Contacts: Brendan Fay 1(718) 721-2780

September 23, 2015

John McNeill, Pioneer Gay Priest, Dies At 90

'Church and the Homosexual' Author Challenged Catholic Dogma

(NewYork, NY -- 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 occurs just as Pope Francis visits the U.S., including New York City where he is expected to Before he died John said he was welcoming the visit of Pope Francis to the U.S. and urged him to affirm the equal dignity of LGBT people, and 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, John 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 like a 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 he showed u 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.


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Contacts: Brendan Fay 1(718) 721-2780

August 08, 2013

Ilene Cutler 1(845) 706-7721

Documentary Film 'Taking A Chance On God' To Screen In Buenos Aires, Argentina

Screening of Film On Pioneer Priest To Coincide with Reflection On Pope Francis and LGBT Community


(New York) Taking A Chance on God, a new documentary on the life of gay pioneer priest John McNeill, will make it's South American premiere in Buenos Aires, Argentina on August 09, 2013 as part of the 15 Festival Internacional de Cine de Derechos Humanos. The film has garnered critical acclaim at film festivals and universities internationally, including Miami, Boston, San Francisco, Nantes, France and Durban, South Africa.

While in Buenos Aires for the Human Rights Film Festival Brendan Fay, Irish born film maker and director of 'Taking A Chance On God', will honor the memory of priest and human rights leader Patrick Rice and Irish Argentinian writer Rodolfo Walsh. Fay has been an activist in the Marriage Equality movement since 1998, and with Jesús Lebrón, co-founded the Civil Marriage Trail Project in 2003, bringing couples across borders for legal marriage, including Edie Windsor and Thea Spyer. On Monday, August 12 Fay will speak at a forum on “Marriage Equality and International LGBT civil rights” as part of the festival program. Additionally, Fay and festival organizers will reflect on the recent comment by Pope Francis “If someone is gay and he searches for the Lord and has good will, who am I to judge?”. Both Fay and McNeill were surprised at Pope Francis' comment: Fay welcoming Pope Francis' words, stating “ John McNeill has dedicated his life to helping the Church and society embrace the lgbt community with equal respect. The words of Pope Francis reflect a new moment of hope for gay Catholics.

'Taking A Chance On God' highlights McNeill’s role as hero and pioneer of the international LGBT civil rights movement. An inspiring portrait, the film 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 gay rights 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.

Fay’s 'Taking A Chance On God' traces the surprising and uncommon life of a humble and honest Irish American who, after surviving as a POW in Nazi Germany, joined a number of high-profile voices for peace during Vietnam, including that of renowned Jesuit anti war poet Daniel Berrigan.

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.

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.

Fay is also director of 'Remembering Mychal' and co-producer of Saint of 9/11, films about Fr. Mychal Judge, the New York Fire Department chaplain who died in the World Trade Center tragedy on September 11, 2001. McNeill was Fr. Judge’s counselor and both priests began The Upper Room AIDS Ministry, an outreach for homeless persons with AIDS in Harlem during the 1980s AIDS crisis. The work continues today as Harlem United. Fay was also co-producer on the film Edie and Thea, an award-winning portrayal of a long-term relationship of love between two women.

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.

Producer Ilene Cutler stated, “As a filmmaker and activist I am incredibly moved by this story of courage and hope. Although I am Jewish and not religious in a traditional sense, the story of John’s life and what his struggle stands for, speaks to me loudly. As a lesbian and activist for social change, I am honored to be a part of making a film whose central message is one of love, compassion, respect and simple human dignity. If one life is affected by this work, then it has been worthwhile. John’s message of love and respect can literally save lives.”

Fay said the film, in addition to its screening in Buenos Aires, is also being subtitled to Polish, Irish, Italian and German. “A new generation of LGBT youth across the world welcomes John McNeill’s reassuring voice of hope. McNeill’s message that gay love can be holy love is as relevant today as when he first began to proclaim it in the early 1970s.”

