John J. McNeill


I never knew Father John McNeill well. But I remember vividly the first time I encountered him. It was the day after Thanksgiving,...Read More

I was on my way to see my shrink on Fifth Avenue and Sixty-Sixth Street the day John McNeill’s book The Church and the...Read More

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For more than twenty-five years, John J. McNeill, an ordained priest and psychotherapist, has been devoting his life to spreading the good news of God's love for lesbian and gay Christians. One year after the publication of The Church and the Homosexual (1976), McNeill received an order from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in the Vatican ordering him to silence in the public media. He observed the silence for nine years while continuing a private ministry to gays and lesbians which included psychotherapy, workshops, lectures and retreats. In 1988, he received a further order from Cardinal Ratzinger directing him to give up all ministry to gay persons which he refused to do in conscience. As a result, he was expelled by the Vatican from the Society of Jesus (Jesuits) for challenging the teachings of the Roman Catholic Church on the issue of homosexuality, and for refusing to give up his ministry and psychotherapy practice to gay men and lesbians. McNeill had been a Jesuit for nearly 40 years.

John McNeill was born September 2, 1925, in Buffalo, New York. After enlisting in the U.S. Army during World War II at the age of seventeen, McNeill served in combat in the Third Army under General Patton and was captured in Germany in 1944. McNeill spent six months as a POW (Prisoner of War) until he was liberated in May of 1945. John enrolled in Canisius College in Buffalo after his discharge from the army and, upon graduating, entered the Society of Jesus in 1948. He was ordained a Jesuit priest in 1959.

In 1964, McNeill earned a Doctorate in Philosophy, with highest honors (Plus Grande Distinction), at Louvain University in Belgium. His doctoral thesis on the philosophical and religious thought of Maurice Blondel was published in 1966 as the first volumne of the series Studies in the History of Christian Thought edited by Heiko Oberman and published  by Brill Press in Leyden, Holland.

During his professional career, McNeill taught philosophy at LeMoyne College in Syracuse, NY, and in the doctorate program at 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. In 1975, McNeill entered the graduate clinical program in Psychotherapy at the Institutes of Religion and Health (IRH). After completing the program, he began his private psychotherapy practice and became a member of the faculty of the IRH teaching courses in "Object Relations Theory of Psychodynamic Development". For many years while on the faculty at IRH, he was Director of the program in Pastoral Studies for inner city clergy at the Manhattan Branch. As adjunct professor at Union Theological Seminary in 1990 he taught a course on "Psychological and Spiritual Dimensions of Ministry to Gays and Lesbians".

In 1974, McNeill was co-founder of the New York City chapter of Dignity, a group for Catholic gays and lesbians. For over twenty-five years, he has been active in a ministry to gay Christians through retreats, workshops, lectures, publications, etc. For twenty years John was a leader of semiannual retreats at the Kirkridge Retreat Center in Pennsylvania.

McNeill's major works on the subject of gay and lesbian liberation, self-acceptance and spiritual maturity are as follows:

  • In 1976, The Church and the Homosexual was published. This book was a re-evaluation of homosexuality from a moral and theological viewpoint. It was published in four other languages: French, Spanish, Italian and Danish. A fourth edition with a new preface was published by Beacon Press in 1993. Other publications include "Homosexuality, Lesbianism and the Future: Building a More Humane Society", in A Challenge to Love, ed. by Robert Nugent, Crossroads Press, 1983.
  • In 1988, his second major work on gay liberation theology, Taking a Chance On God: Liberating Theology for Gays and Lesbians, Their Lovers, Friends and Families, was published by Beacon Press. This book was published in French and German in March of 1993, and Italian in October of 1994.
  • The most recent book, which examines the role interior freedom plays in spiritual maturity, entitled Freedom, Glorious Freedom: The Spiritual Journey to the Fullness of Life for Gays, Lesbians and Everybody Else, published by Beacon Press was distributed early in February, 1995. It was published in Italian in 1996.
  • In 1993, he also published an article entitled “Homosexuality and Spirituality” in The New Dictionary of Spirituality, (Liturgical Press, Collegeville, Minnesota).
  • His article entitled “Tapping Deeper Roots: Integrating the Spiritual Dimension Into Professional Practice With Lesbian and Gay Clients” was published in The Journal of Pastoral Care, Vol. 48 No. 4, Winter 1994.
  • His memoirs entitled Both Feet Firmly Planted in Mid Air: The Spiritual Journey of John McNeill was published in  1998 by Westminister/John Knox Press.

The honors John McNeill has received for his dedicated work include: grand marshal of the New York City Gay Rights Parade in 1987; the National Human Rights Award in 1984 for his contributions to lesbian and gay rights; the Humanitarian Award in 1990 from the Association of Lesbian and Gay Psychologists; the United Fellowship of Metropolitan Community Churches Special Award for his "dedicated work in spreading the Gospel to the lesbian/gay community"; the 1997 Dignity/USA Prophetic Service Award "In Recognition of over 25 years of extraordinary work on behalf of the Catholic Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgendered Community;" and the People of Soulforce Award in 2000 to John and his partner for "lifelong commitment to justice, mercy and truth."

(This biographical statement provided by John McNeill.)

Additional Resources

Web Site:

Collection:  McNeill, John J. and Charles Chiarelli Gay and Lesbian Liberation Collection

McNeill died on September 22, 2015.  Here are some of the obituaries published at that time:

The New York Times

National Catholic Reporter 

Miami Herald 


Biography: August, 2002