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Priest Defies Vatican Order to Halt Homosexual Ministry

November 8, 1986

NEW YORK (AP) _ A priest says that although he expects to be expelled from his order for defying a Vatican demand to halt his ministry to homosexuals, he still loves the Roman Catholic Church.

″You only get one father or mother. If they don’t treat you well, you still love them. The church is my mother and I love it,″ the Rev. John J. McNeill said Friday night.

McNeill said the Rev. Peter Hans Kolvenbach, international head of the Jesuit order of priests, told him Oct. 19 he would be expelled if he did not give up his ministry and remain silent on the issue of homosexuality.

After warning his superiors, the 61-year-old McNeill, who is also a psychiatrist, defied the order by issuing press statements Friday condemning a Vatican crackdown on such dissent.

Last week, the Vatican issued a document reaffirming its position that homosexual acts are sinful, and ordering the clergy worldwide to withdraw support from organizations that undermine, neglect or are ambiguous about the church’s teaching on the subject.

In St. Cloud, Minn., the Rev. William Dorn Jr. was placed on indefinite leave from the priesthood Thursday because his views on homosexuality.

Bishop Victor Balke of the Crookston Diocese, who ordained Dorn in 1979, said the priest would have to bring his teachings in line with the church before his return to active ministry could be considered.

″I’m not going to change my teaching in this area,″ said Dorn, who recently revealed he is homosexual.

In Boston, meanwhile, about 50 people attended a candlelight vigil Friday outside the home of Cardinal Bernard Law, the archbishop of Boston, to protest the Vatican document, specifically its statement that the practice of homosexuality may threaten lives.

The Vatican recently has taken action against other clergymen who differed with church policy on sexual and other matters.

Seattle Archbishop Raymond Hunthausen was ordered to surrender much of his authority to an auxiliary bishop on grounds he tolerated liberal practices in marriage annullments and the liturgy. Catholic University professor Charles Curran was disqualified from teaching as a Roman Catholic theologian because of his dissenting views on sexual matters.

The Rev. Joseph A. Novak, head of the Jesuit New York province, said a final decision on McNeill’s expulsion could not be made until after the priest’s remarks were published.

McNeill said he would continue to write and give workshops and speeches about homosexuality at retreat centers and universities around the United States and Canada.

But, stripped of sacramental functions, he would no longer be able to celebrate the Saturday night Masses that drew up to 400 people each week under the auspices of Dignity, a Catholic homosexual rights group he helped found.

″I’m very sad,″ McNeill said. ″It’s very, very painful to be separated from the community I love and respect. It’s been my home and security and life for the past 40 years.″

McNeill said he is a homosexual but remains celibate in conformance with church teachings.

The Rev. David Toolan, another of McNeil’s Jesuit superiors in New York, called him ″a most extraordinarily good man″ who ″tried to stay within the letter of the law laid down for him.″

″We feel awful about it,″ Toolan said. ″We’re going to lose a wonderful man.″

A teacher of clerical psychotherapy at the Institutes of Religion and Health at Marble Collegiate Church, McNeill published ″The Church and the Homosexual″ 10 years ago with the blessing of his superiors.

However, a year later, the Vatican revoked the approval and ordered McNeill to stop speaking, and subsequently to stop publishing, on the topic.

In the book, McNeill reinterpreted some Biblical passages that traditionally have been used to condemn homosexuality. He argued that stable, monogamous homosexual relationships can be morally good.

McNeill said he had accepted the order of silence for nine years because he hoped it would lead to dialogue on the church’s attitude toward homosexuality.

Now, however, he will speak out about his belief that the church has ″a paranoid reaction to any change, compassion and outreach to those outside the fold.″

″This new all-out attack in the document that came out last week was vicious and mean,″ he said. ″It went beyond any legitimate moral question and caused me to make my decision″ to defy church orders.

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