By his own admission, Aaron Bianco was a “nobody” until he was discovered by the alt-right.
An out gay former pastoral associate at St. John’s the Evangelist Catholic Church in San Diego, Bianco was long treated with respect in the workplace and largely accepted by parishioners and church leaders alike.
But everything went downhill in June of 2017 when the parish’s priest left, forcing Bianco to assume more responsibilities and play a more visible role in the absence of a permanent replacement pastor.
The alt-right news sites LifeSite News and Church Militant started attacking him, first when Bianco’s role expanded and again in August of last year when the Pennsylvania Supreme Court named at least 300 Catholic priests in an investigation of child sex abuse.
The news articles written about him were followed by a barrage of horrifying events: Bianco started receiving death threats laced with homophobic slurs, found his car’s tires entirely punctured, and saw someone creepily stalking him outside of his house. He arrived at the church one day to find the doors had been lit on fire and “NO FAGS” spray-painted on a wall.
Bianco recalled the time he had to dodge a punch from a man who walked up to him following Mass and demanded to know if he were married. In a fit of rage, the man had to be restrained by others nearby, and a police investigation followed, according to Bianco.
More than a year of harassment and threats took a toll on Bianco — by this past October, he felt forced to resign. Even then, the news reports from the alt-right sites did not stop. Church Militant’s obsession with Bianco continues. Last month, it accused him of locking people out of the church. In that article, the site cited “multiple parishioners who testify to this treatment” and posted a photo of people standing around outside the church. The claim was not backed by any credible accounts and is strongly denied by Bianco.
“It’s not a true statement,” Bianco said in an interview with Gay City News. “That never happened. It was all staged to take this picture.”
Another of numerous examples of Church Militant’s questionable reporting came last August when the site claimed “a pamphlet containing abortion information was found lying on a table in the sacristy,” but again did not name any of its sources for this information.
“The truth to that story is a person named Pura Bandolon went into the area of the church she had no right to be in,” Bianco said. “There was a personal marriage file of someone who got married that day. It’s personal. I had forgotten to take it out of there to bring it back to my office.”
Bianco blew holes in Church Militant’s narrative when he noted that when the county provides residents with marriage licenses it also provides information about where to receive free birth control and locations where a person can get an abortion.
“It has nothing to do with us,” Bianco said. “They sent it. Pura could be prosecuted for going into someone’s file.”
In response to questions from Gay City News about their claims regarding Bianco and the lack of named sources, Church Militant’s editor-in-chief, Christine Niles, only said that “multiple parishioners” were cited in the reporting. Gay City News asked Niles to provide their names, but she refused.
Bianco said he knows of at least two people — Bandolon and Kevin Kramer — who fed bogus information about him to the site. Bandolon did not return voice messages left for her. Kramer — who emailed Bianco citing the Pennsylvania priest pedophile scandal and saying he would complain to the San Diego bishop about his role at the parish — did not respond to a request for comment.
Bianco stressed that Church Militant has repeatedly lied about him and not once has the site ever reached out to him for comment.
“If Christine is a journalist, she probably should contact me and ask for my side — even if she doesn’t like me,” Bianco said.
Niles claimed in an email to Gay City News that she did reach out to him, something Bianco denies.
The news articles targeting Bianco created a volatile climate in the community and on one occasion the San Diego Police Department took the precaution of posting snipers on buildings near the church to prevent any violent outbreak at a Mass.
“On Church Militant’s website, people would write things like, ‘We’ll make sure the sodomites don’t receive Communion’ and ‘We are going to disrupt this Mass and chain ourselves to the altar,’” Bianco said of the heavily-secured event.
The articles about Bianco typically referred to him and others using offensive terms. One article referred to “Aaron Bianco and homosexualist enablers” and another called elected officials who supported him “low-level sodomy activist politicians.” Church Militant somehow obtained a photo of Bianco standing with his husband and posted it online with the word husband in quotes. The comments sections on Church Militant’s articles about him became such cesspools of toxic homophobia that Bianco said people were discussing how to kill him.
“There were things like, ‘We know where he’s at and we know we can be at the school board building across the street and I can puck him off,’” he recalled. “These were the things written on these people’s websites. For Church Militant to say they had no involvement… their rhetoric caused people to react this way.”
Niles, who was defensive in her emails to Gay City News, argued that Bianco “is not the victim here” and accused him of lying about Church Militant’s connections to the vandalism he faced.
“The reason we continued to write about him was to defend ourselves against his public falsehood that we were in any way connected to the vandalism he encountered,” Niles said. “We have the right to defend our good name and reputation in the face of his public smear.”
That explanation doesn’t add up, however. Church Militant’s articles about Bianco after his resignation were mostly rehashes of their previous charges against him. They reiterated the claim that he permitted abortion flyers in the church and accused him of “promoting homosexual ideology,” among other attacks. The articles included only a single sentence about alleged false accusations he made about the site.
In a text message this week, Bianco repeated that he has never claimed that Church Militant or LifeSite News employees traveled to San Diego and committed the hate crimes.
“What I have said was their rhetoric against me has caused people that read their site to commit these hateful acts,” he explained. “Church Militant has continued to print lies about me and my actions at St. John’s. They continue to use ‘sources’ who won’t give their real name or come forward. There is no room for hate in the Church. I will continue to sow love as they rage with hate.”
At this point, Bianco is not sure of his next move. But he made it clear that he is finished tolerating Church Militant’s homophobia and lies.
“I have all my options on the table and they would be best to drop it,” he said. “I am done being called a liar.”