A radical right news site that calls itself the “Christian militia” is pushing back against allegations by a former administrator of a Catholic church in San Diego after he blamed that site and others for harassing him until he was forced to resign, marking the latest twist in the ongoing targeting of the gay community’s presence in the Church.
Antonio Aaron Bianco endured hostility from parishioners as he climbed the ranks of San Diego’s St. John the Evangelist, a church that welcomed gay Catholics. But he said it was the latest wave of attacks — coming from radical religious media outlets — that finally forced him to step away from it all in October.
Bianco, who is married to a man, was one of many LGBTQ people who were singled out in a wave of backlash during the summer of 2018 when conservative Catholics blamed sexual abuse by priests on homosexuality.
In a span of two weeks, a person had set doors of his church on fire before Mass and someone broke into the church and spray-painted “No Fags” on a wall, according to the New York Times. Bianco repeatedly received hateful calls and letters from anonymous people.
St. John’s the Evangelist did not respond to requests for comment on the circumstances leading to Bianco’s resignation.
In his October resignation letter, Bianco directly blamed Church Militant and LifeSite News for “physical and emotional violence,” and accused them of spray-painting, sending letters, making phone calls, and slashing his tires.
“They posted pictures of my family, including a photo of my deceased mother, stated where I live, and went back years to try and find anything on me,” he said, according to the National Catholic Reporter. “All of this is done to intimidate and scare me into resigning. These groups are no different than organized crime.”
Church Militant, which said Bianco and others at his church were a part of a “homosexualist cabal” that “offered a glimpse into how homosexual networks corrupts institutions,” quoted a parishioner who said, “Everyone in the diocese is scared of Bianco” and that he and “homosexualist enablers” were to blame for “turmoil.” LifeSite News also blasted Bianco and others, including San Diego Bishop Robert McElroy, for welcoming LGBTQ people.
On St. John the Evangelist’s website, the bishop is quoted saying, “There is nothing Christian or Catholic about the hateful and vile people whose persecution of Aaron Bianco drove him from his ministry and who continue to threaten him, his family, and the staff and community at St. John the Evangelist parish. These reprehensible acts are utterly contrary to the Catholic teaching and the Gospel of Jesus Christ. The hatred that lies behind them constitutes a dark and vicious corner in the life of our Church that every member of the Catholic community must reject.”
In an email sent to Gay City News, Church Militant’s editor-in-chief, Christine Niles, strongly denied Bianco’s allegations and accused him of lying.
“He has never been able to supply proof that anyone associated — formally or informally — with Church Militant had anything to do with the crimes he alleges,” Niles said. “Bianco’s timeline also contradicts his claims. He said that his tires were slashed before Oct. 9, 2017 — which is the first time we ever reported on Bianco. So there is no way CM’s reporting could’ve been responsible for his tires beings slashed.”
Niles directed Gay City News to read Church Militant’s coverage of Bianco, which she falsely said was “simply an objective report” despite the headline’s assertion that the San Diego’s diocese was “using Mass to push LGBT agenda” and referred to people with offensive terminology such as “sodomy activist politicians.”
LifeSite co-founder and editor-in-chief John-Henry Weston did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
The break-in is under investigation by the San Diego Police Department and the FBI, according to the New York Times. The police did not immediately return inquiries regarding the status of any investigation and the FBI’s field office in San Diego could not be reached by phone.
The attacks came despite Bianco’s strong outreach efforts to recruit more people to the church, including younger families and Hispanic people, according to the Times.
Angela Zito, who is the director of the religious studies program at NYU, told Gay City News that the scapegoating of LGBTQ people — and the drive to push them out of the Church — is a longstanding issue that only deflects from the real problems that exist.
“This desperate tactic once again reduces the problem to one of individual and personal experience and responsibility, and well away from the collective, systematic, and constant abuse of power that the hierarchal structuring of the Church continues to foster,” she said.
DignityUSA, a group that works to gain respect for LGBTQ people in the Catholic Church, has stood up for Bianco in the wake of his resignation. Executive director Marianne Duddy-Burke saw his case as “a predictable albeit extreme response to the Catholic hierarchy’s dehumanizing teachings about gay people.”
“There should be no tolerance of this type of cruelty, and all of the Catholic leadership should be forcefully condemning it,” Duddy-Burke explained to Gay City News. “Instead, most have remained silent, turning the blind eye of complicity to the Catholic alt-right.”
Duddy-Burke also believes the rhetoric spewed by President Donald Trump has contributed to the atmosphere that led to Bianco’s situation, noting that people who “engage in this behavior feel legitimized.”
Media outlets are not the only ones pushing back against LGBTQ clergy and gay friendliness in the church. A Change.org petition by Concerned Catholics of Atlanta calling for the removal of LGBTQ-friendly priests has generated more than 1,700 signatures. Concerned Catholics of Atlanta did not respond to an email inquiry from Gay City News regarding their petition or the Catholic community’s reactionary campaign targeting gay people.
And Pope Francis, who has shown signs of LGBTQ acceptance at times, reaffirmed in a book he released last year that LGBTQ people have no place in the clergy, noting that “in consecrated life and priestly life, there is no place for this kind of affection.”
“There is a small but highly motivated segment of our Church that believes that they are justified in attacking LGBTQI people,” Duddy-Burke said. “I fear we will see more Aarons in the months to come.”
Bianco, who endured months of online abuse, could not be reached for comment.