Frank McMullan's blog

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Taking a Chance on G-d

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John McNeill, theologian, author, therapist, priest

By chance, in 1986 – on my first, short, visit to Amsterdam – I discovered a book that changed my life.

John McNeill’s The Church and the Homosexual, originally published in 1976, was my first encounter with an alternative interpretation of supposed biblical prohibitions on homosexuality.  His writings had a profound effect on me.

John, now a former Jesuit, is one of the subjects of Silver Stars, Seán Millar and Brokentalker’s dramatized song cycle about Irish and Irish American older gay men.  I was privileged to meet John when he attended the New York production of Silver Stars in January last year.  Of such coincidence is life made!

John, himself, paid a very high price for his enlightened views; initially, by being silenced by the Vatican; and, finally – when he could no longer maintain that silence – by being expelled from his Jesuit order. His calling to minister to gay Catholics and to help them discover viable ways of living their lives within the Church, was unacceptable to Church authorities.

DignityUSA, whose New York branch John co-founded in 1972, has designated this April John McNeill month.

Brendan Fay, documentary film maker [The Saint of 9/11, about Fr Mychal Judge, a Franciscan chaplain to the New York Fire Department, who died at the World Trade Center], is currently finalising his latest work, Taking a Chance on God, the story of the life and work of John McNeill.  The documentary is scheduled to be premiered in Rome on June 10th during Euro-Pride.

The film needs a final round of funding to be ready in time for Rome.  KickStarter, a novel and easy to use all-or-nothing crowdfunding tool, is an important part of this.  All donations, big and small, are welcome.  Do it!


Written by Frank McMullan

25 April 2011 at 08:27

Posted in Church

Archive Post: e-mail to the Ugandan Honorary Consul in Ireland

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Here’s an e-mail I sent early last year that I thought might be worthy of putting on my blog. While the offending legislation [which even provided for the death penalty in certain situations] by now may have gone underground – though we can never be certain of that – it is another indication of what people in other parts of our world are up against.  This has a connection with my previous post on Ugandan Bishop Christopher Senyonjo’s visit to Ireland.

To: Mrs Sylvia Katete Gavigan

Subject: We lay our future in thy hand…


I am very sad to see the corner Uganda has backed itself into – apparently under the influence of well-meaning but misguided Christians including some from abroad – as regards the well-being of those in your country who happen, unfortunately, to be homosexual.

One of the great hallmarks of successful countries and cities is their embrace of difference. Where acceptance is the norm, a creative dynamic comes into play and the economy can flourish.  I believe that some of Ireland’s economic success, before the current economic crisis, is attributable to the advances made on the equality front, both in law and in Irish society in general – despite the sad reluctance of our churches on the sexuality front.

I recognise that African culture is radically different from European culture, and that Ugandan culture and Irish culture are different again from each of these in their own way and from one another.  To use that as an excuse for marginalising further people who are already marginalised in both our countries, is akin to wanting to reintroduce slavery And there’s more…

Written by Frank McMullan

6 January 2011 at 16:23

Fr John’s House Mass

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Fr John is a very dear friend.  He is one of the many Catholic priests who have been falsely accused of child sex abuse.  While he has been acquitted in the criminal courts, simply as there was no case to answer, the due process under canon law for his reinstatement as a practising priest is taking its time and its further toll – not least financially, as his priestly income ceased totally while his case was under investigation.  For many months now Fr John has not been at liberty to celebrate Mass in public.  He is thoroughly blessed in his being able to see this horrendous experience as being something that can help him to be a better priest.

It was a privilege recently when he celebrated Mass with us in the apartment where I am staying while in Portland.  This was one of several special spiritual experiences during my stay here.

The gospel for the day [Luke 23] was more than apt:

39 One of the criminals hanging there abused him: ‘Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us as well.’

40 But the other spoke up and rebuked him. ‘Have you no fear of God at all?’ he said. ‘You got the same sentence as he did,

41 but in our case we deserved it: we are paying for what we did. But this man has done nothing wrong.’

Fr John had us reflect on a short extract adapted from Jesus’ Plan for a New World by Richard Rohr, OFM:

The opposite of faith is not intellectual doubt, because faith is not localized primarily in the mind. The opposite of faith, according to a number of Jesus’ statements is anxiety. If you are fear-based And there’s more…

Written by Frank McMullan

8 December 2010 at 22:42

Posted in Church

Archive post: How Shall We Sing the Lord’s Song…

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"Coming Out", Glen O'Brien (Editor)


This piece was originally published in Coming Out: Irish Gay Experiences, edited by Glen O’Brien [Currach Press, 2003]

How shall we sing the Lord’s song in a strange land?

by Carl McManus

I like doing jigsaw puzzles.  This has been a favourite hobby throughout my life.  There is one jigsaw puzzle, though, that has taken me more than thirty years to solve.  Only in very recent times did I even realise just how many pieces there were – all of them there from the time I was a young man.  This jigsaw, however, isn’t the usual kind.  The pieces represent dozens of individual incidents and signals that, if they were all put together, would have left me in no doubt about my sexuality.  I couldn’t, or wouldn’t, put them together.  I don’t think it was denial so much as rejection: I did not want to be gay!  After all, the rulebook said it was a sin.  My homophobia was comprehensive.

The rulebook also said ‘self-abuse’ was a sin.  And, God love me, it was there that I got stuck.  I remember in my late teens screwing up my courage to go and talk to a priest, and the furthest we were able to get was to talk very reluctantly about my problems with masturbation.  I remember going to confession twice and three times a week to purge my never-ending guilt.  Only when I met my counselling priest (a guest at a Reach meeting) ‘half a lifetime’ later was I able to forgive the ‘earlier’ priest for not being able to read my mind.  By then I was married, and I had already come out painfully to my wife Mary.

