When Aaron Bianco, a gay layman, was brought in to manage St. John the Evangelist Catholic Church in San Diego in 2016, he joined the church with great hopes. He had been invited by Bishop Robert W. McElroy to start an LGBTQ ministry at the church and become one of about 300 churches across the country that, in direct opposition of church policy, welcomed and embraced the LGBTQ community.
The church was not doing well at the time and Bianco hoped he could help. St. John the Evangelist “was dying” Bianco told Between The Lines.
“It averaged 30 people at a Sunday mass [when I came] and when I left we averaged 200.”
Now, Bianco is coming to Christ Church in Bloomfield Hills on April 13 to talk about his success story. This event is sponsored by Inclusive Justice, a statewide, faith-based coalition dedicated to promoting LGBTQ-inclusive religious practices.
Rocky Road to Change
Despite its successful attendance rates, not everyone was thrilled with the growth and the direction the church was taking. Older, conservative members began to push back. This intensified last summer after renewed allegations of clergy’s sexual abuse were brought against the church and extremist websites such as Church Militant and Lifesite News began blaming the scandal on homosexual priests.
“It didn’t even make sense,” Bianco said. “They just equate homosexuality with pedophilia without looking at any studies.”
Soon, the backlash against Bianco began to intensify. There was an arson attempt at the church, and once, someone even tried to throw a punch at Bianco. He also experienced a deluge of anonymous phone calls and letters with anti-gay messages.
“My bishop and I had plenty of conversations that I was going to stay,” Bianco said. “I was not going to allow their hate to win out. But when they decided to put pictures of my family and a link to my home address on their website, and then someone broke into the church, it finally came to where I knew I had to leave.”
Bianco said that this decision to leave San Diego was not one he took lightly, in particular, because he had been a member of the Catholic Church for more than 20 years. However, when it came to the safety of both himself and those supporting his involvement, he said there was no other option.
“I have had individuals at different times at the church who maybe found out that I was married or gay and complained about it,” he said. “But I had never seen the intensity that happened once these national organizations started to print about me. I like to say though: This is a small group of people, but they have money and they’re loud and they became violent.”
Today, Bianco has made a career out of his experience, and he travels across the country speaking about what happened to him at parishes and conferences.
“The part that makes me smile is [that] they wanted to silence my voice,” he said. “That was their goal. And since I’ve left my job at the church I have received emails, letters, telephone calls from literally all across the globe encouraging me to continue to work for total inclusion for LGBTs in the Catholic Church. So, it makes me smile that these organizations wanted me done and now people who would have never known who Aaron Bianco was are writing to me from all over the world.”
And even with him gone, the battle still continues at St. John the Evangelist in San Diego.
“They still have LGBT outreach,” Bianco said. “I’m sad that these angry individuals are able to create such hate that they cause people like me and others at the church to leave. But I’ve said all along that they’ll never get me to leave the Catholic Church. That’s my home. And they’ll never get me to be silent about welcoming LGBT people into the church, their rightful place.”
Aaron Bianco will be speaking Saturday about his experiences as well as giving a workshop on how Catholic parishes can build inclusive communities and reach out to all people in the margins who don’t feel welcome in the Catholic Church. Part of a day-long conference called Renewing Catholicism, the conference will take place at Christ Church Cranbrook and is sponsored by Inclusive Justice. Christ Church Cranbrook is located at 470 Church Road in Bloomfield Hills. The conference takes place Saturday, April 13, from 9 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. This even is free. For more information, visit inclusivejustice.org.