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 took years to produce and was supported by hundreds of small donations. We had a dedicated team of filmmakers,” said Fay. The filmmakers of 'Taking A Chance on God' are Brendan Fay: Director, Writer and Producer, Ilene Cutler, Producer & Editor, Dan Messina, Editor & Co-Writer, and Peter Wetzler, Composer.

For screening schedule visit

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An aspiring portrait of a pioneer gay priest, Taking A Chance On God follows the extraordinary life of 86-year-old John McNeill from his Buffalo boyhood through his experiences as a POW in Nazi Germany, Vietnam peace promoter, leading gay rights advocate, and loving partner of forty-six years to Charles Chiarelli. McNeill -- the author of groundbreaking works of gay spirituality, a 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.

Brendan Fay : Director, Producer, Writer

Dan Messina : Editor, Co Writer

Ilene Cutler : Producer, Editor

Peter Wetzler: Composer

Jesus Lebron: Web Design

Will Wade-Pentel : Production Assistant

Talking Points

1. Taking A Chance on God tells the story of 86 year-old John McNeill, Catholic priest and pioneering advocate for LGBT human rights. The film traces his life – from a childhood in Buffalo, his months as a prisoner of war in Nazi Germany, his call to the Jesuit priesthood and his ongoing passion for justice and equality.

In the 1960s, with fellow Jesuit Dan Berrigan, he was a herald for peace and nonviolence at the height of the Vietnam War. The film takes viewers to Le Moyne College in the late 60s and early 70s and the on campus experience for students and professors.

2. Along with a handful of others like Rev. Troy Perry of Metropolitan Community Church, John may fairly be seen as a founder of the LGBT religious and spiritual movement.  His writings, including theological articles and the groundbreaking 1976 book The Church and the Homosexual, inspired the founding of the national LGBT Catholic organization Dignity USA.  Dignity quickly spread across the United States and became an immensely influential, though often behind the scenes, force for change in attitudes toward LGBT people among Catholics and in society at large.  Dignity was one of the first LGBT advocacy and support organizations within a religious denomination, which became a model for many others that followed, including Jewish and Muslim groups in recent years.  In addition, John was an organizing cofounder of one of Dignity’s largest and most important chapters, Dignity/New York of New York City, in 1972.

3. As the entire LGBT community has come to understand, religious attitudes among voters are among the most powerful factors influencing their beliefs about the entire spectrum of LGBT civil rights, including marriage equality.  John’s accessible and engaging theological writings had a particularly strong influence not only within Catholicism, but within all the Christian churches.  For example, as Bishop Gene Robinson, the first openly gay bishop in the Episcopal Church, has movingly testified, John’s work had a seminal influence on him at a critical turning point in his life.  John is also a revered elder within the Metropolitan Community Church, the single largest LGBT organization in the world.  The current leader of MCC, Rev. Nancy Wilson, appears in the film.

4. After the Stonewall uprising of June 1969, John became a voice of liberation for gay people.  Clips of Anita Bryant’s Save the Children crusade and psychiatrist Charles Socarides highlight the anti-gay views John was challenging.

5. In 1976, John published The Church and the Homosexual. The book rocked not only the Catholic Church, but other religious institutions around the world.  John appeared on the “Today” show, where his coming out as a gay man and priest before an audience of millions was historic. The book was translated into five languages and became a big seller around the world.  John did countless additional interviews, as well, including the most controversial and influential of its time, “The Phil Donahue Show.”

6.  In 1977, Vatican authorities silenced John McNeill for nine years because of the views expressed in The Church and the Homosexual. The order prohibited him from writing and speaking about homosexuality.

7.  Nevertheless, John continued to proclaim hope, dignity, compassion, and respect for the gay community throughout the 1980s in the face of the despair and derision of the darkest days of the AIDS crisis.  With his close friend Franciscan Fr. Mychal Judge, who died on 9/11 in the attacks on New York’s World Trade Center, John set up the Upper Room AIDS ministry in New York City. It continues today as Harlem United.

