“This really intense crackdown on the gay rights movement in the church is happening at a time when the community already feels under attack from society and is dealing with HIV and AIDS,” O’Loughlin said.
“Rather than bringing a pastoral response to this community in crisis, it seems to me they were cut off from the spiritual resources that could have been helpful,” he added.
As a result, O’Loughlin said, “an entire generation of LGBTQ Catholics really felt disconnected” from the church. The book addresses why LGBTQ Catholics chose to stay and examines the stories of the people, lay and religious, who convinced them to claim their place in the institution.
“The healing has taken decades, and I think it’s still an ongoing process,” he said.
An example of a priest supporting the struggling LGBTQ community during the AIDS pandemic is Father William Hart McNichols, who, through his ministry and artwork, “helped lessen the stigma” associated with AIDS, O’Loughlin said. Sr. Carol Baltosiewich became an advocate for the rights of the LGBTQ community in Belleville, Illinois, and moved to New York in 1986 to help those affected by HIV and AIDS. Through her ministry, Baltosiewich deepened “her own understanding of faith, and it actually made her a better Christian,” O’Loughlin said.
The author hopes these stories will encourage disaffected LGBTQ Catholics to “feel more empowered to take their place in the church.” Pope Francis’ pontificate, he said, has provided an opportunity for LGBTQ Catholics “to be more visible, to be more present, and there is a freedom to talk about these issues that didn’t exist over the past several decades.”
Pope Francis’ letter shows “he’s not afraid to engage with this history, no matter how difficult or taboo it might still be,” O’Loughlin said, adding that he hopes it will provide “some consolation and encouragement” to Catholics who felt like their work and ministry toward the LGBTQ community wasn’t recognized.
“Maybe it allows them to feel seen by the pope today,” he said.
This article originally appeared here.