PARISHIONERS have given a mixed reaction to speculation that Britain's most senior openly gay cleric could be the next Bishop of Durham.

Jeffrey John, Dean of St Albans, is being tipped for promotion after the Church of England ruled homosexual men in civil partnerships can become bishops, as long as they remain celibate.

He was appointed as the Bishop of Reading in 2003, but was forced to step down amid protests and was also rejected as the candidate for the Bishop of Southwark in 2010.

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But the new rules mean his name has now been put forward as a possible replacement for Justin Welby, soon to become the next Archbishop of Canterbury.

Worshipers at Durham Cathedral today (Sunday January 7) were split when told of the news.

Bill Lumsden, 59, from Hawthorn, County Durham, said: “It is private and why should it matter as long as he can do the job right?”

While Sam Armstrong, 20, from Sunderland, said: “In today’s society this sort of thing should not have an impact on whether someone can do a job, whether they are a doctor, lawyer or bishop. I don’t care.”

Dean John has been with his partner, a Church of England hospital chaplain, for nearly 40 years.

They became civil partners in 2006, but he has always maintained that he is celibate.

Sharon Keedy, 47, from South Shields, said: “It goes against all of my traditional values. I would not oppose it, but I do not think it is quite right.”

Bishop Welby’s replacement is not expected to be announced until summer at the earliest.

A spokesman for the Diocese of Durham said: "Justin is still Bishop of Durham until the legal process of his election to Archbishop of Canterbury is confirmed in early February.

“The process for the nomination of a new Bishop of Durham is called the 'vacancy in see' and starts in the diocese and requires The Crown Nominations Commission (CNC) to meet on two occasions per Vacancy in See to nominate candidates for diocesan bishoprics to the Crown.

"We are only at the very start of that process, and any decision is a way off yet."

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