8.  In 1983, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict XVI and then prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, sent John a further and more severe order of silencing, which prohibited him not only from writing and speaking, but from continuing to serve as a psychotherapist to LGBT people.  In October 1986, Cardinal Ratzinger issued the Vatican’s “ Letter on the Pastoral Care of Homosexual Persons,” which defined homosexuality as “an objective disorder” and “a more or less strong tendency ordered toward an intrinsic moral evil.” As a result, Dignity chapters around the country were expelled from Catholic parishes.  It was the height of the AIDS crisis, and the callousness of the letter compounded untold suffering and distress.  In 1986, John McNeill broke the Vatican-imposed silence he had endured for nine years and refused to end his public ministry among the gay community. “In conscience”, he wrote, he “could no longer be silent.”

9. On April 14, 1987, Jesuit superiors arrived at John’s  apartment in New York City.  In English and Latin, they read to him the Vatican “Decree of Expulsion. John McNeill, a Jesuit priest of forty years’ standing, was expelled from his religious community because of disobedience to Vatican authorities, and more specifically for questioning Roman Catholic teaching on homosexuality. He was dismissed, finally, in the words of the decree, because of his “pertinacious disobedience.”

10.  Profoundly hurt, but without bitterness, John nevertheless continued his ministry – as a therapist, theologian  and  retreat director. Whether on the road or from his blog, John continues to be that same voice today, proclaiming same-sex love as holy, and encouraging lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender persons around the world.

11. Wherever he goes, John introduces and gives thanks for Charles Chiarelli, his partner of forty-six years.  Taking A Chance on God is a story of the heart; the story of John McNeill’s love for his Church, his gay community, his Jesuit brothers, and his beloved Charlie.  With honesty and emotion, he reflects on the challenges and joys of these defining relationships – and in a particular way, that with Charlie. Taking A Chance on God gives a rare look into the heart of one inspiring man’s journey, as he negotiates his life as a Catholic priest and as a gay man.  The film also includes footage of John and Charlie as they cross the border with the Civil Marriage Trail Project to Canada to be legally married in September 2008.

12.  John McNeill is an inspiring model of courage, integrity, sacrifice, and perseverance for anyone seeking to bring about change regarding LGBT issues, particularly within religious institutions but extending far beyond them.  He is a key figure within the entire modern LGBT rights movement that began with the Stonewall uprising of 1969 and now finds itself poised on the brink of full civil equality in the United States.

Interviewees in the film include bishops, activists, fellow priests, leaders from the US, Canada and Ireland, friends and family. Among them are: Rev. Nancy Wilson, Leader of The Metropolitan Community Church; Dr. Mary E. Hunt, feminist theologian; Bishop Gene Robinson, the first openly gay bishop in the Episcopal Church; comedian Kate Clinton; outspoken pro-LGBT Catholic Bishop Thomas Gumbleton; Fr. Robert Carter, SJ (co-founder of Dignity/New York in 1972 and of the NGLTF in 1973); national human rights activist and advocate Ginny Appuzzo; and Andy Humm, journalist for Gay USA.  Critics of John McNeill are also interviewed, namely, Msgr. William Smith of St. Joseph’s Seminary in Yonkers, New York, and Fr. Jim Lloyd, CSP, of the Courage Apostolate, the official Roman Catholic ministry that advocates celibacy and sexual abstinence for LGBT people.


Production Status

The film will challenge, will inspire, will provoke new conversations and I hope dialogue and help perhaps change hearts and minds and practice. With support Taking A Chance On God will be completed, translated into Polish, French, Italian and Spanish and distributed to festivals in 2012.

For answers to any specific questions about the project, please write me at



Brendan Fay, Director

Originally from Athy, Ireland, Brendan is an activist, filmmaker and advocate for justice and equality for LGBT people in the Church and wider society. He is founder and co-chair of New York's inclusive St. Patrick's Parade, and founder of the Lavender and Green Alliance – a group serving the needs of the Irish LGBT community. Brendan is a presenter on spirituality, sexuality and justice at churches, colleges, community groups, rallies and retreats. He has testified in Washington DC and in New York and been arrested in defense of civil and human rights.

Brendan has been involved in the movement for marriage equality since 1998 and, with Jesús Lebrón, is co-founder of the Civil Marriage Trail Project, which brings gay and lesbian couples across borders to Canada to avail of legal same-sex marriage. Brendan lives in Astoria, NY with his spouse Tom Moulton. They were among the first New Yorkers and bi-national couples to legally marry in Canada in July 2003.

