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

by Michael J. O’Laughlin

Reviewed by Eileen Quinn Knight, Ph.D.



Two of the words that should be in our hearts are mercy and compassion. The more we live by them the better the world will be in dealing with humanity. This book is about one gay Catholic journalist who writes well and presents a compelling picture of those quiet heroes who respond to human suffering when so much of society and so much of our Church tells us 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.


The 1980’s and 1990’s were the heights of the AIDS crisis in the United States and many of the stories remain hidden. Set against the backdrop of the HIV and AIDS epidemic of the late twentieth century and the Catholic Churches crackdown on gay and lesbian activists, journalist Michael O’Laughlin 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.


The stories in this book originate from a range of sources, including organizational and personal archives, contemporaneous news reports and more than one hundred interviews with people who lived and worked during the height of the HIV and AIDS crisis in the United States, roughly 1981 through 1996. The sources of any quotes taken from archival materials are provided in the endnotes. In most cases, they are drawn from my interviews and dialogue has been recreated based on the subject’s recollection. Whenever possible, details have been checked against historical records. In a few instances, the sole source is one person’s memory.


The goal has been to help young LGBT Catholics, along with their family and friends, to lean on this history to dispel fear. After fighting to bring these stories to a wider audience, the author felt validated hearing that the hard work was paying off. This person the author was interacting with was raised in a Baptist home and discovered he was gay while in high school. He struggled to reconcile his sexuality with his faith. He thought he could use prayer to fight off his attraction to other men but he eventually realized that “to pray away the gay” method was just making him miserable. He stopped. But he wanted to coniine to a faith life and he eventually found a home in the Catholic Church. That wasn’t perfect either, he soon discovered. And that’s where the stories of Sister Carol, Father Bill, David Pais. and others came in. They reported that liberation came at a cost. A sadness seems to accompany man of the people the author interviewed for this book, though it’s not anything one can put their fingers on.


This book is filled with mercy and compassion and all that LGBT community deals with.It is a book that all should read to help understand the issues involved. It is well written and thoughtful.