Sexuality and spirituality are the ‘same pure water’ – Catholic priest

Gay priest Fr Bernárd Lynch argues sexuality is ‘total, ecstatic self-transcendence’

A gay Irish Catholic priest has told a meeting in Dublin that “as women and gay, lesbian, transgender, bisexual and non-binary people we remain part of the church in order to give witness to the face of God”.

Fr Bernárd Lynch said, “We live in a world that is not only misogynistic, erotophobic and homophobic, but God-phobic.” It is a world “where sexuality and spirituality are seen as not only split, but in continuous and consistent conflict.”

Addressing a meeting of We Are Church Ireland at Trinity College Dublin on Monday, he said: "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," he said.

Sexuality, he said, “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.”

Fr Lynch, who is from Co Clare and now lives in London, is to receive the Distinguished Service Award for the Irish Abroad from President Michael D Higgins on November 21st. Fr Lynch joined the Society of African Missions in 1965 and was ordained in 1971. He is best known for his work with Aids victims in New York and for coming out as a gay priest.

Gay 1970s

In February 2017 he and his husband, Billy Desmond, were guests of President Higgins at a private audience in Áras an Uachtaráin following their marriage in Co Clare the previous month.

He recalled last night how “although indeed Irish, I grew up in New York spiritually and sexually in the fabulous gay ’70s. 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.

"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.”

Far and paranoia

There was “no HIV test. People got sick and died. Everyone who was gay, haemophiliac or an IV drug user thought they had it, as there was no way of knowing how it was contracted. People’s lives ran wild with fear and paranoia,” he said.

People “were diagnosed on a Wednesday and dead on a Sunday. Hospital orderlies and nurses refused to do their job, even refusing to take food to patients in their sick rooms. They were afraid that they would get it.

“Churches, synagogues and funeral homes closed their doors for the same reasons. Camus’s The Plague was reality. I flew to Ireland in the summer of 1982 to tell my parents that I would be dead by the end of the year.

"By the end of the year, three of my closest priest friends had already died. We took bodies in body bags from hospitals to crematoriums. More ashes of more people went into the Hudson River at Christopher Street, Greenwich Village, than I care to remember," he said.