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San Diego Man Is Collateral Damage In Catholic Church Upheaval

January 3, 2019 1:31 p.m.

GUEST: Aaron Bianco, former pastoral associate, St John the Evangelist Church

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Related Story: San Diego Man Is Collateral Damage In Catholic Church Upheaval


This is a rush transcript created by a contractor for KPBS to improve accessibility for the deaf and hard-of-hearing. Please refer to the media file as the formal record of this interview. Opinions expressed by guests during interviews reflect the guest’s individual views and do not necessarily represent those of KPBS staff, members or its sponsors.

upheavals at St. John the Evangelist Catholic Church in Hillcrest a part of the Catholic Church has struggled to deal with cultural shifts that have already become part of the mainstream in America.

Recently Aaron Bianco who is openly gay resigned from his position as a pastoral associate at the church. Bianco's suffered a series of threats from people angry that the church is welcoming members of the LGBT community into the fold. Aaron Bianco joins us by Skype.

Thanks for joining us. Thank you for having me. So tell us first of all why you resigned from your position at the church.

It was not what I wanted to do. But back in October it it got to be very intense. One of the so-called media outlets in the Catholic Church had put up piece on the web with my home address and at that point I knew that for my safety and my family's safety I needed to resign.

What kind of things had happened prior to that that made you feel that way in the very beginning about a year just over a year and a half ago some threat started to happen. They would send e-mails threatening me. They would drop mail in the mailbox. They would leave notes on my car all things to do with me being gay and not welcome in the church.

Then they punctured all four of my tires. Back in September of 2017 and then this past August August of 2008 and 18 when the grand jury with the Pennsylvania attorney general came out with a report about pedophile priests. It just ramped up these groups again and they came after me very hard. I had a man who tried to fight me at the end of one of the masses. They lit the doors of the church on fire and then they broke in to our office which is connected to the church and wrote an antigay remark with spray paint on one of the walls.

You know they threatened to kill me at times.

I understand that you actually had built up the congregation at St. John the Evangelist which was shrinking originally but when you say they are the people who are objecting to opening up to the LGBT community are they part of the original congregation or from outside now mainly from outside.

There was a small group that was at St. John's when myself and now auxiliary bishop drawn Dolan arrived that were not happy with some of the changes we were making but it was a very small group. But I do believe that a few of those individuals are the ones that contacted these national organizations. And then it was the national organizations that decided to put me almost on a monthly basis. They wrote articles about me which then triggered others in San Diego to do some of these violent things towards me in the parish.

You mentioned what happened in the summer and the struggle to open the Catholic Church to the LGBT community has been very much complicated by these ongoing allegations of sexual abuse among the clergy even though low research suggests there is no link between sexual orientation and sexual abuse so how do you address this misconception and struggle.

You know first of all I always want to reiterate that sexual abuse is not about sex. It's about power. And you're right.

Every study has shown that sexual orientation has nothing to do with it but these groups have an agenda and their ship is sinking and the Catholic Church the vast majority of Catholics in the pews are welcoming of the LGBT community. And so they're in a kind of fight situation fight or flight and they've now decided that they'll use anything they possibly can to win this battle. I reckon it back to when Prop 8 and they had videos on TV in ads of men walking into restrooms and assaulting little boys which had nothing to do with marriage equality.

And that's kind of the exact same thing that these groups now were using towards the LGBT community.

I do want to ask you about a series of articles about you published in a conservative Catholic web site alleging that you abused your authority by doing things like locking out a group that was praying with the rosary every day and that you were favoring LGBT groups and denied these allegations. What was your relationship with the congregation as a whole.

Ninety nine percent were very very supportive. There were about six of them who prayed the rosary daily. No one was ever locked out. It was a staged event. They brought a few people had them kneel their act like they were praying the rosary and then sent it to this organization.

Now you have had the support of San Diego Bishop McElroy and he said in a recent interview that Pope Francis's vision is to build personal relationship with God with love mercy and compassion. How important has McElroy's support been to you.

Bishop McElroy has been absolutely incredible from the moment he got here. We developed a relationship. He realizes that what the gospel is calling us to. It's a call of welcome.

He made it a point that all people should be welcome in the Catholic Church not just the LGBT community but he did see so many in in my community in the LGBT community that we're hurting. And so he wanted to find a way to welcome them. And that's when he asked myself and now Bishop John Dolan to come to St. John's and open up the doors and start a ministry.

I understand you're leaving for Rome today and you plan to talk to Catholic church groups while you're there. What do you plan to talk about. What you hope to accomplish.

Going to visit family but I am I'm also meeting with a couple of different Catholic organizations that are international organizations. To have a conversation that some of these groups who came after me have basically been given kind of Jidda Mysie within the media. We need to take back that narrative. And so we're going to have this conversation. Why are we allowing groups that produce only hate and vile hate. And it's not just towards me. It's if you go on their Web. Even the pope himself. Why are we giving them legitimacy within the Catholic Church and how do we move back to a place where they're not able to command the attention that they are right now.

Well Aaron have a great journey to Rome.

Thank you very much I appreciate it and I appreciate you allowing to share my story. That's Aaron Bianco openly gay who recently resigned from his position at St. John the Evangelist Church new Hillcrest.