GAY priest Jeffrey John is under intense pressure to quit his new job as Dean of St Albans less than two weeks after being appointed.

One evangelical group, representing around 40 churches, has asked for the appointment to be withdrawn. They are also threating to withhold some of the money they pay the diocese.

The Diocesan Evangelical Fellowship committee also launched a broadside at the Bishop of St Albans, the Rt Rev Christopher Herbert, for agreeing to the appointment which they say "creates division within the diocese and the wider Anglican Communion."

The controversy over Dr John's appointment has escalated since it was announced at St Albans Abbey on Monday last week.

The fellowship committee met on Tuesday before issuing a statement expressing their "serious disquiet".

The fellowship says Dr John's call for the Church to bless same-sex unions is "wholly erroneous and contrary to Scripture, tradition and reason as well as the statements of the House of Bishops".

The group is also aggrieved that the appointment was made before the Lambeth Commission set up to consider the role of gay clergy had announced its findings.

The statement adds that the fellowship "recognises that individual clergy, congregations and lay members have taken, or will wish to take further action", a reference to some parish churches which are expected to start capping the money they give to the diocese.

Each parish is given a quota that it pays to the diocese each year, depending on the number of parishioners. But any money raised above that also goes to the diocese and it is this second portion that could be withheld.

Historically, evangelical churches have raised more as they tend to have bigger congregations.

One clergyman, who asked not to be named, said the fellowship represents a "significant" number of the diocese's 400 churches.

Rev Mark Slater, of St Luke's Church in Cell Barnes Lane, St Albans, said: "The timing appears to be creating entrenched positions, and I deeply regret that. We are not being allowed to debate."

And Rev Tony Hurle of St Paul's in Blandford Road, St Albans, said: "I have some disquiet over the appointment, particularly at this time with the implications for the wider church.

"Jesus welcomed people as they were, but he was also sinless, and I would not want the Church as a whole to adopt approval of life-long same-sex unions."

But vicar of St Michael's Terry Beaumont said: "I am very very disappointed at the comments by the evangelical wing of the Church. I think it is an excellent appointment.

"He lives within the House of Bishops' guidelines about homosexual acts. He is a sensitive man, and an excellent theologian. He has acted with immense dignity. I am delighted he is coming to the cathedral, and I look forward to his ministry."

A spokesman for the diocese said the bishop, who is leading a pilgrimage to Santiago De Compostela in Spain, would be "pleased" to meet fellowship members after his return next Friday.

Although in a long term relationship, Dr John says he is now celibate.