"Michael O’Loughlin complicates the conventional wisdom that views the AIDS crisis in the 1980s and ’90s as a clash between a community dying from an epidemic and the religious institution that turned its back."
—The New York Times on "Plague"
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“This poignant account shines a well-deserved spotlight on Catholics
who chose compassion over fear.”
AIDS, Catholics, and the Untold Stories of Compassion in the Face of Fear
The 1980s and 1990s, the height of the AIDS crisis in the United States, was decades ago now, and many of the stories from this time remain hidden: A Catholic nun from a small Midwestern town packs up her life to move to New York City, where she throws herself into a community under assault from HIV and AIDS. A young priest sees himself in the many gay men dying from AIDS and grapples with how best to respond, eventually coming out as gay and putting his own career on the line. A gay Catholic with HIV loses his partner to AIDS and then flees the church, focusing his energy on his own health rather than fight an institution seemingly rejecting him.
Set against the backdrop of the HIV and AIDS epidemic of the late twentieth century and the Catholic Church's crackdown on gay and lesbian activists, journalist Michael O'Loughlin searches out the untold stories of those who didn't look away, who at great personal cost chose compassion—even as he seeks insight for LGBTQ people of faith struggling to find a home in religious communities today.
This is one journalist's—gay and Catholic himself—compelling picture of those quiet heroes who responded to human suffering when so much of society—and so much of the church—told them to look away. These pure acts of compassion and mercy offer us hope and inspiration as we continue to confront existential questions about what it means to be Americans, Christians, and human beings responding to those most in need.
Praise for HIDDEN MERCY
"A superbly researched, beautifully written and vividly presented portrait of an overlooked time in modern history. An important book about a key part of Catholic and American history that had to be written." -James Martin, S.J., New York Times bestselling author of Building a Bridge: How the Catholic Church and the LGBT Community Can Enter Into a Relationship of Respect, Compassion, and Sensitivity
"Much has been written about how the Catholic Church failed us in the worst years of the AIDS pandemic. Michael O’Loughlin’s deep reporting finds a much richer narrative. HIDDEN MERCY collects the stories of remarkable people whose courage and decency—and Catholic faith—were an essential ballast in the quest for survival." -David France, author of How To Survive a Plague
"HIDDEN MERCY, much like its subjects, wonderfully captures the humanity of LGBTQ people at a dark time and the work of the truly faithful in times of crisis. For those still longing to get the church to lead with compassion rather than condemnation of LGBTQ Catholics, O'Loughlin's book provides vital history lessons and plenty of hope.” -Michael Arceneaux, New York Times bestselling author of I Can’t Date Jesus: Love, Sex, Family, Race, and Other Reasons I’ve Put My Faith in Beyoncé and I Don’t Want To Die Poor
"With the precision and drive of an expert investigative journalist, the heart of a poet, and the soul of a faithful gay Catholic conflicted by his own spiritual home, O'Loughlin's quest for answers about what the Church did—and did not do—in the mysterious and terrifying beginnings of AIDS in America unearths tragic yet beautiful stories of love and death derived from interviews with heroic nuns, priests, and laypeople who lived (and died) though this unparalleled crisis, stories that may have been lost without this magnificent and passionate documentary. This book shook me to my core as I confronted my own preconceptions that run contrary to Jesus’s simple yet somehow over-complicated commandment, ‘Love thy neighbor.’" -Jeannie Gaffigan, author of When Life Gives You Pears: The Healing Power of Family, Faith, and Funny People
“One of the wonders of Michael J. O’Loughlin’s HIDDEN MERCY is its willingness to hold contradictions, to behold the raw mess of everyday life without a need to simplify it. In that way it’s an act of love for all of those who defied hierarchical statements and acted out of justice and compassion for the sick and dying. This book isn’t simply about institutional hypocrisy during the height of the AIDS years, but also about the ongoing drive to build a more authentic, vibrant, and welcoming church from within, closer to the values of the Gospel. On top of all that it’s compulsively readable, vigorous and alive, full of searching, complicated, tough-minded, loving people.” -Paul Lisicky, author of Later and The Narrow Door
"By adroit use of personal witnesses, Mike O’Loughlin beautifully captures the complexity and richness of Catholic responses to AIDS in the USA of the 1980’s and 1990’s. Both the compassion and the cruelty, the fear and the love which abounded. One of the things that can never be taken away from those of us who lived through what Mike describes is how, in our midst, God showed so many gay men that love is real, and is of God. In the face of that, ideological intransigence and official contempt for our lives came to seem brash bluster, sad bleating of empty vessels. This is the crucible in which the spiritual strength of many modern LGBT Catholics has been forged, a vitally important part of our history." -James Alison, author of Faith Beyond Resentment: Fragments Catholic and Gay
“Hidden Mercy unburies the lost testimonies of American Catholic priests and nuns who dared cross into the no man’s land between queerness and religion at the height of the AIDS crisis. Punks of the collar, renegades of the cloth, they risked excommunication in the earliest days of the ‘gay cancer’ and found religious justification to provide a kind of forbidden care. With stirring insight and brilliant nuance, O’Loughlin weaves a heartrending tale of spiritual contradiction and defiance that spotlights the trauma of gay Christians worldwide, still facing denial from our peers and the pulpit. As lifelong a gay Roman Catholic, I was deeply moved.” -Robert W. Fieseler, author of Tinderbox: The Untold Story of the Up Stairs Lounge Fire and the Rise of Gay Liberation
“In both an incredibly well-reported and deeply personal account, Michael O’Loughlin solidifies his role as an LGBTQ community archivist. As someone who also understands the deep conflict associated with the duality of being both queer and Catholic, I find comfort in O’Loughlin’s open honesty and in his quest for clarity both within himself and within the Catholic Church. His journalistic ministry runs parallel to those he’s respectfully documented here—the religious who saw past the sexuality and gender of their afflicted siblings in Christ to focus on love. And love—much like the power of community—really does stand at the center of HIDDEN MERCY. O’Loughlin never loses sight of that and queer history is better because of it.” -Xorje Olivares, host of the podcast Queer I am Lord
"Michael O’Loughlin sets his sights on an aspect of recent American history and culture too little examined. HIDDEN MERCY will cause discussion, argument, and maybe recommitment to an ideal of faith in action that can still play out in our day." -Gregory Maguire, New York Times best selling author of Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West