‘six hundred of the men who got sick and died were young and fellow Catholics’

I didn’t think that I would be posting quite as quickly after the last post – but reading what I have just read really makes me want to make sure others get to read what Fr Bernard Lynch said at a rally in London today. As someone living with HIV, Fr Lynch’s words somewhat grabbed hold of me. Fortunately, we can now live with HIV – it is no longer the death sentence it once was.

Here is a wordle followed by the full text…

Fr Bernard Lynch's open letter to the Holy Father in London 18 September 2010.

Dear Holy Father,

Fr Bernard Lynch

Welcome to the United Kingdom. I am one of your fellow priests who have served in the Catholic Church for the past thirty nine years. I welcome you as an openly gay Roman Catholic priest.

I became openly gay after you, as Cardinal Ratzinger in 1986 issued the document ‘On the Pastoral Care of Homosexual People.’ At that time, I was overwhelmed by the pastoral care of my gay brothers in New York City as they faced death from HIV and AIDS. As a member of the Mayor of New York’s Task Force on AIDS – (The Honorable Edward Koch) — I founded an AIDS Ministry in the city in 1981 to care for the sick and dying. Six hundred of the men who got sick and died were young and fellow Catholics. I was their priest. In 1992 I came to this country to continue the same work through CARA and London Light House with an Anglican priest the late Father David Randall.

At the height of the Plague years your Holiness’s ‘Pastoral Care’ document told us as LGBT people that we are ‘disordered in our nature’ and ‘evil in our love’ and the typical violence committed against us as ‘understandable if not acceptable.’ I was shocked and scandalised. I did not understand then and now how such teachings are consonant with the unconditional love of God given to us in Jesus Christ.

Many of the people in my care died in despair as a direct result of this document written by you. Its effect not only reverberated around the Catholic world but far beyond. Your teachings I know were and are used — both within the Catholic Church and outside of it — as a baton to attack every human and civil right sought after by LGBT people. (One of the most painful consequences for me as priest was that many of my fellow priests dying of HIV/AIDS, on hearing the teaching lost all faith in a loving God. This happened after a life time of devoted and dedicated service to our Church.) Surely we who are LGBT people deserve better. It is a sad irony that as Catholic Christians we depend on the secular authorities of the State to mirror God’s justice for us. The Church authorities under your leadership stymie every attempt made by us as LGBT people to claim under the law our most basic human dignity.

This cannot be right. The Gospel message we share with people of good will is that all people are created equal: Women and men; Black and White; Gay and Straight; Believer and non Believer alike. If an all loving God exists – and I believe He /She does – then I think it is us believers who may be most shocked that those secular non believing humanists, who spared no price and counted no cost in the pursuit of justice for all, will be the ones first in His Love. I pray that your visit to the United Kingdom will enable and empower you to make the co-equality of people the litmus test of your own faith.

Justice demands that I speak out. ‘Silence equals death’ as my friend and fellow activist Larry Kramer said at the height of the AIDS pandemic. I speak not only for the living but most especially for those thousands of gay men who died in despair as a direct result of your Holiness’s words. This gross injustice towards my gay brothers dying of HIV/AIDS must not be forgotten. Those of us spared death at the height of the pandemic have the memory of our dying brothers indelibly marked on every bone in the soul of our bodies. We cannot forget. We shall never forget. We cannot be silent. The devastation is and will always be in us. We shall never heal from all that we have come through. We have in fact become what we are – and we are here today — to help keep the fallen alive.

As my Pope, I welcome you. I welcome you with hope that you ask forgiveness of those whom your words drove to despair. Most importantly I ask — I beg you in fact — to change immediately this totally dehumanising teaching. Thank you.

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