John McNeillWritten By: Gregory Watson

Woe to the world because of scandals. For it must needs be that scandals come: but nevertheless woe to that man by whom the scandal cometh” (Matthew 18:7).

This past Tuesday, at the age of 90, Dr. John J. McNeill died. I don’t know quite how I feel about it. Ansty, I suppose you could call it. Gut – wrenchingly saddened. Almost…fearful.

I don’t know if you’ve heard of Dr. John Mcneill. I suppose it depends on the circles you run in. Those in the LGBT culture would recognize him better perhaps by the title “Fr.” John J. McNeill, SJ, the first (so I am told) openly gay Catholic priest, and a pioneer for gay rights and biblical interpretation that says that the verses condemning homosexuality in the Bible actually don’t. Those in the conspiratorially conservative Catholic blogosphere would recognize the name as that of someone whom the Vatican was far too slow in censuring (It took over a decade for him to finally be expelled from the Jesuit and liaised for disobeying the Church’s injunction to stop ministering to homosexuals

Me, I mostly just knew him as “Jack”, partner/husband/spouse to my wife’s great-uncle Charlie. I can’t quite tell you how awkward it is to so utterly disagree with someone’s lifestyle and beliefs. One reads or hears about Jack’s work as a “pioneer” and a “rebel” challenging the hierarchy, and depicting him as a veritable saint (he even won an award entitled “living saint” once). One person even compared him to St. Francis of Assist! St. Francis might have challenged the status quo of the Italian upper classes, but he was a faithful servant of the Church. Jack, on the other hand, broke his vow of celibacy as well as his vow of obedience. Whatever you think about same-sex attraction or the Church’s teachings about it, surely we can agree that breaking vows is still a bad thing.

His books and articles, and a documentary about his life, have led many to reject the Church’s true and beautiful teachings on human sexuality, and encourage many more, who struggled with same-sex attraction, to openly embrace a gay lifestyle. It is a legacy that in these times, is not likely to be short-lived.

Now that Jack has gone on to his eternal reward, I come to the source of my angst and grief, as I ponder just what that reward might be. Many of those who disagree with him likely hold little hope for his salvation, whereas those who agree with the causes he championed have evidently already canonized him.

But we don’t know the state of Jack’s soul. Perhaps a special grace was given to him to see his error. Perhaps he did repent truly on his deathbed. When a man’s life so polarises the opinions of those with whom he comes into contact, how many people remember the possibility–and have the charity to hope–that he made it into purgatory. Who will remember to pray, “God, have mercy on Jack’s soul”?

I will.


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