A gay Irish Catholic priest is to be honoured with a prestigious Distinguished Service Award for the Irish Abroad.

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Father Bernárd Lynch, from Ennis in County Clare, is to receive the award for charitable works from Irish president Michael D. Higgins at a ceremony November 21.

The Presidential Distinguished Service Award for the Irish Abroad is given for sustained and distinguished service to the nation and its reputation or on an international issue of importance.

In Lynch’s case, the Irish Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade highlighted the priest’s lifetime of fighting “for equal justice for LGBT people and people with HIV/AIDS”.


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Lynch joined the Society of African Missions in 1965 and become a priest six years later, in 1971.

He moved to the US later in the 70s, where he served as a chaplain for Dignity, the association for LGBT Catholics.

After the AIDS crisis took hold, Lynch founded in 1982 the AIDS/HIV Ministry of Dignity New York.

The priest ministered to hundreds of the first AIDS victims, caring for them at a time when they were shunned even by their own families.

For over 10 years Lynch served as a member of the mayor of New York’s voluntary task force on HIV/AIDS.

He was the only Catholic priest to testify for the passage, ultimately successful, of civil rights legislation for the LGBT community in New York in 1986.

In 1992 Lynch moved to London, where he continued his fight for the dignity of LGBT people.

A founding Co-Chair of the London Irish LGBT group, the priest also became, in 2013, the first appointee by The Mayor of London’s St. Patrick’s Advisory Board to represent the Irish in London LGBT community.

In that latter role, Lynch successfully changed the perception of LGBT people in the Irish community and ensured their sensitive inclusion in the St. Patrick’s Parade and Festival.

A doctor in counselling, psychology and theology, Lynch now works as a psychotherapist in London, having been dismissed from the Society of African Missions in 2011.

Though he is still a priest, Lynch says he was dismissed from his order for his involvement in lesbian, gay, transgender and bisexual causes, and for his openness about his same-sex partnership.

The priest admitted that his participation in protests against the visit of Pope Benedict XVI to the UK in 2010 likely accelerated his order’s decision to dismiss him.

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What’s next

When Lynch receives his award from President Higgins on November 21, it will be a reunion of sorts for the two men.

Lynch and Higgins previously met at a private audience in February 2017 in Áras an Uachtaráin, the Irish president’s official residence, just a month after Lynch’s marriage to longtime partner Billy Desmond.

Lynch became the first openly gay priest in the world to enter into a civil partnership in 2006.

After the passage of same-sex marriage equality in Ireland in 2015, the priest was finally able to marry Desmond.