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In 1948, he entered the Jesuit novitiate and in 1959 was ordained.

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He was "torn out of the closet by Tom Brokaw," Mc Neill, laughing, recalled later.

From that point on, Mc Neill was not just a radical theologian but an icon for other Catholics struggling to reconcile their faith with their sexual orientation.

He received the church's permission to publish it in 1976 despite a Vatican declaration weeks earlier that a "permanent homosexual condition" was "pathological."A year after the book's release, however, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith — the body charged with enforcing church doctrine — withdrew its permission and ordered the author "not to speak on homosexuality and sexual ethics."Mc Neill publicly obeyed the silencing order but quietly continued to minister to gay Catholics.

In 1986, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, the future Pope Benedict XVI who was then chief enforcer of church teaching, called homosexuality an "objective disorder" and instructed bishops to stamp out pro-homosexual views within the church.

Decades before Pope Francis grabbed the world's attention with his "Who Am I to judge? John Mc Neill was a pillar of gay theology, whose robust challenge of one of the Roman Catholic Church's most closely held doctrines got him expelled from his order.

Last modified 03-Jul-2017 07:03