John McNeill, the 90-year-old gay priest and pioneer of the international LGBT civil rights movement died on September 22 at Westside Regional Hospital in Fort Lauderdale.
McNeill, an Irish American priest from Buffalo, was a POW in Nazi Germany and a voice for peace during the Vietnam War. Long celebrated as a pioneer of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (lgbt) liberation, McNeill was an author of best-selling, internationally published titles on Catholicism and homosexuality. He struggled with lung cancer in his remaining days. His groundbreaking writings, including the 1976 book ‘The Church and Homosexual’, have been translated into many languages and inspired the founding of Dignity USA, an influential organization for LGBT Catholics that continues today across the United States, spurring similar movements throughout the world. His coming out on the Today Show in 1976 was a monumental moment on television.
McNeill’s death occurred on the eve of Pope Francis’ visit to the U.S. today. Pope Francis met with President Obama and his family. He is expected to make a speech before Congress in Washington before visiting New York City and other cities throughout the U.S. Shortly before his death McNeill said he was welcoming the visit of Pope Francis to the U.S. and urged him to “affirm the equal dignity of LGBT people,… to be a voice of hope for all those who suffer from prejudice, violence, and discrimination.”
In 1977 and in 1983, McNeill was ordered to silence for speaking and writing on issues of homosexuality by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger. For “pertinacious disobedience” to this order of silence, McNeill was eventually expelled from the Jesuit order in April 1987. For his courage and career of service to the lgbt community he was made Grand Marshal of the NYC Pride Parade in 1987.
John continued to proclaim hope and compassion for the LGBT community throughout the 1980s in the face of the despair and derision of the AIDS crisis, and with his close friend Fr. Mychal Judge, who died on 9/11 in the attacks on New York’s World Trade Center, set up the Upper Room AIDS ministry in Harlem.
Brendan Fay, director of the award winning film ‘Taking A Chance on God’, documented McNeill’s life and his journey in June 2011, Rome where he, along with European lgbt leaders delivered a letter to Pope Benedict XVI at the Vatican. The letter asked for “dialogue and renewal” and urged Church leadership to “speak out against the violence, injustice, and discrimination experienced by LGBT people around the world.”
“John McNeill was a pioneer gay priest, therapist and theologian”, stated Fay. “He opened doors to love and freedom for LGBT Catholics. At screenings in Warsaw, Buenos Aires and in Rome people told me how he saved their lives. He is our father of the Catholic Stonewall movement. John McNeill suffered so much at the hands of the institutional Church yet in his writings, his ministry and by the example of his own life, showed you how to love well and find joy.”
McNeill is survived by his partner of 49 years, Charles Chiarelli. The couple legally married in Toronto, Canada on September 8, 2008.