Four years after a Catholic man was hounded out of the San Diego Church for being gay, he met Pope Francis last month and spoke at a conference at the Vatican. 

Aaron Bianco,  a professor of theology at the University of San Diego and a pastoral associate at St. John the Evangelist Church in the Diocese of San Diego, received death threats from right-wing Catholic organisations and had “no fags” spray painted on a wall in his office at the parish. The harassment and threats forced him to resign from the church in 2018. 

Last month, Bianco was invited to speak at an international conference on Pope Francis’ 2016 apostolic letter on marriage and family life, Amoris Laetitia (“The Joy of Love”). Bianco spoke on the topic ‘Amoris Laetitia and LGBT people ‘ at the conference held in the Vatican from May 11-15, 2022. . 

Bianco also met the Pope. “The pope told me to keep working with those who do not feel welcome in the church. He smiled and said, ‘You must make them feel welcome,’ ” Bianco told the National Catholic Reporter about his conversation with Pope Francis. 

Coincidentally, San Diego Bishop Robert McElroy who had supported Bianco in 2018, was recently named Cardinal by Pope Francis.

Gay And Catholic

Aaron Bianco with his partner.

In his talk, Bianco, who has been in a committed relationship for the past 17 years, reflected on his experience as a gay man in the Catholic church. 

“My experiences reflect the deep pain, confusion and joy of many LGBT Catholics. These experiences have led me to a deep love for the Church but also a realistic view of the magisterium and sometimes their unrealistic views of love and sexual morality. To the LGBT Catholic, this can often lead to dismay and confusion,” said Bianco. 

According to Bianco, in Amoris Laetitia, Pope Francis had opened the door to everyone, including the LGBTQI community. The Professor referred to Pope Francis’ statement: “It can no longer simply be said that all those in “irregular” situations are living in a state of moral sin and are deprived of sanctifying grace.” 

Catholic Church At A Crossroads

Pope Francis (centre) at the conference on Amoris Laetitia (“The Joy of Love”) in May 2022.

Bianco said that while the quote was a wonderful first step, “in reality, those in the LGBT community believe that God has made them the way they are. In their hearts and consciences, they do not believe they are in a state of ‘irregularity’.”

Bianco told the stories of four LGBTQI Catholics – an older gay man, a young gay college student, a transgender woman, and a married lesbian woman.

Pope Francis, Bianco said, had begun the conversation, but it needs to go beyond that. “Many, including LGBT people, feel they do not know where they fit in to the church community. They hear from Francis wonderful words of hope… And on the other hand, we hear from some in the hierarchy, like Bishop Joseph Strickland of the Diocese of Taylor in Texas state that LGBTQ persons “whether actively living out the homosexual lifestyle or not, are not worthy at the table of the Lord.”

Bianco concluded that the Catholic church was at a “crossroads… and ambiguity is not what the faithful need.”

Pope Francis (in wheel chair) at the conference on Amoris Laetitia (“The Joy of Love”) in May 2022.

Bianco Hounded Out Of The Church In 2018

On October 19, 2018, Bianco had submitted his resignation to the San Diego church after being subjected to  “physical and emotional violence from groups like Church Militant and LifeSite News for the past year and a half”, after the church found out that he was gay. 

Bianco said that the harassment included his car tires being slashed, death threats, a man waiting outside the church after Mass to punch him and “hundreds” of letters, phone calls and emails. 

Four days before he submitted his resignation, assailants broke into his office in the church and and spray painted “no fags” on the wall. And two days later, someone posted photos of his family, including his deceased mother, online.

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