Pioneer Gay Priest's Story "Taking a Chance on God" Documents Life of Fr. John McNeill
Taking A Chance on God, a new documentary on the life of gay pioneer priest John McNeill is screening at festivals around the world. The film highlights McNeill’s role as hero and pioneer of the international LGBT civil rights movement. An inspiring portrait, Taking a Chance on God follows the extraordinary life of 86-year-old John McNeill from his Buffalo, NY boyhood through his experiences as a POW in Nazi Germany, Vietnam peace promoter, leading LGBT-equality advocate, and loving partner of 46 years to Charles Chiarelli. McNeill, the author of groundbreaking works of gay spirituality, founder of the LGBT Catholic group Dignity/New York, and a gay community leader during the AIDS crisis of the 1980s, refused to be silenced by the Vatican on LGBT issues, which resulted in his expulsion from the priesthood. Chronicling McNeill’s love for the Catholic Church, the LGBT community, his Jesuit brothers, and his partner, Taking a Chance on God is a powerful story of faith, love and perseverance in the face of oppression and rejection.
McNeill’s groundbreaking writings, including his 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. This year, five Dignity chapters are celebrating 40 years of ministry with LGBT Catholics, including New York, Chicago, Boston, Washington DC, and San Diego.
In 1977 and in 1983, McNeill was silenced for speaking and writing on issues of homosexuality by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, currently Pope Benedict XVI. For “pertinacious disobedience” to this order of silence, McNeill was eventually expelled from the Jesuit order in April 1987.
Filmmaker Brendan Fay noted that Taking a Chance on God “is a heartfelt story of a man and movement dedicated to opening hearts and minds for LGBT persons in the Catholic Church and society.” Brendan conceived the documentary film partly in an effort to “help keep the movement for change going.” The film is a “story of the heart of John McNeill’s love for his Church, his Jesuit family, the LGBT community and his beloved Charlie,” said Fay.
Fay continued, “Taking A Chance on God addresses current issues of human rights and same-sex marriage in a very personal way. John was a POW in Germany, and with his partner of 46 years, Charles Chiarelli, are living witnesses to the joy of same-sex committed love.” McNeill and Chiarelli were legally married in Toronto on September 8, 2008.
The film is also timely in reflecting a dramatic shift in attitudes toward LGBT issues among Catholics, and is likely to spur further conversations amongst Catholics around the world, as a greater number of families and parishes openly broach the issue of sex, love and homosexuality within and outside the church.
Taking a Chance on God will be screening as a part of the 40th Anniversary of Dignity/New York on June 16 and at film festivals across the country and around the world. For a full screening schedule visit www.takingachanceongod.com.