A gay church worker in California has been the target of a hate crime that appears to be connected to a campaign against him by right-wing Catholic groups. The experience has left him questioning whether to remain in ministry.
This event should be a moment for church leaders to reject anti-LGBT hate unequivocally.
Aaron Bianco, a pastoral associate at St. John the Evangelist parish in San Diego, started work earlier this week by finding an anti-gay slur spray (“No Fags”) painted on one of the parish office’s interior walls. [Editor’s Note: To view the spray painted message, click here.] LGBTQ Nation reported:
“[Bianco] even keeps a folder of the hateful messages he’s gotten on his car or in the mail. A year ago, someone slashed the tires on his car.
“But homophobes went one step further this weekend and spray-painted an anti-gay slur on an office wall inside the church.
“‘I had to step back and kind of get my breath. Just the thought that people are so hateful today,’ said Bianco.
He says that the vandal had to break into the church, which rattles his sense of safety.
“‘It was probably the first time I actually thought, “Do I want to continue doing this?”‘ he said.”
Bianco has been the target of right-wing Catholic attacks for at least a year, though the frequency of hate crimes against him has increased since the Pennsylvania Grand Jury report on clergy sexual abuse was released this August. These crimes follow an invasive campaign by right-wing groups such as Church Militant, LifeSite News, and Lepanto Institute. Other smaller right-wing groups have spread the messages of these three. criticism of Bianco.
Their reports have indicated they know the name of Bianco’s husband, their address, and more personal information. All of this unjust behavior has been prompted simply because Bianco is a married gay man working for the Diocese of San Diego, including leading diocesan LGBT outreach efforts like a welcoming Mass held last year.
These groups have furthered the attacks with a petition asking San Diego’s Bishop Robert McElroy to fire Bianco. But the bishop has both affirmed the need for the institutional church to reach out to LGBT people and, more directly sharply condemned the activities of these right-wing groups, suggesting last year they should be a “wake-up call” for U.S. Catholics to rid the church of judgmentalism.
“This the result of the relentless homophobia and hatred being peddled in some quarters of the Catholic church today: My friend Aaron is a gay man working as a pastoral associate in a parish in California. He has been targeted by Church Militant/St. Michael’s Media and LifeSiteNews.com. The doors of his church have been set on fire, and yesterday the church offices were broken into, and this was spray painted on the wall.
“Aaron’s tires have been slashed; he has received threatening emails (some 60 over the last two months), including death threats; letters on his car have been left, one saying, ‘Sodomites not welcome in the church.’ One man physically attacked him at the end of Mass, and had to be prevented by other parishioners from hurting him. This is what hate does, especially the kind of hate whipped up online.”
Martin noted that an FBI agent investigating the crimes against Bianco told the church worker, “You are a fool to stay at this job.” The priest also called on bishops to stand up against such hatred, citing the Vatican’s 1986 letter on pastoral care for homosexual persons which rejects violence against lesbian and gay people.
Martin is correct that it is time for Catholics to take a stand. Because many church leaders have for decades failed to challenge extreme homophobic voices in the church and in society, the responsibility is doubly important. . At times, the bishops’ silence (and in the worst cases, words) have lent cover to such homophobia.
The case of Aaron Bianco should be a definitive moment for the church. Right-wing Catholics spouting homophobia need to be condemned at the highest levels, and, when necessary, church leaders should fully support efforts to prosecute criminal acts. There should be zero tolerance for any word and action which assails the dignity of LGBT people. Thankfully, some bishops like McElroy, are beginning to stand up and push back. But these efforts have been neither widespread enough nor incisive enough. It is past time for the Catholic Church, and specifically church leaders, to stop equivocating about anti-LGBT hate.
—Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, October 19, 2018