RICHARD Holloway was often accused of talking in headlines.

The former Episcopal Bishop of Edinburgh has now completed a starring role in another production that should be accompanied by a film trailer. There is lust! There is the love for another cleric! There is the incident when he ponders decking a bishop using the next urinal!

Holloway, one suspects, would appreciate this irreverent notion. The former Episcopal is a cinephile and one who is not slow to poke fun at himself as the Barmy Bishop and The Most Hated Cleric In Britain, as dubbed by the more excitable voices in the press. Crucially, Holloway has a notion of his fallibilities. "A new movie to star in" is his verdict on one of his steps up the ecclesiastical ladder.

His memoir, though, is more substantial and more gripping than the incidents that will be picked out by headline writers and trailer-makers. This is a deeply moving and disturbing biography. Holloway, who has written more than 20 books, is a confident author, assured when recreating both the past and the feelings that moments evoked.

A childhood in Dunbartonshire, a secure family, the first stirrings of lust, the drift towards a vocation, the descriptions of a Gorbals seeped in poverty and a Boston braced for controversy are all beautifully rendered. His work for the poor and distressed in his ministry is delivered with a self-deprecatory tone that reveals what he believes to be his shortcomings.

However, the soul of the book is troubled. Towards the end of the memoir, there is a chapter entitled Drifting, but in fact this is the theme of the entire book. The most stunning aspect of his religious life is his lack of conviction. This is not an accusation, merely an observation. Of itself, this is no barrier to spiritual progress, indeed it often can be a stimulus. As Holloway points out: "The opposite of faith is not doubt, it is certainty." Unknowingness can lead to knowledge.

But Holloway's memoir speaks insistently of someone who was never fully engaged in his vocation. He drifts into a monastic life, he drifts out of it. He drifts to posts in Accra, New York, Glasgow, Boston and Edinburgh. He glides up the ladder towards a bishopric.

He speaks of his early life as being "propelled into religion in search of a great love to which I could give myself away". He talks later of "having an affair with God". But was he seduced by something more mundane?

The nub of this book may be seen by Holloway to be the mystery of faith but to others it may be the mystery of how a man can spend decades as a priest, become a bishop and consistently hold beliefs that are at odds with the established Church. This is not a matter of worldly politics. Holloway is surely right on his compassionate, personal stance on the position of homosexuals in the Church and is eloquent on women priests.

He is also entitled to his assertions that "Jesus himself was probably gay", that the resurrection is merely a metaphor and that there might not be a world beyond this. It is astonishing, though, when he finds himself hurt and confused at the rows these views create. He is consoled by support he finds outside the Church but one almost wants to have a quiet word in his ear along the lines of: "Dickie, of course you are being feted by non-Episcopals but maybe, just maybe, you should be considering why members of the Church and friends therein are wounded and bewildered." Holloway eventually realises his position is untenable and resigns. This is more inevitable than sad. There is a freedom in relinquishing office. The deep sorrow provoked by this memoir lies, rather, in the consideration of Holloway's life. A writer capable of considerable brilliance, an intellectual who can provoke thought, a genuinely good man trying to be better, Holloway is left to muse on a life rather than celebrate it.

He writes: "I knew I was a phoney, a priest actor trying out a different part." He constantly talks of self-deception, of a duality that exists deep within him. "My religion pared away to almost nothing," he notes with a brutal finality. His anguish, too, is revealed. He describes himself as a "muddled, compromised, divided man". The sting in this verdict is enhanced by its very authenticity to the outside observer.

Holloway constantly refers to the moment in the Gospel of Matthew when observers note of the crucified Jesus: "He saved others; himself he cannot save." The former bishop uses this jibe against himself as he reflects on a lifetime of ministering to others while never finding the ultimate redemption within himself. Some may point out that there is more than an element of dramatic martyrdom in this and more than something, too, of the ego. Most awfully, though, it lays bare the sadness contained in a compelling biography and troubled life.

Richard Holloway is speaking at Aye Write! book festival on March 9 at 7.30pm. For tickets call 0141 353 8000 or go to

"I don't any longer believe in religion, but I want it around; weakened, bruised and bemused, less sure of itself and purged of everything except the miracle of pity. I know that the people who keep it going will have to believe in it more than I do. Who could be persuaded by my whisper? Who could even hear it? Anyway, I no longer want to persuade anyone to believe anything - except that cruelty, especially theological cruelty, has to be opposed, if necessary to the death."