Taking a Chance on God

DIRECTOR: Brendan Fay

Expected guest: director Brendan Fay

Pioneering gay priest, psychotherapist and teacher, Father John J. McNeill always knew he was gay and had intended to live as a celibate priest. But God had other plans and led McNeill on a more whole holy path. Jesuit-trained in open inquiry, McNeill examined his life as a gay man in a committed relationship and found himself truly blessed to be with his partner Charles Chiarelli. He made peace with being a gay Catholic priest in the late 1950s. This revolutionary private act would have huge societal consequences.

At Le Moyne College, Father McNeill carried on the legacy of radical priest Daniel Berrigan. He protested the Vietnam War, the first WWII vet and priest to do so. He researched and wrote three seminal articles dissecting scriptural, doctrinal, ethical, psychiatric and legal views on homosexuality. The articles and subsequent book The Church and the Homosexual were published to great controversy in 1968. His findings: Gay is Good and the Church misguided.

McNeill’s writings inspired the formation of Dignity, the trailblazing LGBT Catholic organization (Dignity SF celebrates its 40th anniversary this year). The book’s wild success caused the Church to silence McNeill on the subject. He complied and yet continued to teach, leading a pivotal 1977 Kirkridge retreat that influenced future Episcopalian Bishop Gene Robinson and others longing to reconcile their sexual orientation and their faith. Amidst the AIDS epidemic, McNeill was expelled from the Jesuits, which liberated him to reach more people. Father McNeill is a testament to living one’s faith and the power of original blessing.

— CAROL HARADA

AT&T Audience Award Text Voting Code: D231

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