LGBT+ people “remain part of the church in order to give witness to the face of God”, a gay Irish priest and human rights activist has insisted.

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Father Bernárd Lynch told a meeting of Church reform group We Are Church Ireland at Trinity College Dublin on Monday that the witness of women, LGBT and non-binary people is more important than ever in a world that is “not only misogynistic, erotophobic and homophobic, but God-phobic”.

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Lynch has devoted his life to the cause of equal justice for both the LGBT+ and HIV/AIDS collectives, first as a priest on the frontlines of the AIDS crisis in New York nearly four decades ago and now as a psychotherapist in London.

“When AIDS hit us like a nuclear holocaust in the early ’80s, I witnessed first hand the decimation on an entire generation of young gay men my own age”, Lynch recalled before the crowd Monday in Dublin.

“As priest and theological consultant to Dignity New York, the largest then known homophile group in the United States, I saw person after person fall prey to this unknown, ignominious disease.

“Six hundred of our membership had passed on in less than 10 years. As their brother and priest, I organised the first ministry to people with AIDS in the city, and very soon was brought on to the newly formed mayor’s task force on AIDS”, Lynch said.

That was at a time, the priest recalled, when not only hospitals but churches, synagogues and funeral homes were closing their doors to HIV sufferers, because workers in those places were afraid they would contract the virus.

Still, amid the “fear and paranoia” . and despite once telling his parents of his fears he too would fall prey to the virus – Lynch continued his ministry.

He would became the first openly gay priest in the world to enter into a civil partnership in 2006, eventually marrying his long-time partner, Billy Desmond, in 2017.

Why it matters

Lynch told the crowd in Dublin that his work with HIV/AIDS sufferers had given him a special window on to the gift of God that is sexuality.

“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”, Lynch said.

“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, Lynch explained, “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”.

What’s next

For his lifetime of service to the LGBT+ community, Lynch is set to receive on November 21 a Distinguished Service Award for the Irish Abroad from Irish President Michael D. Higgins.

The ceremony will amount to a reunion between the two men, since Higgins received Lynch and Desmond in a private audience in the presidential residence in February 2017, just a month after the two were married.

Next on Novena:

Irish seminary heads defy Vatican ban, welcome (celibate) gay men to priesthood

Gay Irish priest to receive prestigious Presidential Distinguished Service Award