Michael O'Loughlin On AIDS And The Church

He’s written a history of the nuns and priests who defied the Catholic leadership to help gay victims of the AIDS crisis.

  
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Many of you will recall the horrendous way in which the Catholic Church hierarchy responded to the AIDS crisis. Many blamed homosexual sex and refused to endorse condoms for heterosexuals. It was extremely hard for me to hang in there in this period, and I had to take months away from Mass after various appalling statements. It was a time when I first experienced the love of God and the intimacy of Jesus in contrast to the church that claimed to represent Him on earth.

But it was not the only story. On the ground, many lay Catholics, priests and nuns defied the hierarchy and came to the aid of the young and sick and dying. Michael O’Loughlin, another gay Catholic, has written a history book, “Hidden Mercy,” about this other story. We talked faith, sex, disease, and redemption.

You can listen to the episode right away in the audio player embedded above, or right below it you can click “Listen in podcast app,” which will connect you to the Dishcast feed. For two clips of our conversation — on the nuns and priests who fought AIDS in spite of the Catholic leadership, and on how gay Catholics have wrestled with their faith — head over to our YouTube page. Pope Francis recently replied to a letter from O’Loughlin, posted in a NYT op-ed, that “Gives Me Hope as a Gay Catholic.”

A reader looks back to last week’s episode with Dominic Cummings:

I listened to Cummings despite having little interest in Boris, Brexit, or the UK. Although I heard little I agreed with, I found it interesting how much more thoughtful and intelligent the overeducated elite from Oxford are compared to Ivy Leaguers such as Ted Cruz, Josh Hawley, Elise Stefanik, or Tom Cotton. It is hard to find intelligent commentary coming from US conservatives today, guaranteeing that they will once again fail to capitalize on the disarray of the Democratic Party. Republicans seem intent on meeting Democratic incompetence with outright insanity. Meanwhile, as Cummings pointed out, many people want and would respond positively to cogent policy from either party.

Another fan of the episode:

Kudos to you for getting an interview with Dominic Cummings, who is in my opinion the most interesting man in UK politics today, indeed perhaps anywhere. He’s a very refreshing transformational thinker. It’s a shame that Boris Johnson decided not to keep him on, although I think the latter’s temperamental weaknesses (especially his incessant need to be loved) made that all but inevitable. Thatcher, by contrast, really didn’t care what the media or Whitehall thought, and she ultimately ended up being far more consequential than Johnson is likely to be, even though, as Cummings observed, Covid gave him an enormous opportunity to be similarly transformational.

Many (especially those who don’t really follow the UK closely) liken Cummings to Steve Bannon, which is an exceptionally lazy narrative. Cummings doesn’t have an ounce of racism in him or demagoguery, but is interested in policy and really doesn’t care what people think (which is extremely courageous). His diagnosis of American politics is spot on as well. I occasionally wonder whether the rhythms of politics, the need for the occasional cajoling, especially the retail aspects, make him unsuited to being a long-term player in the political process. I also kept pondering during the interview whether there was an American equivalent to Dominic Cummings out there right now? If so, who is it? 

It was a great discussion and I’m glad you gave him a wide berth in expressing his views. He’s a fascinating thinker.

This next reader wasn’t impressed:

The Cummings interview was a collection of softball pitches allowing him to say whatever he wanted to say with no challenges at all. You gave him a platform to preen for an hour and some. You said at the end that you are a huge fan. That much was obvious all along. If I wanted to pay to hear a fawning groupie gush I would have got everything I wanted.

He is a smart man, yes, but that’s not the only requirement for good politics. There were reasonable questions to be asked, like whatever happened to the “£350 million per week to the NHS”? That was a cruel joke coming just before COVID hit. And if he is so concerned about average British people, why did he think himself above the law when it came to the lockdown? What about the no-bid COVID contracts to buddies who had no idea how to do what they contracted for? The amount of money wasted was incredible. I could go on, but it’s not worth my time. It was a terrible interview. You have serious blinders on and you need to think more about that. 

Maybe I went too easy on him. But many of the issues that Brits have with him — his complicated flouting of Covid rules, for example, or the pledge that Brexit would help fund the NHS — might have been too opaque and insidery to a largely American audience. So I didn’t do the equivalent of a BBC interview.

An old college friend in England was also pissed off:

As a great admirer of what you have been doing at the Dish, I just wanted to let off some steam about your interview — or should I call it on-air ego massage — of Dominic Cummings.

I acknowledge that you extracted some great cameos of Johnsonaro in full flight, but even so, this was a whitewash of epic proportions. Only in front of a US audience could you have hoped to get away with avoiding a single question about Barnard Castle. But leaving that revealing but intrinsically unimportant episode aside, the analysis of Brexit was, as they might say on Match of the Day, woeful.

Why is it that Cummings’ self-serving construct of ordinary people (his phrase for the 37% of the electorate who voted Leave rather than the 36% who voted Remain) was, in truth, a cohort heavily weighted towards the less educated and the elderly? What does that tell us about the quality of reasons for the vote to leave? And whatever potential post-Brexit strategies there might have been, none was actually in place, still less put before the people.

So we have had a seismic shock but no clear way forward. The obvious risk, now materialising in spades, is years if not decades of muddle, chaos, lost wealth, and attrition and damage to the economy and society all around. Wasn’t this fantastically reckless? Now we have the worst of both worlds, no plan, and no safety blanket of the single market. The shortages of personnel and services are becoming very visible on a daily basis and the absence of a workforce to make them good, or of markets to replace the losses in the EU, all too apparent.

It could have been interesting to hear Cummings defend himself against these charges but instead, we had 90 minutes of “tell me why you were so right and everyone else so wrong.”

I’m not going to rehash all the arguments for and against Brexit again here. But this is a view of many in Britain and I’m happy to air their views. I think it’s too soon to see Brexit in full perspective, and I don’t think workforce shortages, which are occurring across the West, are solely due to Brexit.

Another reader is itching for more:

Wonderful interview. Andrew. Now you have to extend a (pro forma) invitation to “your friend,” Boris Johnson, to refute Dominic Cummings’ interpretation of events. I’d be interested if there was a response.

I can’t imagine Boris would come on. But maybe I’ll ask. Can’t hurt, I suppose. But what’s in it for him? Maybe I should ask Keir instead? Or ask Dom back in a year, now we’ve been introduced to him, to ask more specific questions. I just didn’t want to rehash Brexit with him, and think his broader ideas were worth more airing.