Tatchell and Welby sit down for Britain’s weirdest dinner party

The new Archbishop of Canterbury plans to sit down for a face-to-face meeting with gay activist Peter Tatchell in what could mark a distinct break with the Anglican Church's past approach to the issue.

Justin Welby, who will be enthroned at Canterbury Cathedral later today, sent an invitation to the founder of Outrage! after Tatchell branded him a "homophobe" in a recent letter.

"You claim that you are not homophobic but a person who opposes legal equality for LGBT people is homophobic – in the same way that a person who opposes equal rights for black people is racist," Tatchell wrote.

"Large swathes of the Anglican global communion actively support the persecution of LGBT people, mostly without rebuke."

In response, the new Archbishop thanked him for his "very thoughtful letter" and added: "It requires much thought and the points it makes are powerful."

He explained he wanted to meet privately to "explain my own thoughts" and "listen to you in return".

The offer marks a distinct change since 1998, when Tatchell interrupted the sermon of Archbishop George Carey’s with a protest over equal rights.

Tatchell commented: "I am surprised and delighted. Within three hours of me sending the Archbishop my open letter, he responded in person by email.

"I hope our meeting will be more than just window-dressing and good PR for the church. I’m expecting a bit more than tea and sympathy.

"This is the first time any Archbishop has offered to meet me. Even a liberal like Rowan Williams never invited me to Lambeth Palace."

It also comes as Welby made several sympathetic statements about homosexual relationships which surprised observers, given he belongs to the evangelical wing of the Church of England.

Talking to the BBC, Welby said: "You see gay relationships that are just stunning in the quality of the relationship."

He added that he had "particular friends where I recognise that and am deeply challenged by it".

The 105th Archbishop of Canterbury and leader of the worldwide Anglican community will become the first holder of the office to be enthroned by a woman at today's afternoon ceremony.

But he still faces the seemingly-impossible struggle of keeping together a church divided by an increasingly angry schism between liberals in the west and traditionalists in the developing world.