John J. McNeill, priest and psychotherapist, died at 90

  Dead Famous

John J. McNeill, born in 1924 or 1925 and died September 22, 2015.

John was ordained as a Jesuit priest in 1959 and subsequently worked as a psychotherapist and an academic theologian, with a particular reputation within the field of Queer Theology.

Born in Buffalo, John grew up in up-state New York.

He served during World War II and spent six months in a German POW camp.

This had and effect on his spirituality and in 1948 he entered the Society of Jesus; finally being ordained a Jesuit priest in 1959.

He obtained a Ph.D. from the Catholic University of Leuven in Belgium in 1964 and has taught at LeMoyne College in Syracuse, NY and Fordham University in NYC.

In 1972, he joined the combined Woodstock Jesuit Seminary and Union Theological Seminary faculty as professor of Christian Ethics, specializing in Sexual Ethics.

He was a noted peace advocate during the Vietnam War.

In 1969 he played a part in the establishment of DignityUSA, an organization functioning both as a support and social group for LGBT and LGBT-accepting Catholics to worship together – founding a chapter in New York in 1972.

In 1976, John published The Church and the Homosexual, which challenged the Church’s prohibition of same-sex activity.

The book was the first attempt by a reputed scholar and theologian to examine and challenge traditional church teachings on sexuality and attitudes toward gay and lesbian Catholics.

It argued for a change in Church teaching and that homosexual relationships should be judged by the same standard of heterosexual ones.

The work had received permission from John’s Jesuit superiors prior to printing.

However, the following year the permission was retracted at the order of the Vatican, and John was ordered by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger not to write or speak further publicly about the issue homosexuality.

In a statement John responded highlighted his concern that “gay men most likely to act out their sexual needs in a unsafe, compulsive way, and therefore expose themselves to the HIV virus, are precisely those who have internalised the self-hatred that their religions impose on them.”.

He nevertheless observed the imposed silence for nine years while continuing his private ministry to gays and lesbian Catholics.

In 1988, he received yet another order from Rome directing him to give up all ministry to gay persons, an order, he said, he could not follow in good conscience.

He was subsequently expelled from the Jesuit order after 40 years.

Nevertheless, John remained respected among gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender rights Catholics as well as others who looked to his scholarly writings to help them accept their own sexuality and defend themselves against what they viewed to be misguided church teachings.

He continued to speak out against official Catholic teachings on matters or sexuality and in particular the harsh and “homophobic” teachings coming out of the Vatican.

In 2012, a documentary was made about his life entitled, “Taking A Chance On God”.

He spoke about having tried “with the help of the Holy Spirit to free gay Christians from the lies of a pathologically homophobic religion.”

John J. McNeill died at a hospice in Fort Lauderdale, Florida on September 22, 2015 at the age of 90; with his partner of 46 years, Charlie Chiarelli, at his bedside.