Conversation with a gay priest

On the surface, there's nothing unusual about the talk featured in this video — a Catholic priest speaking in a church to a group of Christians. But the shirt worn by the priest gives a clue that it's an extraordinary event: embroidered discreetly on its black fabric in rainbow colours is the word 'Priest'.

Since the 1970s the rainbow has been adopted by homosexuals around the globe as a symbol of gay pride and identity. This priest, British-born James Alison, is openly gay, and he's speaking here to a group of gay and lesbian Christians at Paddington Uniting Church in Sydney's eastern suburbs.

The fact that he's openly gay, and supports the legitimacy of a homosexual lifestyle, puts him at odds with Church teaching, which he argues is outmoded and no longer tenable.

The Vatican has consistently upheld its 1986 teaching that the homosexual 'inclination itself must be seen as an objective disorder', and its instruction of 2005 that the Church 'cannot admit to the seminary or to holy orders those who practise homosexuality, present deep-seated homosexual tendencies or support the so-called "gay culture"'.

If Alison was a rabble-rouser or a noisy activist, he wouldn't be taken so seriously. But far from being a rebellious troublemaker, he is softly-spoken, eloquent, reasoned and reasonable in what he says. And he is deeply spiritual and devoted to the Catholic Church and to the priesthood.

He's also a scholar of international standing, a leading exponent of the philosophy of René Girard, and much in demand around the world to speak about the work of this French philosopher. Girard is famous for his insights into the causes of violence, and the link between religion and violence.

Alison was born in London in 1959. He was brought up in a staunchly evangelical Protestant family, but in his late teens converted to Catholicism. He studied at Blackfriars College at the University of Oxford, and gained his bachelor's degree and doctorate in theology from the Jesuit Theology Faculty in Belo Horizonte, Brazil.

He has lived in the United States and a number of South American countries, and now resides in São Paulo. He belonged to the Dominican Order from 1981 till 1995, but now calls himself a 'freelance theologian', working around the world as an itinerant preacher, lecturer and retreat giver.

In 2010 he led the prestigious John Main Seminar, the annual retreat and major international gathering of the World Community for Christian Meditation. Previous seminar leaders have included spiritual luminaries such as the Dalai Lama, Raimon Panikkar, Bede Griffith, Joan Chittister, William Johnston, Jean Vanier and Rowan Williams.

With regard to homosexuality, Alison explains that over the last 50 or 60 years, science and psychology have uncovered evidence that being gay is merely a 'non-pathological, regularly occurring minority variant' in the human condition. In other words, science is telling us that rather than being a disorder, homosexual orientation is part of the normal spectrum of variation among human beings.

He argues these recent scientific revelations are part of the unfolding natural law that challenges negative attitudes and beliefs regarding homosexuality, and the basis for official Church teaching, that being gay is 'an objective disorder'.

Alison is a prolific author, and his books include Raising Abel; The Joy of Being Wrong; Faith Beyond Resentment: Fragments Catholic and Gay; On Being Liked; Undergoing God and, most recently, Broken Hearts and New Creations: Intimations of a Great Reversal. 

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Peter KirkwoodPeter Kirkwood is a freelance writer and video consultant with a master's degree from the Sydney College of Divinity.

Topic tags: James Alison, gay priest, Raising Abel, The Joy of Being Wrong, Faith Beyond Resentment, On Being Liked

 

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