A prominent Jesuit priest-psychiatrist, who was silenced by the Vatican nine years ago because of a scholarly book he wrote on homosexuality, is being expelled from his order and effectively removed from priestly functions because he refuses to end his public ministry to gay people.
Father John J. McNeill, 61, of New York City said Friday that the international head of the Jesuit order, Father Peter Hans Kolvenbach, notified him on Oct. 19 that "I must give up all public ministry to gay people, or with pain and sadness, he would be obliged to dismiss me from the Society of Jesus. My ultimate obedience to the will of God led me to the conclusion that I must continue my public ministry of speaking and writing."
McNeill, who said he is homosexual, said the expulsion order, seen as part of a stepped-up Vatican crackdown on dissent, came from Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, head of the Vatican's Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.
Last week, Ratzinger issued a tough new condemnation of homosexuality, calling it an "objective disorder" and reiterating traditional church teaching that all homosexual acts are immoral.
In his book, "The Church and the Homosexual," published 10 years ago with the blessing of his religious superiors and after four years of peer review, McNeill, a moral theologian as well as practicing psychiatrist, argued that homosexual behavior can be morally good.
Reinterpreting some biblical passages that have traditionally been used to condemn homosexuality, he argued that stable homosexual relationships should be evaluated by the same standards as similar heterosexual ones.
A year after publication, however, Ratzinger's predecessor, Cardinal Franjo Seper, revoked the church's imprimatur for the book and ordered McNeill to stop speaking, and subsequently to stop publishing, on the topic.
"I did my best to live within these guidelines and yet continue my ministry to gay people," O'Neill said Friday.
Father David Tolan, McNeill's Jesuit superior in New York, praised him as "a most extraordinarily good man" who "tried to stay within the letter of the law laid down for him."
Founded Gay Rights Group
McNeill is one of the founders of Dignity, a Catholic gay rights organization. An address by McNeill to a Dignity convention on Labor Day weekend last year "on human rights, civil liberties and the moral position of the church" triggered the silencing order conveyed to him last month, Tolan said.
McNeill said Friday he had celebrated Mass at a Seattle cathedral for a Dignity convention three years ago. The Vatican subsequently censured Seattle Archbishop Raymond G. Hunthausen for permitting the Mass.
Meanwhile, Associated Press reported that Father William Dorn Jr. has been ordered to take an indefinite leave of absence in Crookston, Minn., because his views on homosexuality clash with church teachings, a church official said. Dorn has disclosed that he is a homosexual.