Britain’s most senior openly gay cleric has threatened to sue the Church of England unless it promotes him to Bishop.

The Very Rev Jeffrey John, currently the Dean of St Albans has twice been overlooked to become a bishop due his sexuality. Dr John is in celibate civil partnership.

The 58-year-old, was forced to give up his appointment as Bishop of Reading in 2003 due to his sexuality and was blocked from the post Bishop of Southwark in 2010.

The Sunday Times reports that Dr John has hired Alison Downie, one of Britain’s leading Equality Act lawyers to fight his case. The newspaper claims that he is now no longer personally interested in becoming a bishop but wants to use a case against his alleged discrimination to allow other gay clergy to gain promotion.

A leaked memo by Colin Slee, the late Dean of Southwark Cathedral could prove critical in the case. It claims that Dr Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury, originally supported Dr John’s nomination for Bishop of Reading in 2003 but then personally blocked it. It is claimed that Dr Williams also supported Dr John’s promotion to bishop last year but then again blocked his appointment,

“We had two very horrible days in which I would say both archbishops behaved very badly,” wrote Mr Slee after the vote to appoint the Bishop of Southwark.

“The meeting was not a fair consideration at all; they were intent on wrecking both Jeffrey John and Nick Holtam [the Bishop of Salisbury] equally, despite the fact that their CVs were startlingly in an entirely different and better league than the other two candidates.

“The Archbishop of Canterbury was bad-tempered throughout. When it came to voting, certainly two — possibly three — members were in tears and [Dr Williams] made no
acknowledgment but carried on regardless.”

The leaked memo also makes the startling claim there are currently several gay bishops “who have been less than candid about their domestic arrangements and who, in a conspiracy of silence, have been appointed to senior positions”.

It added: “This situation cannot endure. Exposure of the reality would be nuclear.”

In 1994, the human rights campaigner Peter Tatchell and the group Outrage! Outed 10 bishops who were believed to be gay but publicly supported the discrimination of gay people.

An unnamed friend of Dr John told The Sunday Times: “When he was given and relinquished the position as Bishop of Reading, that was very hard for him to do. When he was shortlisted but didn’t receive the position of Bishop of Southwark, that was a very bitter blow for him. It doesn’t surprise me that he is considering taking action like this and I think he stands a very good chance.”

Another friend of Dr John said: “This is not a case of demanding something he is not entitled to but a way of resolving the flawed voting process that prevented him being made the Bishop of Southwark.”

Dr John, Ms Downie and the Church of England are not commenting on the case.