction between religious and non-religious jobs clearer.

“The Lords didn’t regard that amendment as helpful; we’ll therefore leave the law as it is and not bring back the amendment to this house.”