“Hidden Mercy” highlights the history of the Catholic Church and HIV / AIDS

Protesters hold up placards outside St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York City on August 2, 1987 to protest Cardinal John O’Connor’s nomination to a national AIDS panel, which gay rights activists say was “stacked up. ” against them. (AP / Mario Cabrera)

In Hidden Mercy: AIDS, Catholics and Untold Stories of Compassion in the Face of Fearauthor and journalist Michael O’Loughlin immerses us in the mystery of faith by resuscitating, through storytelling, the lives of those lost during the AIDS / HIV crisis and flooding a light of hope in the abyss of despair.

Hidden Mercypublished by Broadleaf Books in time for World AIDS Day, reframes the story as not rote and binary – with the suffering LGBTQ community on the one hand and the Catholic Church welcoming the plague on the other. Instead, it offers a dynamic look at how faithful Catholics, including LGBTQ Catholics, struggled, as they do today, to carry out the Catholic mission of loving mercy, of doing righteousness and to walk humbly with God, while being overshadowed by a hierarchy with a much different agenda.

Hidden Mercy: AIDS, Catholics and Untold Stories of Compassion in the Face of Fear

By Michael J. O’Loughlin

281 pages; Broadleaf books

$ 28.99

O’Loughlin, who has been reporting on the intersection of the Catholic Church and the LGBTQ community for over a decade, most notably on the podcast “Plague: Untold Stories of AIDS and the Catholic Church,” recounts some of these comments. same stories in the book. They include Carol Baltosiewich, then a Hospitaller Sister of St. Francis, who began an AIDS ministry in Belleville, Illinois, and the “gays and grays” of Most Holy Redeemer Parish in Castro in San Francisco.

As the church has refused to change its theology of human sexuality or provide a special waiver for the use of contraceptives as a means of mitigating the spread of the virus, nuns, priests and laity have moved on. action, says O’Loughlin, to show compassion. to those who suffer.

In the book, we meet priests with AIDS, learn about a Catholic labor house for homeless people with HIV / AIDS in Oakland, Calif., And, along the way, learn a little about the struggles of O ‘Loughlin against Catholicism.

Hidden Mercy does not heal in that he tries to say “not all Catholics!” but in passing, it shows rather that Catholicism, in its true self of manifest love of God, still lives in spite of itself. And it is in this healing that O’Loughlin inspires hope.

O’Loughlin followed the ups and downs of what appeared to be meager progress in the church’s recognition of the full humanity of LGBTQ people, straining the significance of times like Pope Francis’ support for civil unions for same-sex couples, without denying the heart-wrenching reality of church leadership actively and aggressively attacking LGBTQ people.

But the stories centered on O’Loughlin – stories of pain and suffering, a ministry in the face of real horror and impossible odds, death without dignity, and an institution dedicated to the crucification of Christ’s precious little ones – always leave me suffocate with sorrow and lamentation.

It was early April 2020, a little before Easter, when I first listened to O’Loughlin’s podcast. At the time, I was leading the religious engagement and mobilization for a large LGBTQ civil rights organization, and as Lent waned and a different but deadly new pandemic raged, I was struck by a wave of emotions.

Growing up gay and Catholic and serving as a public theologian and organizer primarily in the area of ​​LGBTQ justice, I have more than become accustomed to the altered narratives around religion and the LGBTQ community, narratives that generally create a false dichotomy in which you can’t be a person of faith and LGBTQ, artificial narratives that falsely claim that you can protect religious freedom or LGBTQ rights, but not both.

It is easy to get lost in the fury of history, the grief of what is often referred to as a lost generation, and the outrage that HIV / AIDS continues to destroy communities around the world. The World Health Organization estimates that an estimated 680,000 people will die of AIDS-related causes in 2020 alone, a grim reality as we mark another World AIDS Day.

Today we continue to face a Catholic hierarchy that is overwhelmingly opposed to civil rights and the protection of the LGBTQ community. The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops continued to take an activist stance against the Equality Act, a law that, among other things, would ensure that LGBTQ people are protected from discrimination in health care. The Catechism of the Catholic Church still refers to “homosexuals” as “inherently disordered,” and the only means approved by the Church to mitigate the spread of HIV today is, through ignorance, celibacy.

Michael O’Loughlin, author of “Hidden Mercy: AIDS, Catholics, and the Untold Stories of Compassion in Face of Fear” (www.mikeoloughlin.com)

And yet, in response to O’Loughlin’s column, Francis sent him a letter, offering his gratitude and blessing for both O’Loughlin’s ministry and the ministry of those who have seen and continue to see. Christ in the face of people living with HIV / AIDS. . This statement of mercy is characteristic of Francis, who attempted to reframe the way Catholic worshipers engage with the LGBTQ community – both within and beyond the walls of the church.

While this answer does little to restore the destruction the church has caused, it does reflect what O’Loughlin teaches us through Hidden Mercy – that if an institution can harbor terror, it can also be a means of spreading extraordinary compassion. These extraordinary displays of compassion on the part of these hitherto unrecognized saints not only offer us a window into the dynamic history and present of the Catholic Church, but they offer a model of what it means to live, like Francis the would like, the parable of Christ of the Good Samaritan.

In Fratelli TuttiFrancis writes: “By his actions, the Good Samaritan has shown that ‘the existence of each individual is deeply linked to that of others: life is not simply the passing of time; life is a time of interactions. ‘ “

He goes on to say, “The parable eloquently presents the fundamental decision we must make in order to rebuild our wounded world. In the face of so much pain and suffering, our only way is to imitate the Good Samaritan.

What O’Loughlin Does Through Hidden Mercy This shows us that all the time there were, in fact, courageous Catholics, often challenging their own leadership to live out Christ’s call to heal our wounded world. While the Heroes of Faith have not been able to heal what remains an incurable disease (although it is exceptionally treatable in a way that greatly mitigates the spread), their stories have the power to heal a shattered world in inspiring us all to a discipleship that reflects a commitment to love in action.

Being a disciple, the Gospels teach us, begins with asking questions. Jesus’ account of the parable of the Good Samaritan is stimulated by a lawyer asking a series of questions, the most important: “Who is my neighbor? Church leaders have often failed to deal with this issue in their own lives and in the lives of the faithful. The parable teaches us that everyone is our neighbor and that those who need them most are our brothers and sisters.

The church has overwhelmingly abandoned this philosophy in its response to the spread of HIV / AIDS, a pandemic that remains a crisis, although far too many have moved away.

O’Loughlin’s book is a call to discipleship through history and action. It doesn’t just invite us to ask new questions, but gives us permission to ask the questions we have always kept to ourselves: questions about identity, belonging and welcoming. It requires church leaders to examine themselves, not just the historic failures of the church, but its current plague-spreading policies and doctrines, and how they can, instead of being ministers. of death, to be prophets of life and of the abundant life.

The prophet Jeremiah opens the Book of Lamentations with: “How deserted is the city, once so populated! A haunting line that evokes the anguish of a community devastated by a plague that some church leaders have dared to call the will of God. A once vibrant and full of people generation succumbed not only to the catastrophic impact of disease, but also to theological fault and failure of the leadership of the Catholic Church. O’Loughlin’s deep dive into this story provides a source of healing, hope, and inspiration.

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