Saturday, June 04, 2011

Gay priest McNeill shakes up Rome with new moves and new movie

Pioneering gay priest John McNeill is still shaking up the Vatican at age 85. He is going to Rome for the world premiere of a new documentary about his life on June 6 at EuroPride 2011 -- and to ask the Vatican for LGBT justice.

When in Rome, McNeill will not do as the Romans do, but instead will advocate change in the Roman Catholic church.

The new film, “Taking A Chance on God,” tells the life story of McNeill, author of the groundbreaking 1976 book “The Church and the Homosexual.” McNeill’s work inspired the founding of Dignity, the LGBT Catholic group, but he was silenced by the Church and expelled from the Jesuit order for coming out and promoting LBGT rights in church and society.

John McNeill, right,
with director Brendan Fay
Rome is the perfect city for the premiere because the order to silence McNeill for his LGBT activism was issued in Rome in 1977 by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger -- the current Pope. For refusing to obey this order of silence, McNeill was eventually expelled from the Jesuit order in April 1987.

During his Roman holiday, he will deliver a letter to Catholic leaders at the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. The letter will ask for dialogue, and urge Church leadership to speak out against the violence, injustice, and discrimination experienced by lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people around the world. (Update on June 15: Click here for photos and a report on McNeill and LGBT groups presenting the letter to the Pope asking him to end homophobia.)

McNeill and his life-partner Charlie are traveling to Rome from their home in Florida for the premiere. McNeill will be welcomed as pioneer of the international LGBT religious movement by thousands of LGBT persons who will gather in Rome for EuroPride 2011. This is the first time ever that EuroPride will include a section on faith and homosexuality.

The documentary is directed by filmmaker and activist Brendan Fay. He co-produced “Saint of 9/11” about Father Mychal Judge, the gay chaplain who died in the World Trade Center tragedy on September 11, 2001.

“For a few days Rome will be a sea of rainbow flags as thousands of LGBT activists mingle with Catholic pilgrims in Rome for the observance of Pentecost,” Fay commented. “In the midst of Pride celebrations, our community needs John McNeil’s reassuring voice of hope. McNeill’s message that gay love can be holy love is as relevant today as when he first began to proclaim it in the early 1970s.”

I first met McNeill in 1987, soon after he ended his silence. He came to preach at Metropolitan Community Church of San Francisco, where I served on the clergy staff. I was impressed by his powerful-yet-gentle presence and the intellectual force behind his liberating theology.

McNeill went on to write more books on LGBT spirituality, including “Taking A Chance on God,” “Sex as God Intended,” “Freedom, Glorious Freedom” and “Both Feet Firmly Planted in Midair.”

“Taking A Chance on God” will be screened at EuroPride Park on Monday, June 6, and at other festivals this summer and fall. For more info on the film, visit For info on EuroPride events on Faith and Homosexuality, click here.

UPDATE on Oct. 16:
John McNeill has posted his own personal thoughts on the U.S. film debut at this link:
Reflections on the playing of Taking a Chance on God at the Woodstock Film Festival

Gay priest McNeill film has U.S. premiere Sept. 24 in Woodstock, NY

NEW on June 15: For news and photos of presenting the letter to the Pope and the EuroPride March, see our post  LGBT Christians to Pope: Stop homophobia! (plus photos of EuroPride &  John McNeill)

NEW on June 8: For news reports on the premiere, see our post Update: Gay priest McNeill’s premiere succeeds despite rain in Rome at EuroPride.

If you can’t make it to Rome, watch the trailer above or on YouTube for highlights of “Taking a Chance on God.”


Trudie said...

Kitt, I keep saying thank you to you and this blog for keeping me current. Although I'm living a lot closer to John McNeill's home in Florida than you are, this is the first I've heard about the new movie, not to mention his trip to Rome.

Since I was active with Dignity during the years when John was trying to work a way to cope with the Vatican gag order, I feel as is this is wonderful poetic justice. I will be praying for his safety on this trip, and uplifting his amazing ministry.

Kittredge Cherry said...

Trudie, I see that you and I have both been blessed by John McNeill’s ministry for many years. Writing this piece was exciting because I got to consider his whole life, from WWII days when he spent months in a Nazi prison camp all the way to now with his latest activity -- the new movie. I also like the “poetic justice” of the movie premiering when EuroPride is in Rome. May God go with him.

CJ Barker said...

What Trudie said Kitt. You keep me up to date on *so* many things, and so well. The first place I ever heard about John McNeil was on this blog. Many, many thanks.

Kittredge Cherry said...

Glad to be of service, CJ. Sometimes it seems like "everybody" knows about John McNeill (as you can see on the video, he was big on national TV 20-30 years ago). So it's good to be reminded of the value of repeating his story... and the stories of many, many LGBT people and allies who have called the church to justice over the decades.

Unknown said...

Charles said.....
Dignity was alive and doing well in Los Angles
before we decided to hold the first Dignity National
Convention. Three Jesuit priests were invited and
it was decided to ask John McNeill to give the
key note address. Also present was James Fleck S J
from Loyal University in Cincinnati, Ohio. I was in
charge of Publicity and securing the venue, which at that time took to some persuading. But the manager of the Hollywood Holiday Inn in California finally agreed to rent us space for the unheard of convention of Catholic homosexuals. In my letter
to the Vatican informing them of the First Dignity
National Convention I let them know that McNeill
would be giving the key note address. This may
have been another nail, or perhaps the first nail, in his institutional career. A priest myself, I should
have used better judgement but I was naive in those
days. In no way is John's work diminished by
saying that he did not inspire the founding of
Dignity. Dignity existed before he began to form
an offshoot of it in New York. The real inspiration
for Dignity came from the weekly newsletter written
by Bob Fournier, with the help of Joe Gilgamesh
and others, who mailed it to groups around the
county wishing to form something like what we
were doing in Los Angeles. Joe Gilgamesh was acting president of Dignity before the National Convention. After the convention, I was the first duly elected president of what then became, for the first time, Dignity, Los Angeles, no longer national and local
headquarters. The truth be known, it was Dignity
that inspired inspired John McNeill rather than
he inspiring it.

Kittredge Cherry said...

Your historical details about the founding of Dignity are fascinating, Charles. John McNeill and Brendan Fay are careful in their publicity not to say that McNeill actually founded Dignity. I have read that he founded or co-founded Dignity New York. I thought it was accurate to say he inspired the founding of Dignity, but your comment puts a new light on the subject.

It’s interesting that the first Dignity national convention was held at the Hollywood Holiday Inn. I know that place well! I attended many MCC General Council meetings there, but I was not aware that that hotel had been supporting LGBT Christians for so long. I live in Los Angeles, so sometimes I happen to pass that hotel. It’s still there, but no longer a Holiday Inn.

Unknown said...

John McNeil passed away on Tuesday the 22nd of October. He is survived by his husband Charlie Chiarelli.

Kittredge Cherry said...

Thanks for letting me know about John McNeill's death this week. I am working on an announcement and tribute to post here at the Jesus in Love Blog.