London, July 6 : Senior Church of England bishops have held secret talks with Vatican officials to discuss the crisis in the Anglican Communion over gays and women bishops.
They met senior advisers of the Pope in an attempt to build closer ties with the Roman Catholic Church, The Sunday Telegraph has learnt.
Dr Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury, was not told of the talks and the disclosure will be a fresh blow to his efforts to prevent a major split in the Church of England.
In highly confidential discussions, a group of conservative bishops expressed their dismay at the liberal direction of the Church of England and their fear for its future.
They met members of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the most powerful of the Vatican's departments, the successor to the medieval Inquisition, which enforces doctrine and was headed by Pope Benedict XVI before his election.
The names of the bishops are known to the paper, but they have asked for anonymity because the talks are of such a sensitive and potentially explosive nature.
The disclosure comes on the eve of a critical vote as members of the General Synod - the Church's parliament - prepare to decide whether to allow women to be bishops without giving concessions to staunch opponents.
Up to 600 clergy gave warning in a letter to Dr Williams that they may leave the Church unless they receive a legal right to havens within the Church free of women bishops.