John McNeill was a pioneering gay priest, psychotherapist, author, theologian and Jesuit scholar who inspired countless LGBTQ people of faith and their allies. He died on Sept. 22, 2015 in a hospice in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, with his partner of 49 years, Charles Chiarelli, at his bedside. He was 90.

The National Catholic Reporter called him a “patron saint of LGBT Catholics” in the headline for his obituary.

McNeill began ministering to LGBTQ Catholics in the 1970s, helping give birth to the Dignity organization. He wrote the groundbreaking 1976 book “The Church and the Homosexual.” The Vatican silenced him and the Jesuit order expelled him for coming out and promoting LBGTQ rights in church and society.

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 was serving on the clergy staff. He filled the church with a large and adoring crowd.  Yet when I had the chance to greet him personally he seemed grounded and ready to focus his warmth on each individual interaction. I was impressed by his powerful-yet-gentle presence and the intellectual force behind his liberating theology.

McNeill became a colleague, inspiration and friend who supported virtually all my book projects over the next 28 years. He spent hours on the phone providing me with background material for my coming-out guide “Hide and Speak,” and eagerly wrote endorsements for my other books.

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

Conflicts between McNeill and the Vatican spanned decades, including a 2011 trip to Rome where he delivered a letter addressed to Pope Benedict XVI asking the church to condemn violence against LGBTQ people.

So it seems like no coincidence that McNeill died on the same day that Pope Francis arrived on his first visit to the United States. The timing of his death spared McNeill the pain of seeing the US media glorify the Pope while he slighted the suffering and needs of LGBTQ people. In another sense, McNeill’s timely death passed the baton for the Pope to carry the holy effort to bring love and justice for all.

His life story is told in 2012 film “Taking A Chance on God.” It was directed by Brendan Fay, who co-produced “Saint of 9/11” about Father Mychal Judge. A trailer is online at YouTube.

May John McNeill join Christ and all the saints in heaven who provide a continual source of inspiration and assistance for LGBTQ people of faith!

Links related to John McNeill

The Rev. John J. McNeill, Jesuit priest who became famed LGBT activist, dies at 90 (Miami Herald)

John McNeill, Priest Who Pushed Catholic Church to Welcome Gays, Dies at 90 (New York Times)

John J. McNeill Memorial page on Facebook

Previous posts about John McNeill

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

Update: Gay priest McNeill’s premiere succeeds despite rain in Rome at EuroPride

LGBT Christians to Pope: Stop homophobia! (plus photos of EuroPride & John McNeill)

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This post is part of the LGBTQ Saints series by Kittredge Cherry. Traditional and alternative saints, people in the Bible, LGBTQ martyrs, authors, theologians, religious leaders, artists, deities and other figures of special interest to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender and queer (LGBTQ) people and our allies are covered.

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Kittredge Cherry

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Kittredge Cherry is a lesbian Christian author who writes regularly about LGBTQ spirituality.She holds degrees in religion, journalism and art history.She was ordained by Metropolitan Community Churches and served as its national ecumenical officer, advocating for LGBTQ rights at the National Council of Churches and World Council of Churches.
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