The openly gay cleric Rev Jeffrey John has been blocked from becoming a Church of England bishop.

Dr John, the Dean of St Albans, was shortlisted for the post last week and was believed to be the obvious choice for the role of Bishop of Southwark, with reports suggesting prime minister David Cameron was minded to back his appointment.

But reports today say that members of the Crown Nominations Commission (CNC), the body responsible for selecting bishops, rejected him.

According to the Daily Telegraph, the secret meeting of senior church figures, including Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, decided his appointment would lead to a split in the church and that evangelical parishes would not recognise him as a bishop

This is the second rejection for Dr John, who had to abandon his bid to become Bishop of Reading in 2003 because of traditionalists’ protests over his homosexuality.

He is in a civil partnership with a long-term partner and has stressed that the relationship is celibate.

This week, traditionalists in the church were vocal about why he should not be appointed, with Canon Chris Sugden, the secretary of anti-gay group Anglican Mainstream, saying Dr John was “breaking the law of the church in the sense of Christian teaching”.

The Rev Paul Dawson of conservative evangelical group Reform said his selection would “cause very serious damage within the church” and predicted a split similar to that in the US.

The Rev Colin Coward, of Changing Attitude, the Anglican pro-gay grouping, told The Times that Dr John was a “very gifted” pastor and that the church will have to “come to terms with the presence of lesbians and gay people in every part of the communion at some point”, even if it created a temporary split.

He added: “This is tragic news for Jeffrey. It must be incredibly painful to have lived through the last few days. And now, to be battered again by Rowan not being able to make a decision.”