Archdiocese of Washington reprimands priest for denying communion to a lesbian
by Ben Johnson
Wed Feb 29, 2012
(LifeSiteNews.com) – A parish priest in Maryland, who denied communion to a woman who identified herself as a lesbian, has been publicly rebuked by the Archdiocese of Washington.
Barbara Johnson attended her mother’s funeral last Saturday and introduced her lesbian partner to the priest before Mass.
Fr. Marcel Guarnizo of St. John Neumann Catholic Church in Gaithersburg, Maryland, covered the Host as she approached and told her, “I can’t give you Communion because you live with a woman, and in the eyes of the Church, that is a sin.”
Afterwards, she wrote him a letter telling him, “I will do everything in my power to see that you are removed from parish life so that you will not be permitted to harm any more families.”
Auxiliary Bishop Barry Knestout wrote a formal letter of apology telling Johnson, “I am sorry that what should have been a celebration of your mother’s life, in light of her faith in Jesus Christ, was overshadowed by a lack of pastoral sensitivity.”
The Archdiocese of Washington issued a brief press release saying Fr. Guarnizo’s actions were inappropriate. “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.”
After receiving the letter of apology, Johnson said “I will not be satisfied” until Fr. Guarnizo is removed from the parish.
Monsignor Charles Pope, who blogs for the Archdiocese of Washington’s website, told LifeSiteNews.com, “One would presume a priest would have had more ongoing conversations with somebody of a private nature before one would publicly deny somebody communion.”
“There may be a time when a pastor has concerns about a parishioner and then speaks to them privately and advises them privately not to receive communion,” he said. “But we don’t have these confrontations at the altar rail.”
Canon 915 of the Roman Catholic Church’s Code of Canon Law admonishes priests to deny Holy Communion to those who are “obstinately persevering in manifest grave sin are not to be admitted to holy communion.”
The New Commentary on Canon Law states: “Eucharistic Ministers are also to refuse holy communion when they are certain (1) that a person has committed a sin that is objectively grave, (2) that the sinner is obstinately persevering in this sinful state, and (3) that this sin is manifest,” or widely known to those present at the Mass.
The U.S. Council of Catholic Bishops established “engaging in sexual activity outside the bonds of a valid marriage” as such a sin in its 2006 publication “‘Happy Are Those Who Are Called to His Supper’: On Preparing to Receive Christ Worthily in the Eucharist.”
“Catholics who are conscious of committing any mortal sin must receive the Sacrament of Penance before receiving Holy Communion,” they wrote.
Public denial of communion must also be preceded by a private warning not to come forward to communion.
The commentary on the 1983 Code of Canon Law, prepared by the Canon Law Society of Great Britain and Ireland, states, “before a minister can lawfully refuse the Eucharist, he must be certain that the person obstinately persists in a sinful situation or in sinful behavior that is manifest (i.e. public) and objectively grave.”
“Most canonists, including pastors and priests, interpret that not just as not just a quick conversation but something of a more substantial nature,” Monsignor Pope told LifeSiteNews.
Dr. Ed Peters, a canon lawyer at Sacred Heart Major Seminary in Detroit, wrote “a few minutes conversation…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.” However, Dr. Peters noted after a sufficient period of warning and instruction, a priest would be well within his rights to invoke Canon 915 and deny communion to an obstinate, sexually active homosexual.
“I don’t know that that can be determined by a brief interaction in a sacristy,” Msgr. Pope told LifeSiteNews.
Fr. Guarnizo may have been forcibly denied the opportunity to expand on his conversation. A commenter on Deacon Greg Kandra’s blog, who claimed to have been “in a meeting with Fr Marcel and heard the whole story,” wrote: “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.” A commenter claimed Barbara’s partner “blocked his way out of the sacristy when he attempted to speak with her further.”
The Catholic Church believes a faithful Christian has such an interest in receiving Holy Communion that it must only be denied only in extreme cases. “When in doubt, give it out,” Msgr. Pope said.
The popular blogger Fr. John Zuhlsdorf wrote no one should be surprised that questions persist about when to publicly deny someone communion.
Fr. Zuhlsdorf writes that “Many priests have received inadequate training in these matters of law and have been given even worse example by bishops who ought to be applying can. 915 is genuine cases of applicability,” he wrote.
Archbishop Donald Wuerl, Archbishop of Washington, waded into a similar controversy in 2009 when he said he would not deny House Speaker Nancy Pelosi communion, claiming to do so would amount to “Communion wielded as a weapon.” When asked, he said, “there’s a question about whether this canon  was ever intended to be used.”
Fr. Zuhlsdorf described Fr. Guarnizo’s actions as “well-meaning” but “premature,” adding he could not find fault with his motivation.
“He should be thanked for taking his role seriously and for wanting to uphold the Church’s teaching,” he wrote.
Fr. Guarnizo did not return messages left by LifeSiteNews.