FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:
Contacts: Brendan Fay 1(718) 721-2780
|June 19, 2012
Ilene Cutler 1(845) 706-7721
Documentary Film 'Taking A Chance On God' To Screen In U.S., Florence, Italy and Belfast, Ireland
(New York) Taking A Chance on God, a new documentary on the life of gay pioneer priest John McNeill, will conclude it's hugely successful screening in the U.S. and Europe during the fall and winter of 2012. The film has garnered critical acclaim at film festivals and universities internationally, including Miami, Boston, San Francisco, Nantes, France and Durban, South Africa.
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 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, an Irish-born filmmaker and activist, is 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 is also being subtitled to Polish, Irish, Italian, Spanish 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 www.takingachanceongod.com.
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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
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.