The threat of schism within the Anglican church grew last night after the leader of a global group of traditional Anglicans condemned the Church of England for "compromising with the secular preoccupations of the West" by allowing celibate gay bishops.
The attack from Archbishop Eliud Wabukala, the Primate of Kenya and the leader of the influential Fellowship of Confessing Anglicans, significantly ratchets up the tension between liberals and conservatives over the decision to lift the ban on gay but celibate men becoming bishops.
The Fellowship of Confessing Anglicans represents conservative congregations in North America, Europe, Africa, Asia and Australia who are vehemently opposed to same sex unions and gay clerics. They formed four years ago and threatened to break away from the global Anglican Communion if openly gay men continued to be welcomed as clerics.
Their threats to create "a church within a church" were dampened last year when the Church of England signalled that there would be a moratorium on any gay men being appointed bishops. But the row has erupted again after senior bishops announced that they were lifting that ban.
Dr Wabukala, who remarried last year following the death of his first wife, hit out at that decision in a tersely worded statement released yesterday. "It is a great sadness that before the new year has hardly begun, the life of the Anglican Communion has yet again been clouded by compromise with the secular preoccupations of the West," he said.
In a stark message he warned that the move would make "restoring unity" to the Communion an "even greater challenge," raising the spectre once more of the group he represents splintering from the main Anglican Church.
The incoming Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby will need to decide whether to carry on the policies of his predecessor Rowan Williams who desperately tried to keep the international traditionalists inside the Anglican "big tent".
Giles Fraser, parish priest of St Mary's, South London, said: "Celibacy has always been a vocation in the Church. It is something that is chosen, not imposed.