A Catholic priest in the Australian Capital Canberra, has departed from the official teachings of the church to say that committed same-sex relationships should be celebrated.

Despite stopping short of supporting civil unions, Father Michael Fallon called for a “public celebration of committed love for homosexual couples”.

He went on to say that same-sex couples should be given the same legal rights and public recognition as heterosexual couples, and that he feared that people were being driven away from the Catholic church because of its opposition to homosexuality, reports the Canberra Times.

Citing the Bible, Father Fallon expressed a need for references to be made in the context of the time, not literally. He said: “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 did, however, go on to say that he did not support the term “marriage” to be used for same-sex couples, saying that he thought straight and gay unions were not the same.

“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.

The priest, who is receiving severe treatment for leukaemia, said that, despite the official Catholic line which is strongly opposed to homosexuality, many priests he spoke to supported the recognition of committed gay relationships.

He went on to say that there was a movement within the Catholic church towards recognising same-sex partnerships. He said: “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”.

Father Fallon, who was ordained in 1961, spent time as a chaplain at the University of NSW, where he met gay students, and said that helped him move on from prejudices about gay people.

“[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.

A Catholic priest in Brazil was recently excommunicated after he publicly resigned in protest against the church’s opposition to gay rights.

Meanwhile, a Catholic priest in Argentina was expelled from the church following an investigation after he voiced his support for equal marriage in the country.

The investigation into the priest, Jose Nicholas Alessio, was previously led by the new Pope, Francis, then known as Jorge Bergoglio, and then archbishop of Buenos Aires.

At the weekend it was revealed that the Catholic Church is to take no further action over Cardinal Keith O’Brien’s admission of inappropriate “sexual conduct”, following accusations from four priests.

The 75-year-old, who contested the first set of allegations, resigned as leader of the Scottish Catholic Church in late February.

In March, he admitted that his “sexual conduct” had been “below the standards expected” of him. The Vatican then claimed it would conduct an inquiry once the new pope was in place. Pope Francis was appointed on 13 March.

Gay rights campaigners in Australia have praised New Zealand after it became the 13th country to legalise equal marriage. Despite this, Australia’s Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, said she wouldn’t be dropping her opposition to marriage equality.

Efforts to legalise the measure failed in the Australian Parliament last year.