The Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, is set to hold a confidential meeting with lesbian and gay members of the Church of England, to complement his attempts to communicate with conservative and anti-gay activists in the church, the London Times newspaper claims.
Dr Williams has made strenuous efforts to reach out to the contending parties in an increasingly fractuous argument within his Church of England, and within the Anglican Communion as a whole, over issues of sexuality, the Bible, and authority.
The meeting will will take place at St Peter's, Belgravia in London, says the Times. The newspaper says that he will deliver a speech titled "Present realities and future possibilities for lesbians and gay men in the Church" in what is b eing interpreted as an attempt to ease the divisions on the issue of homosexuality.
A spokesperson for Dr Williams said, “It should come as no surprise that the archbishop is meeting pastorally with clergy and others affected by the current debates in the Church. Such encounters extend right across the range of opinions within the Church."
According to The Times, the meeting will take place under strict confidentiality rules, a move which has attracted criticism from a number of lobby groups.
"We are astonished at the attempts to make the meeting clandestine when it would be far better to have this in the open," the Rev Richard Kirker of the Lesbian and Gay Christian Movement (LGCM) declared.
Kirker continued: "The fact that he wants to go there without anyone knowing he's going there makes it quite clear that he has an attitude towards the event that he doesn’t have at any other meetings."
However, Dr Williams' spokesperson added: "Few of these encounters ever reach the public domain. That is as it should be."
And others argue that the best way to make progress is "not to allow every encounter to become a public political football", commented Simon Barrow, co-director of the Christian think tank Ekklesia. "Not all confidential meetings have to be furtive and evasive, though given the lack of trust on all sides I can sympathise with the concerns being expressed."
Critics say that Dr Williams has been more ready to appease self-styled traditionalists than to meet with those who believ that the gospel in a modern setting requires a change of heart and attitude on sexuality.