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Gay dean installed at St Albans amid protests by conservatives

Jeffrey John, the gay clergyman whose appointment as an Anglican bishop was thwarted by evangelicals last year, was yesterday installed as a cathedral dean amid renewed protests from traditionalists.

More than 2,000 people crowded into St Albans Abbey in Hertfordshire, the shrine of England's first Christian martyr, to witness Dr John take up his post.

Fears the ceremony would be marred by clashes between anti-fascist groups and the National Front, which had vowed to march on the cathedral, receded when the far-right group called off its action at the last moment.

But conservatives opposed to the move, seen as a victory for Church of England liberals seeking acceptance of actively homosexual clergy, continued to voice their disapproval. Dr John, 51, has been in a relationship with his partner, also an Anglican clergyman, for 28 years. The theologian, who is widely respected as a doctrinal expert, has said the relationship has long been chaste.

The Ven Paul Gardner, archdeacon of Exeter and a member of the traditionalist Anglican Mainstream group, said: "John should not be given a senior position in the church.

"A resolution approved by the Church of England urged those who have been involved in homosexual actions to repent, and he does not think that's necessary."

The installation of Dr John as Dean of St Albans follows his withdrawal last year from his appointment as Bishop of Reading when the Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, reversed his earlier support.

The worldwide Anglican Communion, which is split on the issue of homosexuality, is currently waiting for the Lambeth Commission to report on the doctrinal debate.

But the appointment has led to tensions in the St Albans diocese, with two parishes withholding their contributions to central funds.