Archbishop of Canterbury Dr Rowan Williams was accused last night of “betraying” a gay cleric for the second time.

This week, Dr Williams refused to support his old friend, the Rev Jeffrey John, for the post of Bishop of Southwark.

Dr John’s name was included on a secret shortlist of candidates drawn up by the Crown Nominations Commission, and the respected cleric, who is Dean of St Albans, was expected to be a strong contender.

But the Archbishop was reportedly furious when his name was leaked to the media and blocked Dr John’s appointment because he did not want to be pressurised into backing him.

When the news was revealed by the Sunday Telegraph, traditionalists claimed the preacher was breaking religious laws and would split the church.

The decision came exactly seven years after Dr Williams forced Dr John to stand down from his appointment as Bishop of Reading even after it had been announced by Downing Street.

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

Although the Archbishop was once regarded as liberal, even saying that faithful, sexually-active gay relationships could be equal to marriage, in recent years he has been struggling to avoid a split between liberals and conservatives in the church.

The Rev Giles Goddard, chairman of Inclusive Church, said: “If it is the case that [Dr John] has been overlooked, I think it would be sad for him and a sadly missed opportunity for the Church. It is indicative of a lack of courage.

“It feels as though [the Archbishop] has listened much more to the conservatives than to people who want a more progressive theology. I’m not sure where he’s coming from any more.”

Colin Coward of Changing Attitude, a liberal church group, wrote on his blog: “Archbishop Rowan was apparently so furious about the first leak that he unilaterally vetoed Jeffrey’s name, betraying his friend for a second time and handing an apparent victory to the conservatives who seem to be successfully controlling him.

“Archbishop Rowan would have directed his anger in a more healthy direction if he had targeted the people inside and outside the Commission who have deliberately sabotaged its work.”