Saturday, November 16, 2019


Fr Bernárd Lynch
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It's difficult to know where to start. This was supposed to be a talk but it quickly turned into an intense experience - stimulating and provocative.


Bernárd started off with two blunt statements, which I'm sure were intended to rattle the neurons and prepare us for a very open, intimate and challenging presentation.

All religions deny God


All life is about sex except sex itself. Sex is Power

and these two themes were woven into the rest of his presentation.

Then he asks: What is faith?

and replies: Faith is hope rather than belief.

He asks: What is God?

and replies using the terms nothingness and love in the same breath.

This is challenging stuff and worthy of meditation. So stop here for a moment, an open your mind moment, a lift up your hearts moment. I could almost nearly buy into this myself.

And when you consider Bernárd's manner, measured, clear, sincere and with no side, you may get some idea of the impression he made on his audience.

It all reminded me of when I first came across John Robinson's book Honest to God in my youth. That turned a lot of stuff right upside down and made you think. It opened up the mind, took you miles away from all the prescriptive rubbish you'd been brought up on and made you wonder if there might be something worthwhile out there after all.

I'm not going to expand any further on Bernárd's divine musings. I might get lost. But you can follow his talk in this video.

I'll just recap on other more earthly aspects of his talk below, drawing also on a few outside sources.


Bernárd was a closet gay priest in New York in the 1980s when the AIDS/HIV epidemic broke out, principally among gay men. It was terrifying. Nobody knew what it was, where it came from, or how you contracted it.

Those who were known to have it were shunned, some to the point of dying of starvation. You could be diagnosed with it today and be gone by the weekend. Bernárd said it was like Camus' Plague come to life.

For him it was a transformative experience. He set up a mission to those infected with the virus, as his friends and colleagues were dropping around him like flies.

He even flew back to Ireland in the summer of 1982 to tell his parents that he would be dead by the end of the year.


Lets get the Vatican out of the way at an early stage.

In 1986 Bernárd spent a year in Rome. When he arrived, there was no mission for AIDS/HIV sufferers, so he set one up. There wasn't even a mass for them to attend.

His general care and attention to sufferers did not go down well with the powers that be. And you can understand why. AIDS started out among homosexual men and Bernárd told us how, by then a "hardened" New Yorker, he was absolutely bowled over and scandalised by the sexual behaviour of the Vaticanites - escorts, prostitutes and and the rest of it, brazen and all over the place.

He said he was, therefore, not in the least surprised at anything in Martel's recent book In the Closet of the Vatican.

They clearly wanted rid of this turbulent priest, but it took them over 20 years to get there. Though he has been suspended by his Order, he still sees himself as a priest and behaves accordingly, sort of.


And, this, incredibly:
[In the late 1980s he was] doing some pastoral work at a Catholic school and after pressure from the family, the diocese and even the FBI, who were called in by Cardinal John O'Connor, Lynch faced trial in 1989 on charges of molesting one of his pupils. However, John Schaefer, the boy in question, recanted on the courtroom steps and revealed how much pressure had been put on him to come up with the allegation. Lynch was acquitted. It made international headlines.

Source (April 2012)
I can't help remarking the irony here. The Hierarchy was quick to use a civil mechanism when it suited its nefarious purpose but the Vatican won't cooperate with civil abuse inquiries when these do not suit its purpose. And, instead of reporting offenders to the authorities, the Bishops were moving them around and into fresh fields.

Bernárd's take on clerical child sex abuse is an interesting one:
"a lot of the abuse of children by priests in the Church is a result and consequence of sexually arrested development in priests. It is not paedophilia, and that is not to take from the crime and the terrible harm done to children in this way. When you go into seminary at 14 or 16, you are arrested in your sexual development. From that time on, everything sexual is sin. Sex is really not integrated in the way normal boys and girls do as they grow up. And so priests stop growing sexually. And when they start growing again at the ripe old age of 50, they start off where they left off, as a 14-year-old looking for 14-year-olds."
Source (April 2012)

This background would account for one set of abusers, but of course there were others who became active almost within a wet day of their ordination, such as Morgan Costello.


Mind you, for all his concern about people and talk of love, Bernárd can be brutally frank.

His view that gays living as straights is nothing short of blasphemy, a denial of God's creation, pure and simple, is a novel angle, to me at least, and a potentially powerful advocacy slogan for LGBTQ+ acceptance.

Would that the Church, from it's Princes to its priests, got this message.

To me, an unbeliever, athiest, agnostic, or whatever you're having yourself, this is just common sense. We all saw the outpourings of love and acceptance during the equal marriage referendum, and it was this, the stories, the relationships and the courage that carried the day.


