Pope Francis has commended the ministry of Catholics who cared for victims of HIV/AIDS, doing so in a letter to the gay author of a new book on the subject.
The pope wrote an August letter to journalist Michael O’Loughlin, author of Hidden Mercy: AIDS, Catholics, and the Untold Stories of Compassion in the Face of Fear. In it, he both thanked the journalist for his book, and offered what O’Loughlin called a “decades-delayed papal blessing” on AIDS ministers. Francis letter reads, in part:
“I thank you for the letter and the book, which you wrote, Hidden Mercy, that came to me via [redacted]. When I finished reading your letter, I was spontaneously struck by that through which we will one day be judged: ‘For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, a stranger and you welcomed me, naked and you clothed me, ill and you cared for me, in prison and you visited me’ (Mt 25, 35-36).
“Thank you for shining a light on the lives and bearing witness to the many priests, religious sisters and lay people who opted to accompany, support and help their brothers and sisters who were sick from H.I.V. and AIDS at great risk to their profession and reputation. Instead of indifference, alienation and even condemnation, these people let themselves be moved by the mercy of the Father and allowed that to become their own life’s work; a discreet mercy, silent and hidden, but still capable of sustaining and restoring the life and history of each one of us.”
News of the pope’s letter broke via an op-ed from O’Loughlin in The New York Times, and the journalist who is gay shared about the more personal meaning of Francis’ reply to O’Loughlin’s initial letter:
“I’m not under any illusions that a letter, even one signed by the pope, will heal the wounds some Catholics imparted decades ago. Or that this might finally be the moment when Francis changes church teaching on homosexuality. In fact, under his leadership, the Vatican has doubled down, releasing what many read as a reiteration of the ban on gay priests. More recently, the Vatican stated that while the church should welcome gay people ‘with respect and sensitivity,’ God ‘does not and cannot bless sin’ and thus declared priests cannot bless gay couples.”
O’Loughlin is the National Editor of America magazine, the Jesuit weekly.
According to the National Catholic Reporter, Pope Francis has a positive history involving people living with HIV/AIDS:
“In his own ministry, Francis — while Archbishop of Buenos Aires in 2008 — kissed and washed the feet of 12 HIV and AIDS patients during a Holy Thursday service. More recently, during a 2019 visit to Panama, Francis visited a home of HIV-positive residents and pleaded for an end to the stigma surrounding those with HIV and AIDS.”
To learn more about O’Loughlin’s book, Hidden Mercy, click here.
—Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, November 16, 2021