The controversy is over a priest who denied Holy Communion to an openly gay woman who was attending her mother’s funeral. It seem that he was protecting the sanctity of the Blessed Sacrament. Before I go on here are a couple of questions: Is it customary for the archdiocese to assume that the priest is wrong and the lay person is correct? Why would faithful Catholics presume the priest to be wrong instead of giving him the benefit of the doubt that he applied Canon 915 correctly? Is it normal for an Archdiocese to make a public statement on an ecclesiastical matter, one that should be handled within the Church and not the public sphere?
It’s been an extremely difficult week for Barbara Johnson — perhaps the most difficult week of her life.
It all started on Saturday at St. John Neumann Catholic Church in Gaithersburg, where friends and family had gathered to say goodbye to Barbara’s mother, who died last week after a brief illness.
Just a few minutes before the funeral began, Father Marcel Guarnizo, who was presiding over the service, apparently learned that Barbara was involved in a romantic relationship with another woman.
A lifelong Catholic and former Catholic school teacher, Barbara says she hadn’t even considered that her sexual orientation would be a problem with Father Marcel until she stepped forward to take communion.
“He said, ‘I can not give you communion because you live with a woman,” Barbara says.
Though shaken by Father Marcel’s actions, Barbara says she tried to compose herself to give her mother the dignified funeral she deserved. So a few minutes later, Barbara began her eulogy.
“At which time Father Marcel left the altar and didn’t return until I finished my eulogy,” Barbara says.
According to Barbara, things got even worse, because after first refusing to give her communion, and then walking off the altar when Barbara was giving her eulogy, Father Marcel refused to go with Barbara’s mother’s body to the cemetery in Aspen Hill. Barbara says she was told that Father Marcel had suddenly become ill.
In a written statement, the Archdiocese of Washington conceded that Father Marcel had acted improperly, saying, “Any issues regarding the suitability of an individual to receive communion should be addressed by the priest with that person in a private, pastoral setting.”
If Ms. Johnson was truly not using this for political propaganda then she wouldn’t be partaking in the whirlwind media blitz. She would be in discussions with the archdiocese.
This is from The Washington Post:
Messages left for [Father] Guarnizo were not immediately returned, and archdiocesan officials declined to answer questions about what actually happened.
“In matters of faith and morals, the Church has the responsibility of teaching and of bringing the light of the Gospel message to the circumstances of our day,” the archdiocese said in a statement. “When questions arise about whether or not an individual should present themselves for communion, it is not the policy of the Archdiocese of Washington to publicly reprimand the person. Any issues regarding the suitability of an individual to receive communion should be addressed by the priest with that person in a private, pastoral setting.”
[Larry] Johnson [brother of the woman denied communion] said his parents were lifelong churchgoers, that the four children attended Catholic schools, that his sister taught at Catholic schools, and that neither he nor his sister see this as a reason to criticize the church more broadly.
“We agreed this is not a discussion about gay rights, or about the teachings of the Catholic Church,” he said. “We’re not in this to Catholic-bash. That’s the farthest thing from our minds. We just want the public square to have knowledge of what this priest did.”
WaPo has interviewed the woman and here is her version of events:
Johnson said that her partner of 20 years had been helping the family at the church earlier when the priest asked who she was. “And she said, ‘I’m her partner,’ ” Johnson recalled.
When Guarnizo covered the wine and wafers with his hand during Communion, Johnson stood there for a moment, thinking he would change his mind, she said. “I just stood there, in shock. I was grieving, crying,” she said. “My mother’s body was behind me, and all I wanted to do was provide for her, and the final thing was to make a beautiful funeral, and here I was letting her down because there was a scene.”
Her version of events seems to deviate from a commenter at Deacon’s Bench who happened to have “First Hand” knowledge of the events that transpired.
I happen to know “First hand” that Barbara went into the sacristy before the mass and introduced herself as a lesbian in an active lesbian relationship… introducing her partner as “her lover” (her words). She left the sacristy before Fr. could have the “private discussion” you talk about. Barbaras “Lover” blocked his way out of the sacristy when he attempted to speak with her further.
As a person who is well versed in Canon Law Dr. Ed Peters who is a canon lawyer has weighed in on this controversy and the application of Canon 915.
This is what happens when bizarre events (like an admitted practicing lesbian presenting herself for holy Communion in the first place), happen on the watch of priests whose love for the Eucharist probably exceeds their knowledge of the law on reception of holy Communion (through no fault of their own, doubtless), before a well-wired-world that can broadcast misinformation and even flatly wrong interpretations of an event with nary a care for correcting itself later. No matter who gets hurt along the way. And plenty of people have been hurt in this one.
I have expended no little effort over many years (like about 22) trying to get Canon 915 correctly understood and properly applied in ecclesiastical life. In the last few years, some signs of progress have appeared. Now, out of nowhere, Canon 915 is being invoked by some as justification for an action that, reading the facts as alleged in the light most favorable to the minister, would not have justified his withholding holy Communion from the woman in question. Specifically, a few minutes conversation (if that’s what happened), mostly with a third party (if that’s what happened), would not suffice, in the face of numerous canons protecting the right of the faithful to receive the sacraments, to verify either the notoriety of the (objectively) sinful situation, or to verify the obstinacy of the would-be recipient, both of which elements, among others in Canon 915, must be demonstrated before withholding holy Communion.
Here is Canon 915:
Can. 915 Those upon whom the penalty of excommunication or interdict has been imposed or declared, and others who obstinately persist in manifest grave sin, are not to be admitted to holy communion.
