A gay church worker who resigned due to right wing hate crimes recently addressed a Vatican conference on the relationship between Amoris Laetitia and LGBTQ people.
Aaron Bianco gave his talk at a conference organized by the Vatican’s Dicastery for Laity, Family, and Life and the Pontifical Gregorian University. In 2018, Bianco resigned from his position as pastoral associate at a southern California parish after enduring repeated hate crimes, including death threats, slashed tires, and anti-gay graffiti on the church. He since became a theology professor at the University of San Diego where he has found a new ministry.
At the conference, Bianco told his story and the story of four other U.S. LGBTQ Catholics, relating each toPope Francis’ apostolic exhortation on the family, according to Outreach. He said LGBTQ Catholics often feel dismay and confusion, and that the text:
“[H]ad the perfect opportunity to put all confusion aside and be absolute in its view of LGBT relationships, to make the distinction of sacramental marriage and those in civil unions and to find a way to bless the love present in these civil marriages. As Scripture tells us, where there is love, there is God. (1 Jn 4:16)”
The stories Bianco told were those of an older gay man, a young gay college student, a transgender woman, and a married lesbian. The stories highlight not only the obstacles these LGBTQ Catholics have faced in their own lives and with the church, but the good that comes from welcoming pastoral outreach and acceptance in community. Bianco interspersed quotes from Amoris Laetitia about how and why the church must do more of this good work.
The stories also highlight problems. When speaking of Cameron, the young gay man at a Catholic college who attempted suicide but later found church community, Bianco said:
“So, why is it, even on these campuses, LGBT youth still feel afraid to come out? I venture to say its because of the mixed messages that come from the magisterium. One message of welcome and another message of ‘irregular.’ My college students are reading AL and asking me questions like ‘Why is Pope Francis so ambiguous?’ ‘Why doesn’t he just say what he really thinks?’
“This is the problem with the hierarchy: mixed messages flow abundantly. Many of my students both straight and LGBT want the Church to speak out against all injustices including those perpetrated against the LGBT community.”
Bianco took up the concept of “irregularity” again when speaking about Joan, a trans Catholic deeply involved in parish ministry who, only recently, was able to be out. While Joan found welcome, Bianco noted:
“This is not the reality of most transgender Catholics. Most are living in the shadows and are not being welcomed by their church communities. In AL chapter eight, we hear often of ‘irregular’ situations. The word ‘irregular’ indicates not being of the norm. How can we truly welcome people and use words that are hurtful and damaging? AL had the opportunity to be more sensitive to those who already don’t feel they are welcomed by the Church.
“Words like ‘irregular’ could have been changed to be more sensitive to those in situations that don’t live up to the ideal of Church teaching.”
Likewise, Bianco told the story of Kathy, the married lesbian who for over a decade refrained from Communion because of fears she would not be accepted at the parish with her wife. Linking Kathy’s story to the question of Communion for divorced and remarried Catholics which received so much attention in Amoris Laetitia’s reception, Bianco stated:
“If we as Catholics believe that the Eucharist is the pinnacle of God’s love and dwelling within us, should we not find ways to bring all those in ‘irregular’ situations back to the table of the Lord? In AL, Francis does not go far enough to address this situation. It’s a situation that the Church must address and find a way to welcome these individuals back to the table. As St. Thomas Aquinas states, ‘Because of the diverse conditions of humans, it happens that some acts are virtuous to some people, as appropriate and suitable to them, while the same acts are immoral for others, as inappropriate to them.’ Let this be a start to the conversation.”
While Amoris Laetitia opened the conversation and allowed the church to walk with more LGBTQ people, Bianco insisted there is much work to be done:
“In AL, Pope Francis had the opportunity to move us past a church of judgment and letter of the law. That is not what happened. The document was a good first step; it brought up subjects the church has for too long not discussed. For us ministering to the LGBT community in the United States, we need to hear from Pope Francis concise words of welcome and complete acceptance. We are at a crossroads as a church and ambiguity is not what the faithful need.”
Aaron Bianco is correct that, on LGBTQ issues, Amoris Laetitia was quite muddled, indeed disappointing. But that he was invitied to participate in the Amoris Laetitia conversation is evidence that, for at least some church leaders, the exhortation was only a beginning in a longer conversation they wish to continue. LGBTQ Catholics should follow Bianco’s lead in speaking boldly about their experiences to help the church move beyond confusion to affirmation.
—Robert Shine (he/him), New Ways Ministry, May 23, 2022
National Catholic Reporter, “In 2018, this gay Catholic was hounded out of his job. Last month, he met the pope.“