Hidden Mercy

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

Hidden Mercy

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

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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.

Continue the conversation with the Hidden Mercy Discussion Guide--perfect for book clubs, church groups, and individual study.


"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

"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, his 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 that may have been lost without this magnificent and passionate documentary."

Jeannie Gaffigan, author of When Life Gives You Pears: The Healing Power of Family, Faith, and Funny People

"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. And a good thing too."

Gregory Maguire, New York Times bestselling author of Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West

"Michael J. O'Loughlin offers a moving personal history as well as a well written and reported account of the brave priests and nuns--queer and straight alike--that jeopardized their own career and standings with the church by merely treating LGBTQ Catholics with dignity during the height of the AIDS crisis."

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

"O'Loughlin introduces us to so many unsung heroes of the AIDS crisis, and their lives vividly showcase the compassion and the cruelty that coexist in one community. A harrowing and deeply personal story."

Molly Worthen, associate professor of history at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, New York Times contributing opinion writer, and author of Apostles of Reason: The Crisis of Authority in American Evangelicalism

"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"

"Compulsively readable, vigorous and alive, full of searching, complicated, tough-minded, loving people."

Paul Lisicky, author of Later and The Narrow Door

"With care and curiosity, O'Loughlin weaves a compelling narrative that exists at the intersection of faith and sexuality. What follows is a story that is at times funny, surprising, and ultimately restores some of my own faith that people can and will show up for each other."

Tobin Low, editor at "This American Life" and co-creator of the podcast "Nancy"

"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."

Robert W. Fieseler, author of Tinderbox: The Untold Story of the Up Stairs Lounge Fire and the Rise of Gay Liberation

"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."

David France, author of How To Survive a Plague

"Michael 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."

James Alison, author of Faith Beyond Resentment: Fragments Catholic and Gay

"O'Loughlin's book is a work of resurrection. He unearths and brings to life lives long hidden, overlooked, and forgotten but so constitutive of the early struggle for hope, survival, dignity, and solidarity."

James Keenan, S.J., Canisius Professor of theology at Boston College and author of Catholic Ethicists on HIV/AIDS Prevention


"This poignant account shines a well-deserved spotlight on Catholics who chose compassion over fear."
Publishers Weekly

Product Info

  • Publisher Broadleaf Books
  • Format Hardcover
  • ISBN 9781506467702
  • eBook ISBN 9781506467719
  • Dimensions 6.25 x 9.25
  • Pages 281
  • Publication Date November 30, 2021