The Church of England was accused of creating a “spiritual vacuum” in Britain last night after the disclosure that Jeffrey John, the gay canon forced to stand down as Bishop of Reading, is to be the next dean of St Albans.
The appointment, which is due to be announced by Downing Street this week, brought condemnation from traditionalist Anglicans already enraged by the ordination in America of Gene Robinson, a homosexual, as the Bishop of New Hampshire.
One cleric described Dr John’s appointment as “outrageous”, while others predicted that it would deepen divisions that became apparent during the row over Dr John’s abortive appointment as bishop last year.
The Rev David Holloway, a leading member of Reform, an evangelical group, insisted that Dr John’s new role would lead to schism within the Church.
“This is a very serious issue for the Church of England,” he said. “It is not a secondary point that Christians can decide for themselves; it is primary. This appointment and support for homosexuality generally from the leaders of the Church is basically institutional heresy and institutional decadence.”
Mr Holloway, the vicar of Jesmond, Tyne and Wear, said some mainstream Anglicans in St Albans and across the country would feel alienated. “It will not just be conservative evangelists who find it difficult to go along with their bishop,” he said.
“The issue of homosexuality is a problem for the whole Church. What the Church is teaching on the issue is a key questions at a time when the breakdown of marriage and the social nexus that holds us together is leading to the disintegration of society.
“In the Church of England at the moment we have a spiritual vacuum. We want the Church to grow, not by any old means but by true teaching of the scriptures.”
David Virtue, an evangelical who runs Virtuosity, a website that campaigns for traditional values, described the appointment as “outrageous”. He added: “It is a backdoor attempt to make homosexuality mainstream in the Church of England.”
Dr John, 53, an Oxford-trained theologian and canon of Southwark Cathedral, was forced to stand down from his appointment as suffragan bishop of Reading last July after protests by evangelicals.
His appointment to the St Albans deanery, which has been vacant since June, is one step down from a bishopric but is equally as disturbing to some Church conservatives.
There was some support, however, for the Bishop of St Albans, the Rt Rev Christopher Herbert, for offering Dr John his new role. One friend of the Bishop of Oxford, the Rt Rev Richard Harries, who made the original appointment of Dr John as Bishop of Reading, said: “He has has been a lot braver than some other more senior bishops who have steered clear of considering Dr John because of the inevitable fall-out.”
A spokesman for the Bishop of St Albans could not comment on reports of the appointment but said: “People have said that wherever Jeffrey John was sent next it would create debate.”
Some lay members of the Church in St Albans welcomed the appointment. Simon Sarmiento, who runs a website called Thinking Anglicans, said: “There are a lot of people here who support the news. Last July, when the Jeffrey John row was brewing, there were a lot of people who were extremely annoyed and upset about how badly it was handled.”
A spokesman for the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, said that the appointment was a matter for Downing Street. He would not say whether he had discussed the St Albans appointment with Dr John at the time he stood down from Reading.
Dr John’s promotion has caused surprise because provinces throughout the Anglican Church had been asked to refrain from controversial action until the Lambeth commission, set up by Dr Williams to resolve the crisis, reports at the end of this year.
The appointment will do little to reassure Anglican leaders in Africa who fear that the Church of England is committed to the liberalism of North America. African archbishops representing more than half the worldwide Anglican Communion, are planning to refuse millions of pounds a year from their American counterparts in protest at its first openly homosexual bishop.