In March 2008, in light of Polish President Lech Kaczyński’s bizarre use of images of their wedding in an (in part, anti-gay) televised address to the nation, Brendan and Tom travelled to Poland and appeared on national TV, making the case for gay equality and same-sex marriage. They returned for EuroPride, in Warsaw, in July 2010.

Brendan has coordinated a documentary film series about being Irish and gay in America. His own films have been screened at many festivals, including the Cork International Film Festival (Remembering Robert: Director), the Tribeca Film Festival (Saint of 9/11: Co-producer & European Field Producer) and The NY Fleadh Film Festival (A Month’s Mind: Director). His work has also been broadcast on PBS and MNN New York.


Taking A Chance On God: Director
A Teacher Goes to City Hall: Producer
Edie and Thea: Associate Producer
Saint of 9/11: Co-producer and European Field Director
The Other Parade: Subject (about Brendan Fay, Founder, St. Pat’s for All)
A Month’s Mind: The Fr. Mychal Judge Memorial: Director
Remembering Robert: A Family & The AIDS Crisis: Director.
Being Patricia: Being Transgender and Irish: Director
Punk Nurse: Director
Danny Boy: Danny Dromm: Director


Ilene Cutler, Producer and Editor

Ilene Cutler is a filmmaker and photographer whose work has been exhibited in a variety of contexts. She has shot and edited many pieces for corporate clients, private events and educational institutions, in addition to creating several films focusing on pertinent and cutting-edge social justice issues.

It is this latter work which is nearest to her heart. Ilene was the director of a program serving runaway and homeless youth in Poughkeepsie, NY for close to twenty years, and has long been an advocate for the homeless, the disabled and the disenfranchised. She is now able to use the medium of film as part of her commitment to such advocacy work, to tell significant and important stories and move an audience toward awareness and action.

Dan Messina, Editor and Co-writer

Dan Messina's work as a producer, shooter and editor has been broadcast on A&E, Style Network, Discovery Health, The Learning Channel, and The Women's Entertainment Network. He is currently directing and editing The Other Parade, a documentary feature about The St. Pat's For All Parade – an all-inclusive St. Patrick’s Day celebration in Sunnyside, Queens, created in response to the exclusion of gays and lesbians from openly marching in the other St. Patrick's Day parades in New York City.

Peter Wetzler, Composer

An award winning composer/pianist/producer and music director, Peter has worked extensively in film, television, multimedia theatre and dance, as well as education with a uniquely diverse musical background. While classically trained in piano Peter was guest soloist with symphonies at an early age and studied conducting and composition at the Mozarteum in Salzburg, Austria. From Europe he moved into jazz and non-western music having played in gamelon and avante garde ensembles while writing music for post- modern choreographers such as Bill T Jones, David Dorfman and Susan Marshall and touring Europe and North America with Laura Dean Dancers and Musicians. The strong rhythmic drive of his music blended with the raw experimental influence of the “downtown” New York City music scene has made his style much sought after for unique film and television scoring ranging from animation and films featured at MOMA and PBS Great Performances to National Geographic’s permanent multimedia installation in Washington DC.

A large portion of his recent scoring work includes documentaries for ABC, BBC, Discovery, Biography, The Learning Channel and his radio program Sound Forms: Conversations with Composers, heard on WGXC or streamed from the its website.

William Wade-Patel, Assistant Producer

William Wade-Pentel was born and raised in Jackson Heights, Queens, New York City. He graduated from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, with a degree in Political Science. Influenced by his parents, diverse neighborhood, and education, Will has always had a strong interest in human rights. Before this film he has worked mainly in sound engineering and reinforcement; his father owns a sound company, Collegium Sound, Inc., so Will has been involved in the audio engineering world his whole life.


Brendan Fay and John McNeill

John McNeill and Charles Chiarelli

John McNeill, Dignity NY contingent, LGBT Pride Parade


A Documentary Profile of Pioneer Gay Priest, John McNeill