The Rev. Chad Varah, a distinguished and controversial Anglican priest from London, was talking about his appearance last Monday on a Washington-area radio call-in show in which he had talked about Christian ethics.

"Almost all the callers wanted to castigate me," he said. That reaction was not new to Varah, who has been delighting and infuriating the British for years with pronouncements on one of his favorite subjects: sex.

Among other things, he told the radio audience that "the more you are a good Christian, the more I would expect you to enjoy sex." And, "Pornography has definite therapeutic value."

Varah is in the United States on a 12-city tour arranged and paid for by Penthoust magazine. Everywhere the message he delivers is essentially the same:

"It's time the church began to repent at having caused so much misery over the ages on the subject of sex. . . Sexual practices should be limited to one rule - consenting adults in private."

Varah said in an interview that he is tired of people who impose their "stuffy" attitudes about sex on others in the name of the church. In opposition, he says, he is seeking to promote "emancipated forms of Christian thinking," which he calls "Christian lib."

Varah said his trip here was prompted by two things. "This awful situation with Anita Bryant" and his being featured in the July eiditions of two sex-oriented publications, Penthouse and Forum magazines, both of which are owned by the same company.

Varah is one of 30 clergy attached to St. Paul's Cathedral in London as "prebendaries" or honorary canons. He has had a distinguished career as a scholar, religious figure and founder of The Samaritans, a telephone counseling service for the suicidal and despairing.

In 1969, Queen Elizabeth II made the outspoken Varah on OBE (Officer of the Order of the British Empire) in recognition of his Samaritan group, described by one British official as "the most highly regarded and universally respected voluntary service in the U.K. (United Kingdom)."

A spokesman at the office of the church's London synod said that in the past some church members have complained about Varah's choice of forums. But when he presented his magazine articles to the synod it unanimously supported his view that the writings brought a Christian viewpoint to people who otherwise wouldn't receive it, Varah said.

An Anglican vicar in London confirmed that this is the general clerical view of Varah. "Because of his Samaritan history, he's accepted as pastorally brilliant," the vicar remarked. The vicar also said of Varah's articles, "It's always done in a Christian context, even if it's not always specifically expressed."

Varah's campaign is against what he calls "SMAGS" (sex, misery and guilt spreaders) and "holy terrorists" who seek to enforce "control by a series of rules which Jesus didn't write."

He says that much damage has been done to people by repressing sex, as was graphically demonstrated to him when his first assignment as a 24-year-old priest was to officiate at the burial of a teen-aged girl who committed suicide during her first menstrual period "because she thought she had venereal disease."

This inspired Varah to become a sex counselor, among his other priestly duties. Sometimes, Varah says, he uses pornography as therapy for impotent men.

Earlier this week, as he opened the July issue of Penthouse to show a reporter and photographer the profile of himself, he flipped by numerous pictures of nude women posed in many positions. Then, he opened the centerfold and said in a warm voice, "Isn't this a lovely girl?"