SAN DIEGO -- A pastoral associate spoke at a local church for the last time Sunday after he says merciless harassment about his sexual orientation and approach to ministry have forced him to resign.
Aaron Bianco's emotional final address was greeted by applause from the packed house at St. John the Evangelist Catholic Church in University Heights. His resignation will officially take effect at the end of the month.
"For about the last year and a half, we have been building a ministry to those in the LGBT community, to make them feel welcome here at St. John's, and there are those who do not like that," Bianco told FOX 5 after he addressed the congregation. "They have rained hate for almost two years and it has gotten much worse in the last two months."
The associate pastor said that certain extreme cases of harassment, including death threats placed on his car, have been reported to local police and even the FBI, who are investigating.
In an email to friends and associates published by the independent Catholic newspaper the National Catholic Reporter, Bianco further detailed the attacks:
"As most of you know, I have endured physical and emotional violence from groups like Church Militant and LifeSite News for the past year and a half. As I wrote earlier in the week, they have slashed my tires, left me death threats, physically attacked me outside of mass and sent hundreds of letters, phone calls and emails.
This past week they took it to another level. They broke into the office/rectory and spray painted (a homophobic slur) on the conference room wall. Then, on Wednesday, LifeSite News and the Lepanto Institute published an article about me. This was the final straw. 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. All of this is done to intimidate and scare me into resigning. These groups are no different then organized crime. They have gone after me relentlessly hoping to bring me to my knees."
Bianco's email goes on to explain that in a recent meeting with San Diego Bishop Robert McElroy, he submitted his resignation. "I am doing this out of fear for my family and myself," he stated plainly.
Despite leaving his official position at St. John's, Bianco said he will continue working to make people from all walks of life feel welcome in worship. "I am not resigning from doing the work that I will continue to do," he said Sunday. "I will continue to fight for an inclusive church."
Steve Hicks, a Catholic who attended Sunday's meeting but said he is not a member of St. John's, told FOX 5 that while he believes "acting out on same-sex attraction" is a sin, Catholic teachings would never "endorse the kind of violent acts that this man has suffered."
"I want to them to find whoever has threatened this man," Hicks said. "Otherwise there will be a continual assumption that it's somehow Catholics who hold to the Catholic teaching."
Bianco told FOX 5 that some of his tormentors were present Sunday: "They like to video and record everything I say, so some were here tonight. I don't know who all of them are, but there are a few who I do know."
In a statement issued Wednesday, Bishop McElroy condemned the harrassment. “These vile and reprehensible acts are utterly contrary to Catholic teaching and the Gospel of Jesus Christ," the church official wrote. "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. I support and stand in solidarity with the staff and community of St. John’s Parish at this moment.”