A radical rethink of Church teaching on homosexuality that declares it to be "divinely ordered" is revealed this week in a catechism commissioned by the Archbishop of York.

The second most senior churchman in the Church of England, the Most Rev David Hope, has given the new catechism his imprimatur and describes it in his foreword as "a celebration of Christian living."

Written by Canon Edward Norman, canon and treasurer of York Minster, the catechism seeks to define Anglicanism for the first time since Thomas Cranmer wrote The Book of Common Prayer in 1662.

The Prayer Book version was a brief inquisitorial text intended for use in a pre-literate age. Canon Norman's is the first attempt fully to define Anglican teaching.

In the section on sexuality, he contradicts official teaching and the views of the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr George Carey.

"Homosexuality," says the catechism, "may well not be a condition to be regretted but to have divinely ordered and positive qualities."

"Homosexual Christian believers," it continues, "should be encouraged to find in their sexual preferences such elements of moral beauty as may enhance their general understanding of Christ's calling."

The Anglican Church is deeply divided over its teaching on homosexuality and at the last Lambeth Conference bishops rowed openly about the issue.

In the end, Dr Carey, supported by African and Asian bishops, passed a resolution saying homosexual acts were "incompatible with Scripture." The resolution said "abstinence is right for those who are not called to marriage."

A discussion document by the House of Bishops called Issues in Human Sexuality, published in 1991, forbade clergy from entering into homosexual relationships.

Canon Norman, a highly respected theologian who writes "meditations" in The Daily Telegraph, was asked to write the catechism by Dr Hope to provide a tool in training for ministry. An "official" catechism is being written and published by Church House but the project will take several years.

Called An Anglican Catechism, the text is praised by Dr Hope for managing to "explore the relevant issues for today" in the context of "an unchanging doctrinal basis of faith."

Dr Hope was targeted by the homosexual rights group, Outrage!. After a night of prayer in Notre Dame Cathedral, Paris, he said his sexuality was "a grey area" and that he was celibate.

Canon Norman addresses the contradictions in what the Church teaches and practises, saying: "The Church continues to classify homosexuality as an intrinsically disordered condition, yet significant numbers of Christians are and always have been homosexual."

The catechism declares that homosexuality "is not in general chosen: it is an expression of sexuality which derives from conditions of inherited impulsions or of early infant experience."

Richard Kirker, general secretary of the Lesbian and Gay Christian Movement, welcomed the text as a "refreshing statement which the Church is crying out for."

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