Reverend Dr. John J. McNeill, prolific author, LGBT activist, World War II veteran, and gay Catholic priest, died on September 22nd in Ft. Lauderdale at the age of 90. John McNeill was a Life Member of American Veterans for Equal Rights and a recipient of AVER’s Leonard Matlovich Medal for Distinguished Service, the highest award presented by the organization.
John McNeill served under General George S. Patton in the United States Army during World War II. He was captured by German troops during the Battle of the Bulge and imprisoned in a POW camp near Dresden, Germany. Following the allied firebombing of Dresden McNeill and other POWs were forced to help remove bodies from the charred rubble. McNeill survived the war and was awarded the Purple Heart.
Following the war McNeill felt called to religious life and was ordained as a Roman Catholic priest in 1959 and entered the Jesuit Order. In 1976 he published the landmark book “The Church and the Homosexual” the first major work to discuss the issue of LGBT spirituality and Christianity, and still considered the most important work on challenging the exclusion of LGBT people by church teachings.
John McNeill subsequently came out as one of the first openly gay Catholic priests and began a very public outreach to LGBT people, including co-founding the New York chapter of Dignity, an LGBT Roman Catholic organization. This ministry, along with the subsequent publication of a number of works dealing with LGBT spirituality landed McNeill in conflict with Church hierarchy. After refusing to stop his ministry to LGBT people McNeill was publicly ostracized and expelled from the Jesuits by then Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, later Pope Benedict XVI.
You can read a more detailed article about the life and work of John McNeill including the biographical documentary “Taking a Chance on God” in this story published Saturday in the New York Times: http://www.nytimes.com/2015/09/26/nyregion/john-mcneill-priest-who-pushed-catholic-church-to-welcome-gays-dies-at-90.html?_r=0
Father John McNeill has long been one of my personal heroes, and it was my great pleasure and honor to meet him at AVER’s national convention in Ft. Lauderdale in October, 2009. He administered my first Oath of Office as National President. On June 11, 2010, I placed a wreath at Arlington National Cemetery with three gay World War II veterans: John McNeill, the late Dr. Frank Kameny, and Jack Strouss.
That event will always be
one of the greatest memories of my
life. My work with AVER has taken
me many places, including the White
House and the Pentagon, but nothing
comes close to the great gift of
meeting incredible pioneers and
activists like John McNeill. He was
a great friend and mentor to me and
to many others, a true pioneer and
champion of the LGBT civil rights
movement, a spiritual leader, and a
truly wise and thoughtful
gentleman. I will miss him greatly,
but I am grateful for his incredible
life and the change that he created
for our people. “Who am I to judge”
would not have been possible without
the work of John J. McNeill.
Thank you, honored father, for your service, to our country and to our people.
McNeill is survived by his partner of 49 years, Charles Chiarelli. The couple legally married in Toronto, Canada on September 8, 2008. Information on memorial services is available at the Sunshine Cathedral website: http://sunshinecathedral.org/?page_id=9175
Donations in his honor can be made to the John J. McNeill Memorial Fund: http://sunshinecathedral.org/?page_id=9175
Charlie shared with me one of John’s favorite songs that became a theme of his life’s work. From the Ella Fitzgerald song Taking a Chance on Love, the core of his ministry, Taking a Chance on God:
Things are mending now
I see a rainbow blending now
We'll have a happy ending now
Taking a chance on love
gently, honored warrior priest.
Danny Ingram, National President
American Veterans for Equal Rights