THE Church of Scotland is planning to overhaul the "secretive" way it chooses its leader as it aims to refresh its image.

Kirk members at all levels could have a say in nominating the Moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland for the first time, ending an ancient tradition that has been criticised as antiquated and not transparent enough.

A report seen by The Herald outlining the move said throwing out the old system would be an "antidote to suspicions about the process".

The change could help make the Church's figurehead more representative of churchgoers ahead of a landmark vote on gay clergy next year.

The Moderator – who oversees the highest court of the Kirk at its annual gathering – is currently chosen by a behind-closed-doors system where only those on the committee nominate candidates, and the same group decides the winner.

The Kirk is now considering letting members of Scotland's 1400 congregations make nominations. It could mean a wider, more radical mix of candidates.

A Kirk source said there was no criticism of former Moderators who had been chosen but the process had been seen as outdated for some time.

The call for change will be seen as part of moves by the Church to become more "user-friendly". The current Moderator, the Rt Rev Albert Bogle, has embraced modern technology, likes rap music and has recorded a tune online.

The next Moderator will oversee one of the most difficult General Assemblies, with more clashes over gay ordination expected, potentially leading to the biggest schism within the Church since the Disruption of 1843, when hundreds of ministers broke away to form the Free Church.

Moderators are currently selected by a committee of about 60, which includes former Moderators and representatives of each of the 49 presbyteries.

The system has been accused of being discriminatory because nominations for women Moderators were rejected until 2004, when Alison Elliot became the first female incumbent.

Under the new plans, the General Assembly – the annual gathering of 1000 congregational and presbytery leaders – would take over the role.

A report from the Kirk's legal committee said: "This review was triggered by candidly expressed concerns of the committee to nominate the Moderator that procedures were unhelpful.

"The committee believes that a solution to these practical difficulties, and an antidote to less definable suspicions about the process, lies in the Assembly taking ownership of the nomination process much as a congregation does when preparing to call a minister.

"The committee therefore recommends that the Assembly itself elect the nominating committee."

It was also revealed there is no set budget for the Moderator's job, which can include worldwide travel. It is recommended this is changed. The committee said it was surprised to learn there was no formal budget, with the Church "spending what it takes" on the Moderator's duties.

"The biggest variable in expenditure is the amount spent on providing a substitute to cover the Moderator's absence from his or her parish or other job," the report says.

"The Committee therefore recommends that a budget be set for the Church's expenditure on supporting the Moderator."

This year – as has been the long-held protocol – nominations for Moderator will not be made public at the time of the confirmation of Moderator Designate at the end of this month. It is expected a "safe pair of hands" will be chosen again this time.