There is currently a controversy going on in these parts on the question of whether words written by Karol Wojtyla in the early 1960s meant that he condoned what would today be considered marital rape (sex with an unconscious spouse). He certainly did not consider it the ideal. He felt there should always be mutual consent. Whether or not he considered it a serious sin will have to await my reading of his book.

What cannot be denied, however, was the church's advocacy of "enforced" consent and it was this which nearly led to Bernárd quitting the priesthood shortly after his ordination.

Married women, who had borne many children and for whom any further pregnancy was ruled out on medical grounds, were coming to Bernárd in confession pleading to be allowed use contraception or refuse their husbands' demands, the latter being often impossible.

When Bernárd brought his misgivings to an older priest he was asked "What did you say to them?".

"I told them to follow their conscience and do what they thought was right".

"The church needs more priests like you" was the reply, and Bernárd stayed the course.

I am well aware of the "go home and do your duty" response of the day.

Marriage should surely never be seen by any decent man as a licence to fuck his wife to death? The man also has a duty to his wife.

Thankfully, the times they are achanging. But there's probably the odd one or two still out there.


Bernárd pulled a lot of his audience up short when he referred to priests who didn't believe in God. How could this be? Simple, they started out believing but "lost the faith" somewhere along the way. What were they to do? The priesthood is not just a vocation. It is also a career, and a job for life.

I didn't quite catch Bernárd's attitude here. I suspect he empathised at a personal level but I doubt he approved.


Bernárd joined the Society of African Missions in 1965 and he was ordained in 1971. After a spells in Northern Ireland and in Zambia, he was sent to New York in 1975 to do further studies in counselling and psychotherapy.

There he ministered with the Dignity mission to LBGTQ+ people. When AIDS came he set up the first Aids Ministry with Dignity in 1982. That was the year he came out to his parents. He also worked with the civil authorities and Mayor Koch's non-discrimination Order 50.

He lived in Rome in 1986. It was in 1989 that Cardinal O'Connor called in the FBI with the trumped up charges of child abuse.

In 1992 he came to England where he continued his LGBTQ+ missionary work. It was then that he met Billy. Their religious marriage, in 1998, was blessed by a Cistercian monk (who left monastery for first time in 50 yrs to do it). They had a civil partnership in 2006 and an Irish civil marriage in 2017 following the same-sex marriage referendum.

In 2010 he was out on the streets of London, complete with clerical collar, joining in the protests during Pope Benedict XVI's visit. The following year he was suspended from the priesthood by his Order.

As Peter Stanford wrote in 2012, referring to the London protest:
For his religious order, though, it seems likely that it will also be the final straw. "I know they are having a problem. They have told me so. I am under investigation. The Vatican has already told them to get rid of me." ...

Lynch says he won't stop what he has been doing and saying, even if he loses his platform as a cleric. "A priest is a priest for people. And if people want me..." But if the Church says he is no longer a priest? "I believe that the priesthood, like my baptism, is an indelible mark on my soul, so I will always be a priest." ...

"I do feel there is need to witness to the fact that gay is good and gay belongs to God. There are millions of lesbian and gay Catholics who need a witness to the fact that their love is not evil." ...

And, in his very happy and now very public marriage to Billy Desmond, he gives the lie to the suggestion, made recently by Cardinal Keith O'Brien, leader of the Scottish Catholic Church, that same-sex marriage is "grotesque".

"It's my Church," he says, "and I'll be the last out after the Pope."
On November 21st he will receive the Presidential Distinguished Service Award for the Irish Abroad from fellow Clareman, Michael D. Higgins in the Áras.

I'm signing off with this photo which says so much about where we are today. A suspended homosexual married priest embracing a lady who has, for years, had her vocation to the priesthood denied to her by a corrupt, short sighted and uncaring Vatican.

Lots done, lots more to do.

Update 22/11/2019

Remarks of President Michael D Higgins at the
Presidential Distinguished Service Award for the Irish abroad
Áras an Uachtaráin, Wednesday, 21 November 2019
May I also extend my most sincere gratitude to Bernárd Lynch for the great sense of shared humanity that has seen him reach out to LGBT people and people with HIV/AIDS in communities across two continents. During years spent in New York and London, Bernárd’s tireless effort, courage, his challenging of old preconceptions and his unrelenting commitment represents an uplifting example of how empathy harnessed to a real will to effect change can so powerfully transform the landscape for those battling discrimination and oppressive social attitudes. Bernárd’s emancipatory and life-enhancing work has helped to change perceptions of the LGBT community, creating more welcoming societies for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people.

Miriam Gormally interviews Bernárd (10 mins) 21/11/2019

Update 9/11/2021

I was very upset some time back to learn of another accusation of sexual abuse levelled against Bernárd. I inquired from time to time about progress in the case.

I was thrilled this morning to read this press release from We Are Church Ireland reporting that the accusation was a complete fabrication and that Bernárd had been fully exonerated.

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