Ireland’s President to Award Gay Priest with Top Honor for Serving Nation’s Diaspora

Father Bernárd Lynch, left, and his husband, Billy Desmond, right, at a previous event with Irish president Michael D. Higgins

A gay Catholic priest from Ireland will be awarded the “Distinguished Service Award for the Irish Abroad” later this month. The award will be given by Ireland’s President Michael D. Higgins on November 21, 2019.

Father Bernárd Lynch, who was born in Ennis, Ireland, has been a long-time advocate for LGBTQ ministry in the Catholic Church.  He joined the Society of African Missions in 1961 and was ordained in 1971, as reported by The Irish Times. He moved to New York in the 1970’s and became chaplain for the New York branch of Dignity, an organization for LGBTQ Catholics. In 1982, Fr. Lynch established a ministry for AIDS/HIV within Dignity/NYC.  

The Irish Times pointed out the important significance of Lynch’s ministry:

“For over 10 years he was a member of the mayor of New York’s voluntary task force on HIV/AIDS, and was the only Catholic priest to testify before the City Council for the successful passage of civil rights legislation for the LGBT community in 1986.”

The Irish Post described the significance of the award:

” ‘The Presidential Distinguished Service Award for the Irish Abroad’ is presented by the President every year. It recognises the service given to this country or to Irish communities abroad by those who live outside Ireland.” 

Fr. Lynch’s time work during the HIV crisis left him with a unique view of faith and sexuality. As he told The Irish Times:

” ‘I believe through my work with people with the [HIV] virus, that sexuality and spirituality are the one energy, the same pure water of the uncreated life of God. This is the greatest gift – as I see it – to our broken society and culture. That is the gift of an integrated sexuality and spirituality as experienced by many people with the virus […] sexuality is not a distraction from the spiritual. It is total, ecstatic self-transcendence. The sacredness of sexuality, the holiness of sexuality, the mystery of sexuality speaks to the fact that we are one body and one spiritual experience.’ “

In the midst of this work with New York’s LGBT community, Fr. Lynch himself came out as gay. After moving from New York to London, he met a man named Billy Desmond, with whom he fell in love. Speaking with the Independent, Lynch describes his love for Desmond as the same as his love for his church. The news article states:

“Yet Fr. Lynch appears remarkably calm about the cloud hanging over a vocation he insists is ‘the love of my life.’ Tellingly, it is also a phrase he uses to describe Desmond, to whom he has dedicated the book. Caught between these two loves, he is forcing himself to choose. He could just have kept quiet about his private life. ‘But Billy,’ he points out, ‘has made it transparently clear to me from the start that he doesn’t want this degree of closetness.’ “

In London, Fr. Lynch became a co-founder of the London Irish LGBT group. The Irish Post described his work:

“In 2013, Bernard Lynch was the first appointee by The Mayor of London’s St. Patrick’s Advisory Board to represent the Irish in London LGBT community. Bernard’s task was to assist in changing the perception of the LGBT community and to ensure LGBT representation was sensitively included in the St. Patrick’s Parade and Festival. As a result of Bernard’s contribution, the LGBT community today is fully integrated into London’s St. Patrick’s Festival.”

Currently, Fr. Lynch no longer serves in priestly ministry. He has doctorates in counseling, psychotherapy, and theology, and works in London as a counselor to gay Catholic priests who are still in the closet.

Artemis Walsh, November 20, 2019

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