Priest honoured at Áras says sexual abuse allegations against him are ‘false’

Fr Bernárd Lynch ‘deeply disturbed’ by accusation of abuse 40 years ago in New York

A married gay Catholic priest who was honoured at Áras an Uachtaráin this week has been accused of the sexual abuse of a minor 40 years ago in New York.

Fr Bernárd Lynch, a native of Co Clare who now lives in London, is best known for his work with Aids victims in New York and for coming out as a gay priest.

He was given a Distinguished Service Award for the Irish Abroad by President Michael D Higgins at the Áras on Thursday.

The plaintiff, who filed the papers with the Manhattan Supreme Court anonymously on Wednesday, says he was about 16 years old when, he claims, he was sexually abused by Fr Lynch after Christian Club meetings at Mount St Michael school in the Bronx.

As a result of the alleged abuse, the complaint claims, the accuser has suffered and continues to suffer “great pain of mind and body”.

The accuser, who is seeking damages, brought the civil proceedings against the archdiocese, the school and several other religious orders for allegedly negligently failing to look into why Fr Lynch had “frequent transfers between assignments”, the court papers say.

Fr Lynch told The Irish Times that he was “deeply disturbed” by the accusation, which he said is false. “They only want money.”

Second time

It is the second time he has been accused of an offence with a minor. In 2012, he told The Irish Times that he was falsely accused of abusing a 14-year-old boy and that the case ended in April 1989 when his accuser, then 19, refused to testify. The complaint lodged on Wednesday is from a different accuser.

Responding to the new, civil proceedings, he said he would consider every option available to clear his name, but would have to give consideration and take legal advice on whether he should give evidence in court.

He said he was not a defendant in the case and did not believe he could be extradited from the UK to give evidence.

Damages are being sought from the Catholic Archdiocese of New York, the school, the Society of African Missions (SMA), Ireland Province, the society in America, and the Marist Brothers in the US.

The complaint says that they employed Fr Lynch and/or presented him as being a person who was safe to work with children. It says Fr Lynch was a priest of the New York Archdiocese from 1975 to 1987, and that the alleged sexual offences occurred during 1978 to 1979.

I am not specifically named as a defendant while some of the places I have been associated with are

It says Fr Lynch was assigned work in various locations between 1971 and 1975, including Ireland and Zambia. He then moved to New York where he worked in St Gabriel’s school in the Bronx, before becoming campus chaplin in Mount St Michael in 1978, where he stayed until 1987.

Fr Lynch said he was “deeply disturbed” by the anonymous accusation.

‘Insurance monies’

“This is part of a trend in New York where a change in the law has prompted hundreds of such suits to be filed in pursuit of insurance monies. I am not specifically named as a defendant while some of the places I have been associated with are. There is no claim for justice, just the tarnishing of my good name on false allegations that never occurred, decades ago. They will be proven false just as they were before.”

The “misplaced and malicious claims” will be disproved, he said. They were designed solely to injure and embarrass him and those whose freedom he had fought for “on the eve of one of my greatest recognitions by the Government of Ireland”.

The award he received on Thursday was, he said, not only for him but the LGBTQI community and all those with HIV and Aids to whom and for whom he had dedicated his life so that they, “and all of us”, could enjoy their freedom as human beings.

In February 2017, Fr Lynch and his husband, Billy Desmond, were guests of the President at a private audience in the Áras following their marriage the previous month.

Áras an Uachtaráin could not be contacted for comment on the latest accusations.