Former cleric criticises Church teaching, reports Simon Caldwell AN "OPENLY gay theologian" has used a Catholic cathedral to publicly undermine papal authority and the teachings of the Church.
James Alison was invited to speak at St Mary's Cathedral, Newcastle by two Catholic priests, with the support of Bishop Ambrose Griffiths of Hexham and Newcastle.
However, he used his talk last Sunday to dismiss the Church's teaching on sexual morality, in particular, Humanae Vitae, the 1968 encyclical of Pope Paul VI that forbade Catholics from using contraception.
Mr Alison, a former Dominican priest, said Paul VI had done the "laity a favour" by publishing the encyclical, since he "taught a whole generation to relativise the way they way they understood papal authority".
He argued that Church teaching on sexual morality was "fragile" and open to change and that those who upheld it belonged to a "collapsing" Church. "They've lost relevance and credibility," he said in his talk, The Extreme Centre: Fullness of Life on the Edge.
"The fear of Catholics sur
rounding the collapse of the old world at Vatican II has meant that everything they most feared has happened, and guess what, God still loves us. There are those who will still cling on to coloured buttons, the funny hats and the frocks. But we are on the inside of the picture. We are free."
Mr Alison also told his 70strong audience that he believed the last 10 pages of his latest book. Faith Beyond Resentment: Fragments Catholic and Gay., had been inspired by the Virgin Mary.
"Our Lady has a soft spot for her queer sons and daughters," he said.
The event was advertised on the website of dissenting group We Are Church and on Bishop Griffith's ad clerum letter to his priests.
Bishop Griffiths said he did not attend the event but was not aware that it was controversial. "I have met only one person who was there and who was quite impressed," he said.
He said the priests who recommended Mr Alison were "highly responsible". He said they felt the talk would have been "helpful to many people on the margins of the Church today". Mr Alison was also allowed to hold a seminar for university students in the Catholic chaplaincy.
Bishop Griffiths, a Benedictine, had earlier written to Patricia Macgregor, a Catholic mother-of-four who raised concerns about the visit of Mr Alison.
"He is quite open about his having a homosexual orientation, but that he is in no way opposed to the Church or attacking it, nor does he preach unorthodox doctrine," the bishop said in his letter.
He said Fr Michael Campion, the dean of the cathedral, had gained assurances that Mr Alison would not say anything unorthodox.
"It is, of course, possible that we have been misled, but I feel sure it is light to give him the benefit of any doubt in the hope that he will do real good," the bishop told Mrs Macgregor. "And I am sure that Fr Campion is more than capable of counteracting any unorthodox thing that should be said."
Mrs Macgregor, from Newcastle, said that during questions Fr Carnpion expressed the view that the Church was "out of touch" with the lives of the majority of people, and said that Vatican plans to exclude gays from seminaries were wrong.
Mrs Macgregor said: "It was most distressing, I think, because it came under the authority of the bishop in the mother church of the diocese, and people were being led astray by dissenting theologians."
Meanwhile, Terry Prendergast, chief executive of Catholic Marriage Care, has suggested that a proposed Catholic marriage and family life conference might be used as a forum for the Church to reappraise its "attitude to marital break-up, cohabitation and homosexuality".
He said in The Tablet that the conference, being considered by the bishops for 2005, would "ignore the myriad of relationships in which family life exists today" if it focused exclusively on the family "within the context of heterosexual marriage".
John Anthony, the bishops' national coordinator for marriage and family life, said he was aware of Mr Prendergast's concerns but added; "What would go into a conference, if we were to have one, has not been addressed yet."