Bondings 2.0 has been following the story of Aaron Bianco, a gay man harassed out of his ministry job at a parish in San Diego. The messages of hate and threat directed at him after right-wing Catholic websites publicized his employment, left Bianco with no other choice but to resign from his job at St. John the Evangelist parish. For more than a year and a half, Bianco had been confronted with physical and emotional violence, vandalism at his church, hundreds of vicious emails and phone calls, and more.
In a recent New York Times feature about Bianco’s situation, more details have emerged about how much the church has lost because of his forced departure. Before resigning, Bianco was wildly successful at his job — at which he’d only been employed for two and a half years. The article stated:
“Mr. Bianco, who is married to a man, spent years working to revive the dwindling church. When he started, about two and a half years ago, there were only about 40 people at a weekend Mass, said the pastor at the time, John P. Dolan, who is now an auxiliary bishop in San Diego. Many of the congregants were elderly. There were no weddings or baptisms scheduled, and no religious education classes.”
The New York Times article also explained how Bianco was instrumental in reviving the life of the parish, making it a truly welcoming space for all members of their San Diego community. The parish had suffered a blow after clergy abuse scandals bubbled over, and church attendance was staggeringly low. The news story reported:
“At St. John’s, Mr. Bianco became the parish’s pastoral associate, arriving just as the church was being encouraged by Bishop Robert W. McElroy of San Diego to start a ministry for L.G.B.T. people…
“For five months, Mr. Bianco and then-Father Dolan met with community and church members to create an outreach strategy. They left fliers on doors, and invited new members to form choirs and sing at Mass. Young families joined. Many of the new members were straight, and many Hispanic”.
His outreach efforts brought people to Mass in droves, especially members of the LGBTQ community, reported The New York Times:
“Mr. Bianco’s work began to show. In October 2017, the pews were packed with people attending a special Mass for gay Catholics and their friends and families. It was held to commemorate the 20th anniversary of ‘Always Our Children,’ a pastoral message by a committee of American bishops that many regard as their most accepting statement ever about gay people.
“Local politicians and dignitaries came. Bishop McElroy issued an apology for how the church had treated L.G.B.T. people.
“‘There were tears all over the place,” said Tom Kirkman, a participant in the L.G.B.T. ministry, who wrote an account of the Mass for a local gay newspaper. “I was very pleased, because I had graduated from a Catholic school, I taught the faith for 18 years, and I felt unwanted. So it was a very welcoming feeling.’”
For a National Catholic Reporter video interview with Aaron Bianco, click here.
Bianco inspired this welcoming stance, as he helped to get St. John the Evangelist’s LGBT ministry up and running. But the parish noticed an uptick of threats in the summer of 2018 after the Pennsylvania grand jury report on clerical sexual abuse was released. Many angry Catholics couldn’t see past the connection between homosexuality and clergy abuse.
The irony in the repeated attacks on Bianco is that his very ministry was focused on welcoming others and bringing them into his parish, located in San Diego’s gay neighborhood of Hillcrest. He explained:
“ ‘They keep on saying that I have an agenda, but the only agenda I had was to bring people to Christ,’ said Mr. Bianco in an interview. ‘I know that sounds kind of hokey, but that’s why I started this work. I do believe that everyone is welcome.’
Despite Bianco’s messages and actions of welcome, the very hatred he was committed to stopping returned to him in various forms of violence:
“When [he] arrived for work at his Roman Catholic church office on a . . . Monday morning, he was rattled to discover that someone had broken into the conference room and spray-painted a message in large yellow letters on the wall. It said ‘No Fags.’ ”
Prior to that incident, someone had tried to punch Bianco after Mass, and another person had tried to set his church on fire. In addition to these actions, Bianco received near-daily phone calls threatening his position — with messages like “Sodomites not welcome in the church.” Notes were left on his car and had his tires punctured.
The severity of the threats and actions against Bianco demonstrates the uptick in hateful movements directed towards LGBTQ Catholics, and only separates people from the church. If people view the Catholic Church as a hateful institution, with members that promote violence against LGBTQ people, then more people will be leaving in droves. In addition, this kind of vitriol takes a toll on the greater LGBTQ community and its relationship with religious bodies. No one benefits from these actions.
—Lindsay Hueston, New Ways Ministry, February 13, 2019
Gay City News: “Alt-Right Site Denies Harassing Gay Catholic”