Some people say Israeli technician Mordechai Vanunu divulged his country's nuclear secrets for money. Others accuse him of being a communist or a traitor.

The Australian Anglican priest who baptized the former yeshiva student in his Sydney church 18 months ago said Vanunu's actions grew out of the Israeli's religious conversion.

The Rev. John McKnight, rector of St. John's Anglican Church in Sydney, was in Washington to defend Vanunu, now on trial in Jerusalem for treason and espionage.

Vanunu attracted international attention 14 months ago, when he gave information on Israel's nuclear plant to the Sunday Times of London and then disappeared. A month later, Jerusalem officials announced Vanunu was in jail. If convicted, the 31-year-old Israeli could spend the rest of his life in jail.

"We consider him to be part of our parish and part of our pastoral concern," McKnight said at a press conference here last week on the day Vanunu's closed-door trial opened in Jerusalem.

McKnight said Vanunu disclosed details on the Israeli plant because of his moral opposition to nuclear arms proliferation. "He feels this is what he should be doing as a Christian," McKnight said.

McKnight said Vanunu's spiritual journey actually began while he was in Israel, where Vanunu was a philosophy student and was exposed to different points of view, including Christianity.

"He was searching for spiritual truth," McKnight said. The search led Vanunu on a pilgrimage through Asia.

According to McKnight, Vanunu arrived at St. John's Church in Sydney, which the rector described as an evangelical parish, in April 1986. There the Israeli became involved in church activities, including a six-week seminar on social justice and the nuclear arms race.

The message of the workshop was that "Christians ought to take an active role in working against nuclear weapons and not leave it to the major powers to decide for us," McKnight said.

This, he said, helped solidify Vanunu's earlier opposition to nuclear arms and his decision to disclose documentation on Israel's secret atomic weapons program.

McKnight presented letters that he said Vanunu wrote during his imprisonment, addressed to "Dear Father John," and filled with references to his new Christian faith.

"He's a clear-thinking Christian activist," the priest said.

Vanunu's father Shlomo, an Orthodox Jew, said in a September interview that he could not explain why his son turned to Christianity.

"Maybe the devil entered him, or some other thing," he said.