At a meeting chaired by the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, an openly gay cleric was shortlisted for the high profile role of Bishop of Southwark, London.

If Dr Jeffrey John, the Dean of St Albans, is successful, he will become the most senior openly gay clerics in the Church of England.

In 2003, Dr Dean was forced to reject his appointment as Bishop of Reading after it emerged he was in a long term but celibate relationship with another man, who he entered into a civil partnership with in 2006.

The final decision on the appointment of bishops is made by the Queen on the advice of the prime minister David Cameron. Mr Cameron is understood to be minded to back Dr John’s appointment and has criticised the Church in the past for its anti-gay approach to the appointment of senior clerics.