The impetus for my coming out to Mary was my need to stop living a lie And there’s (lots) more…

Written by Frank McMullan

11 October 2010 at 20:59

Posted in Church, Glen O'Brien

Guest post: A Living Word, another Glen O’Brien radio broadcast

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Transcript from A Living Word, RTÉ Radio 1, broadcast 22 April 2010: podcast

Healing Simon’s mother-in-law [Mark 1: 30,31]


Healing of Simon's mother-in-law


Lord, I often imagine when I read the account of the healing of Simon’s mother-in-law that in order to get dinner, first you had to cure her!  🙂  I am not questioning your motivation in healing her but the idea does leave me with a smile on my face!  Mind you, I have no doubt you needed dinner with your long day’s work into night.

I want to focus on the healing that you extended to Simon’s mother-in-law in bed.  In Mark, your apostles spoke to you about her.   We, gay men, Lord, also need healing in our minds, our bodies, our souls.  Many of us are unseen.  Some of us are blessed with parents and friends who speak on our behalf for our healing, our acceptance, our being healed into service and ministry for your kingdom, as indeed was Simon’s mother-in-law! In so many ways our service remains nameless as does the woman in this story.

Lord, allow me look at the fact that this woman was in bed when you healed her.  Not much is written about the healing that takes place in bed.  For many people, Jesus, the topic of gay men in bed is taboo.  Yet in my own experience and that of my friends, being with a lover in bed can bring about powerful healing.  This can happen, among other ways, with the extraordinary life-giving power of touch. And there’s (a bit) more…

Written by Frank McMullan

12 September 2010 at 18:00

Posted in Church, Glen O'Brien

Fr John McKay RIP

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Here’s a classical bit of personal homophobia.  When I first heard in the late ’60s or early ’70s that the Legion of Mary had an outreach group for gay men in Dublin, my immediate reaction was: “Why in heaven’s name would they do that?  Sure that only encourages them!”  Haven’t I come a long long way?

Reach, a largely Catholic Christian group formed in the early ’80s, grew out of the original Legion of Mary group.  It functioned for over 20 years, meeting in Marianella, a Redemptorist house in Dublin.  I joined shortly after it started: A Carmelite priest in Whitefriar Street – I kid you not – gave me as Penance in Confession the task of making contact with the group.  He will never know the truly life-enriching favour he did me.  I belonged to Reach for many years.  As much as I gave to the group, especially on the musical side of the liturgy, I got so much more in return.

Fr John McKay

Confidentiality was probably the single most important characteristic of Reach.  People who were not involved in any other way on the gay scene in Dublin could feel comfortable attending its meetings and liturgies.  Indeed, some people travelled very great distances to attend meetings.  In one of its first tentative steps at being a more open group, the annual Reach carol service was brought to St Bart’s Church in Ballsbridge.  Fr John McKay was the Vicar at the time and he made us feel extremely welcome.  Previously, the late Canon Cecil Wilson gave us use of All Saints’ Church in Raheny for the carol service, but this was still only on a private basis.  The service at St Bart’s was open to the public.  [Confidentiality, in the form of closetedness, was probably the main cause of the eventual demise of Reach, although the annual carol service continues to this day – though now it is held in the Unitarian Church on St Stephen’s Green.  This year’s service there will be on Saturday, 11th December.]

It is almost unheard of for a Church of Ireland priest to referred to as Father, or for the letters RIP [Rest in Peace] to be used when a church member dies.  The high church anglo-catholic credentials of St Bart’s Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Frank McMullan

10 September 2010 at 21:54

Posted in Church

Reblog: On My Documentary: Taking A Chance On God (via John McNeill – Spritual Transformation)

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John McNeill, Charlie Chiarelli, Seán Millar, Kathleen Rygor, Brendan Fay & Stanley Rygor @ 'Silver Stars', January 2010, New York

Both John McNeill and Brendan Fay feature in Silver Stars. John’s first book “The Church and the Homosexual” [Beacon Press, 4th edition, 1993] was my first glimpse of a different way of understanding purported biblical prohibitions on homosexuality: it is a life-changing book.  Brendan is a documentary film maker, most noted for “The Saint of 9/11” about the life of Fr Mychal Judge, a Franciscan priest, who died in the World Trade Center in New York. Brendan now has a documentary about the life of Fr John, a former Jesuit, at the final editing stage. Here is John’s recent post on the forthcoming documentary.

The documentary on my life and ministry finally has a title. During the four years it was being produced, we gave it the tentative title “Uncommon Jesuit.” Most critics thought that title was too narrow and failed to catch the essence of the documentary. I titled the second book I wrote on GLBT spirituality “Taking A Chance On God: Liberating Theology for Gays, Lesbians, and Their Lovers, Families, and Friends” [Beacon Press, 1996]. On the occasion of our marriage in Canada in September, 2008, after 42 years of partnership, my partner Charlie Chiarelli inscribed my ring with the title of my second book, “Taking A Chance On God”. He then inscribed his ring “Taking A Chance On Jack”. 🙂 Everyone involved in producing the documentary is convinced that the title “Taking a Chance On God” is the perfect title for my documentary… Read more

via John McNeill – Spiritual Transformation

Written by Frank McMullan

28 August 2010 at 08:29

Posted in Church, Silver Stars

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