Australians should rejoice in committed gay relationships and afford them the same legal rights and public recognition as the union of a man and woman, says a Canberra Catholic priest.
But he stopped short of supporting gay marriage, saying it would be more appropriate to give formalised homosexual unions a different name.
In a notable departure from the public teachings of some church authorities, Dickson-based priest Michael Fallon called for a ''public celebration of committed love for homosexual couples'', saying he feared ordinary people were being driven away from the Catholic faith by views they saw as hardline and irrelevant.
Ordained in 1961, Father Fallon said his time as a chaplain at the University of NSW, where he met gay students, helped him look past prejudices against homosexual people and convinced him that their relationships should be welcomed by the community. ''[The public should offer] not just recognition, but joy, public joy in their communion with each other, that's the least we can offer people,'' he said.
The sacred scriptures scholar, who is receiving aggressive treatment for leukaemia, said there were church authorities who saw homosexual behaviour and partnerships as immoral, but many priests he spoke to supported recognition of committed same-sex relationships.
He said biblical references to homosexuality should be seen within the context of the time, rather than taken literally. ''When Paul spoke about homosexual behaviour, the key is what was he actually speaking about? Did he know about two adults lovingly committing themselves to each other? We haven't the faintest idea, and it's quite unlikely,'' he said.
Father Fallon said there was a growing movement within the church towards greater recognition of gay relationships. ''I'm just confident from the people I talk to that love will prevail, rather than a fixed position based on an understanding of what's called natural law that I think needs revisiting,'' he said.
But the priest said he did not support calling gay unions ''marriage'', because he said heterosexual and homosexual unions were not identical.
''If it happened I wouldn't lose a lot of sleep over it, but I don't think it's a good idea to confuse the issue, so I'm hoping they can come up with another word,'' he said.