Father Z has posted a further detailed comment from the reader who has “first hand” knowledge of the events in question and I am posting that below along with Father Z’s added commentary.
I just wanted to let you know that there is a lot more to this story than has been published. I was in a meeting with Fr Marcel [The priest in question] and heard the whole story. The woman in question brought her lesbian partner into the vesting sacristy just before the funeral Mass and made sure to introduce her partner to Fr Marcel, introducing her as her ‘lover’. He told her then that she should not present herself for Communion. I have been to many Masses said by Father Marcel and he is a good and holy priest. He speaks very softly when giving out Holy Communion, almost whispering “Corpus Christi” — and did not publicly denounce her but rather said in a whisper that he could not give her Holy Communion. He did feel sick at the end of Mass and made sure to have a replacement priest accompany the body and family to the cemetery.
Father Marcel has a very active role in the very public and weekly vigils at Carhart’s late term abortion clinic in Germantown. He has been a staunch and vociferous defender of life. It is my belief that this is a calculated attempt to discredit him. (Remember – same sex marriage will be signed into law this week in Maryland.) ‘Catholics for Equality’ and other gay groups are feeling pretty strong right now. Fr Marcel is their enemy because he speaks the truth and does not back down…
I am telling you all this because Fr Marcel cannot speak for himself right now. And because he at the very least deserves the benefit of the doubt from you and Ed Peters and others who do not know all the facts. Please use this information to bring some balance to the discussion. And please pray for our bishops who must defend their priests from these attacks!
I have this sneaking suspicion that Barbara Johnson had knowledge of Father Marcel’s Catholic and political activism and outspokenness in defense of Church teachings and his pro-life activism, most notably outside Dr. Leroy Carhart’s late term abortion mill in Germantown. Did she use her mother’s funeral to advance a political agenda?
LifeSiteNews has garnered some new detailed information from a source who is close to the incident, named Diego Von Stauffenberg. Here is the latest scoop:
She was reportedly agitated by the fact that the funeral was being presided over by Fr. Guarnizo, who is well known for his outspoken defense of Church teachings. The priest has been on the front lines of local pro-life activism, leading prayer vigils at Dr. LeRoy Carhart’s late term abortion facility in Germantown.
Johnson initially came into the sacristy to discuss the details of the two eulogies that were supposed to be delivered, but left abruptly and returned with her brother and another woman, whom she introduced as her “lover.”
Following this introduction, Johnson made a second abrupt exit, this time with her lover reportedly blocking the door in an apparent attempt to prevent any further conversation between Fr. Guarnizo and Johnson.
The priest proceeded with the Mass, but decided to remind the congregation before Communion of what is required to be properly disposed to receive. Stauffenberg reports that when Johnson approached for Communion anyway, Fr. Guarnizo turned her away in a manner so discreet that the Extraordinary Minister standing a few feet away did not know what had occurred. Johnson then crossed over to the Extraordinary minister’s line and was given communion.
Moreover, says Stauffenberg, media reports that Fr. Guarnizo refused to be present during Johnson’s eulogy are inaccurate. Johnson had told Channel 9 News that “Fr. Marcel left the altar, and did not return until I finished my eulogy.”
She also told the National Catholic Reporter that Fr. Guarnizo not only did not attend the burial, but also did not make an effort to find another priest to do so, and that it was the funeral director who took the initiative in contacting another priest.
The truth, according to Stauffenberg, is that Fr. Guarnizo suffers from migraines which are triggered by stressful situations. He had a migraine during the funeral, and discreetly left after the first eulogy ended, looking for water to revive himself. When he returned to the sanctuary, Johnson was about five minutes into a eulogy that lasted around fifteen to twenty minutes.
After the Mass was over, he accompanied the body in procession down the aisle and out the door to the hearse, where he informed the funeral director that he would be unable to make the 11 mile drive from the Church to the cemetery on Aspen Hill. He personally arranged for the funeral director to contact another local priest, Fr. Paul Sweeney, who joined the family at the cemetery.
“Mrs. Johnson was given a Catholic funeral with all of the formality and all of the respect that the Catholic Church has to offer,” said Stauffenberg.
LifeSiteNews has also been in contact with another source who has corroborated Stauffenberg’s version of events.
The Archdiocese of Washington D.C. has posted a very well written article on the communicant and the reception of Communion, emphasizing that no one has the right to receive Holy Communion.
The second part of Canon 915 says this “ others who obstinately persist in manifest grave sin, are not to be admitted to holy communion.” Wouldn’t a person who had taught in the Catholic school system have knowledge on the Church’s teaching on homosexuality? She admitted that she has been in a relationship with her partner for 20 years. That would meet the criteria for persisting in manifest grave sin. If we take the word of at least one source who was close to the incident, that Barbara Johnson came into the sacristy with her partner, introduced her partner as “her lover”, then she left the sacristy abruptly before giving the priest a chance to have a “private discussion” with Barbara, then her lover blocked the doorway when he attempted to speak to her further, wouldn’t that meet the requirement of being a person who obstinately persists in manifest grave sin? There is only so much a priest can do to have a private discussion especially when the person is obstinately refusing to listen to that attempted private conversation. It is my opinion that Father Marcel handled this tension-filled situation the best that he could have at that time. It is all too easy for us to look back at the situation with 20/20 hindsight and play Monday morning quarterback but we were not present at the events in question so I believe we need to give Father Marcel the benefit of the doubt.