Pastor Aiden: Hateful Rhetoric on Ithan

John Dugas, Staff Writer

It was a cold, rainy Friday afternoon on Villanova’s campus as students looked forward to kicking back for another peaceful weekend in Radnor Township. The campus was full of life and positivity until around 4:45 PM, when a controversial group appeared on the sidewalk adjacent to Bartley Hall on Ithan Avenue.


Led by the man who calls himself Pastor Aiden, a group of individuals, including two children, held signs containing homophobic and anti-Augustinian remarks. The group possessed a megaphone, allowing members to spew their hateful rhetoric loudly as police stood by.


Students were notified of the group’s arrival on February 23, when Kathleen Byrnes, the Vice President for Student Life, sent an email informing the school of their presence. 


“We wanted to make you aware that an individual, who refers to himself as Pastor Aiden, is exercising his first amendment right to free speech on public property near campus this afternoon,” the email read. “This person is known to be inflammatory and communicate hateful messages that run counter to the University’s Augustinian Catholic values.” 


Students were advised not to engage with the individual, but knowing that someone had to cover the event, I stepped outside to hear the hurtful remarks being made by Pastor Aiden and his crew.


As I stood listening to the messages being pushed by the group, which included the ideas of strictly abiding by the Bible’s teachings and to stop sinning in secular culture, a growing group of students had begun to emerge. As Aiden and his acquaintances preached their disturbing world views, students used their voices to push back and drown out the group. 


Police officers on the scene tried, repeatedly, to disperse students from the area, but, while some students listened, others, like myself, hung around to make sure what we were hearing was real. Sophomore Baron Alt was also present at the scene, and bore witness to an engagement in a civil conversation with one of Aiden’s group members.


“Some of the stuff that was talked about focused mainly on rights needing to be stripped from homosexuals, which is a pretty far out belief in today’s era,” Alt said. “The man that I overheard [being talked to] didn’t really want to hear [people] out. It was like he was stuck in this echo chamber of radical beliefs. I believe the first amendment is important for sure, but it definitely is annoying to have to hear such hateful language in the Villanova community.”


Pastor Aiden and his crew didn’t just stop at pushing forward hateful ideologies, though. One specific individual in the group, who was wearing a “Fear God” hat, began hurling insults at students walking by, causing for some tense exchanges. The hate in his voice was overly clear. 


“What would you do if I were to tell you that some of my best friends are homosexuals, sir?” he was asked by a student.


With little hesitation, the man calmly responded, “I would say that you can think what you want about them being your friends, but you need to know that they won’t be saved when Judgement Day comes. Their place is in Hell and that’s the truth.” 


For a school that focuses heavily on maintaining Augustinian values and pushing Catholic social teachings, to have a group like Pastor Aiden’s present near campus was a disturbing reminder of the ignorance and a lack of empathy some people still display. Students returned to their weekend routines after some time, but the group’s messages were left lingering in the Villanova air for students to wrestle with.