Prominent clergyman Reverend Robert Donald has said he is "disturbed" by the appointment of gay cleric Jeffrey John to the post of Dean of St Albans.

The reverend, who is also chairman of St Albans District Council's cabinet, was at pains to point out that his views as a priest were different from his views as a councillor.

Speaking as a clergyman, he said: "While I am aware there are many people locally who will welcome this appointment I, together with a number of my fellow clergy colleagues and lay people locally, are somewhat surprised and dismayed by it."

Dr John's appointment was confirmed by Downing Street on Monday and he immediately provoked controversy when he announced at a press conference the same day that he hoped the Church of England would one day bless same-sex unions.

Rev Donald said the timing of the appointment took him by surprise because it came before the conclusion of the Lambeth Commission the special inquiry set up by the Archbishop of Canterbury into the issue of homosexuality in the Church.

That inquiry was launched last year following Dr John's appointment as the Bishop of Reading, a post he was persuaded not to take up in the wake of a huge outcry in the Anglican Communion.

Rev Donald added: "By making this appointment before the commission has yet reported, the signal being sent out appears at best insensitive to those with the evangelical and traditionalist approach and at worst provocative in rushing ahead to promote a specific theological agenda without first seeking a new way forward with those who hold different views."

Speaking as cabinet chairman, Councillor Donald said the council would continue to work with the new dean, due to take up his new post in the autumn, to ensure St Albans Abbey remains a focal point for Christian worship and unity.

He added: "The city and district's economic health is linked to the abbey's own spiritual health and to the support and affection it engenders among the public locally."

Although in a long-term relationship, Dr John says he is now celebate. At present he is Canon of Southwark Cathedral.