Taking a Chance on God, a new documentary on the life of pioneering Catholic gay theologian, John McNeill, will have its New York debut on Saturday, June 16th, 7:00 p.m., at the School of Visual Arts Theatre, 333 West 23rd St., Manhattan, NY.
The film’s screening, sponsored by Dignity/New York, in honor of their 40th anniversary, will feature a panel of distinguished speakers that includes: McNeill himself and his lifelong partner, Charles Chiarelli, Mary Hunt, James Bernauer SJ, Bishop Gene Robinson, Kate Clinton, Ginny Apuzzo, Andy Humm, Fr. Dan McCarthy, Fr. Bernard Lynch, Ken Gomolka, Rev. Nancy Wilson. McNeill is one of the founders of Dignity/New York. Tickets for the screening are available at www.brownpapertickets.com/event/246908
The film’s publicity materials describe the documentary as:
“An inspiring 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 Jesuit 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.”
Taking a Chance on God was produced by Brendan Fay, who is also the producer of The Saint of 9/11, a documentary on Fr. Mychal Judge, OFM, the gay NYC fire department chaplain who is died ministering to people in the attack on the World Trade Center.
“This film is about my partner Charlie and our 46-year love affair. . . . The message is that God loves gay lovers and approves of them. . . . I don’t want any part of the church’s homophobia. . . .I was bringing a message that God brought to me. God’s love is universal and includes both gay and straight people.”
In the same interview, Fay comments on why he made the film:
“John became a hero to me the way Harvey Milk and other pioneers of the gay liberation movement had. . . .John is often a hidden figure. An unknown pioneer. There are not many who are aware of the dramatic impact and significance he had on the movement for change in society and the church in the early ‘70s.”
McNeill is best known for his ground-breaking theological work, The Church and the Homosexual, published in 1976. In 2008, New Ways Ministry presented him with the Bridge Building Award for his life-long contributions to scholarship and pastoral work with LGBT people. You can read his award acceptance speech, which sums up his mission and ministry, here.
Kingston, N.Y.’s Daily Freeman interviewed McNeill and Chiarelli when then documentary was screened in the Woodstock, N.Y. film festival in September 2011. In that interview, McNeill sums up his life work this way:
“I wanted to take away the guilt and self-hatred of gay Catholics who believed the church’s position on homosexuality.”
–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry