“Being identified with the oppressed, means that I am going to be oppressed” (Book Review)

Tony Di Mambro

Bernard Lynch (2012) If It Wasn’t Love. ISBN 978-184694918.

There have been many great books affirming LGBT sexuality and spirituality during the last few years, from authors James Alison, Gareth Moore, Fr John O’Neill, Toby Johnson and others. Fr Bernard Lynch’s second book ‘If It Wasn’t Love’, released nearly 20 years after his debut, ‘A Priest on Trial,’ is a triumph as a short autobiography. He has generously revealed and shared his painful experiences during his agonising sexual abuse trial and ministry to men with HIV/AIDS. He also refers to his work with CARA and being involved with Dignity and the Soho masses.

Fr Bernard had been falsely accused of child abuse, arrogantly leading LGBT Christians astray by affirming their sexuality and scandalising Catholics with his ‘lifestyle.’ To me, he is a brave, honest, loving, wise and prophetic shepherd. I wish all the hierarchy of the Catholic Church would listen to and learn from his genuine example.

Rather than sharing his experiences chronologically Bernard has chosen to do so in a personal evolutionary order. After a wise and insightful introduction, he starts with his ‘AIDS Diary’ in 1986, referring to how he suffered from a feeling of alienation, “creating a deep chasm between me and the rest of the world”, due to 9 years of ministry to men with AIDS or the ‘gay plague,’ as it had been divisively nicknamed. It was the false accusation of sexual abuse from a student orchestrated by Fr Bruce (brother of his closest friend Fr Jeremy, a New York diocesan priest who died from AIDS). His ‘soul murder’ led to him feeling ‘the destruction is complete,’ personally and spirituality.

Fr Bernard has shared personal insights and wisdom, positive and negative, from his collection of very personal memoirs recorded in his journal. He offers the reader opportunities to try and understand his spiritual, emotional, psychological and personal trauma of surviving the HIV/AIDS crisis, from the viewpoint of offering ministry to gay men living and dying with AIDS in New York City in the 70’s and 80’s. He describes how he struggled to learn how to cope with his betrayal by the New York archdiocese and was very honest in admitting feeling destroyed, while weeping in self abandonment and desolation. It is astonishing, remarkable and incredible that after these intense trials, it somehow eventually contributed to him growing stronger in faith and hope after initially feeling destroyed by the treachery from the Church that he had served lovingly and unreservedly, whether in New York or in Zambia.

Amongst his living hell he does have good news to share. His soul freeing weekend in Cumbrae with other people afflicted and affected by HIV/AIDS encouraged him to dare to trust and hope. Bernard also refers to how Fr Mychal Judge supported him personally and spiritually during his depths of despair. His husband Billy is mentioned many times, with a warm cherishing, loving glow. Bernard describes how it took him many years to accept Billy’s love.

The book ends with an inspirational entry called ‘I Live’ in which he encourages us to be hopeful and patient by describing how the Catholic Church COULD truly live up to Jesus Christ’s teachings, if it listens with an open heart.

I regard this book as being relevant to most Quest members and other LGBT people of faith as Fr Bernard illustrates with a mature sensitivity the joys and pains of being gay and Catholic. He is uncomfortably aware (as many of us are) of the chaos and inflexible manner of organised religion. He seems to set a good example of encouraging us to believe in our true loving God, rather than drowning in a pit of bitterness that many of us LGBT Catholics could be in if we give up instead of believing that God loves us for who we are and has plans for us all.

Overall, I’d describe his book as a bold, challenging and revolutionary way in exploring LGBT faith and sexuality, with a real personal touch. I hope you all find it as affirming, inspiring and encouraging as I, if /when you read it.

This text was originally published in the Quest Bulletin, no. 64 (Autumn 2012)