by Luiz Sérgio Solimeo
The news spread across the world, creating an international scandal around Fr. Marcel Guarnizo. On February 25, 2012, he denied communion to a lesbian, Ms. Barbara Johnson, at her mother’s funeral Mass.
On the 28th, the Vicar General of the Archdiocese of Washington, D.C., Most Rev, Barry Knestout, sent Ms. Johnson a letter of apology criticizing Fr. Guarnizo’s “lack of pastoral sensitivity.”1
Priest Suspended for “Intimidating Behavior”
Even after receiving that letter, and in spite of having received communion at the Mass from the Eucharistic minister, in media interviews, Ms. Johnson said she would do all in her power to have Fr. Guarnizo removed from the parish. On March 9, the Vicar General sent a letter to the priests of the archdiocese saying that Fr. Guarnizo was “placed on administrative leave with his priestly faculties removed” because of his “intimidating behavior toward parish staff and others.”2
“Lesbian Asks and Archdiocese of Washington Heeds”
Again the news spread around the world, this time presenting the priest’s removal as a consequence of having denied communion to a lesbian. Some examples:
In the United States, among thousands of others, here is the headline in the liberal Huffington Post: “Rev. Marcel Guarnizo Suspended: Priest Who Denied Communion To Lesbian Barbara Johnson, Withdrawn For ‘Intimidating Behavior.’”3
In Brazil, a conservative site, Fratres in Unum, was categorical: “Lesbian Asks and Washington Archdiocese Accedes: Priest Who Denied Her Communion Is Punished.”4
In England, the MailOnline notes: “Priest who denied communion to lesbian at mother’s funeral suspended for ‘intimidating behaviour.’”5
In Italy, the site Virgilio.it announces: “USA—Priest Who Refused Communion to a Lesbian Suspended – Barbara Johnson, Offended at Her Mother’s Funeral, Celebrates.”6
The Homosexual Movement Claims Victory
The web site of Dignity, an organization that rejects Catholic doctrine on homosexual sin, but still calls itself Catholic, did not hide its joy:
“Gay Catholic Leaders Applaud Priest’s Removal from Ministry, Repeat Calls for Dialogue with Church Leaders” reads the headline. The news item continues:
“DignityUSA and Dignity/Washington, DC today applauded the Archdiocese of Washington, DC for suspending Father Marcel Guarnizo from all ministry within the Archdiocese.… “The Archdiocese has acted appropriately in removing Father Guarnizo from ministry,” said Allen Rose, President of Dignity/Washington… “We are encouraged by this action, which will do much to restore Catholics’ faith in our Church’s commitment to pastoral ministry.”7
Lesbian Activist and “Catholic” Buddhist
On March 14, Fr. Marcel Guarnizo issued a public statement explaining what occurred and justifying his position. He also asserted that the reason for his ministry removal was because he had denied communion to a lesbian.
On the other hand, with additional data provided by the media and Catholic websites, one now can assemble a pretty reliable analysis of what happened.
For 25 years now, Ms. Jonhson has openly declared herself to be a lesbian and made that clear in a job interview for a position in a Catholic school, in which she called herself a “lesbian and a Buddhist.”8 News accounts state that she has been living for 19 years with a partner,9 so family members and friends at the Mass could hardly have been ignorant of this, all the more so since she was accompanied by her companion.
It Was Ms. Johnson’s Duty to Avoid the Possibility of Scandal
In the circumstances involving a funeral Mass, and above all for her own mother, it was first and foremost up to Ms. Jonhson to try and avoid any possibility of scandal. This is why it is hard to understand why, a few minutes before Mass started, she went to the sacristy with her partner and introduced her to the priest as “her lover.” The priest tried to speak with her but she left the sacristy and her partner stood in the priest’s way to prevent him from reaching her for further conversation.10
Was this Scandal Intentional?
During the Mass Father Guarnizo denied her communion because of a problem of conscience that he would fail in performing his duty were he to do so; but he did this so discreetly that it wasn’t noticed even by the Eucharistic minister next to him. This enabled Ms. Johnson to enter into the other line and receive communion.
Therefore, Father Guarnizo gave no scandal whatsoever and the episode became public only thanks to Ms. Johnson, who gave a number of interviews to newspapers and TV networks, presenting herself as the victim of a priest’s fanaticism and “lack of pastoral sensitivity,” in the words of the Vicar General.
Several analysts raised the hypothesis that Ms. Johnson sought to provoke this incident for ideological reasons. For example, in his well-read blog, Father John Zuhlsdorf noted, “a lesbian Buddhist instrumentalized her own mother’s funeral Mass so as to set a trap for a priest whom she wanted to provoke into refusing her Holy Communion.”11
Are there grounds for this hypothesis? It seems so. Ms. Johnson is a homosexual activist,12 Father Guarnizo did not know her beforehand, and had never asked her anything about her irregular situation. Moreover, it was Ms. Johnson’s sole initiative to make him aware of her situation shortly before Mass started.
Accordingly, it does seem plausible that her intent all along was to create an incident in order to advance the homosexual agenda.
Situations when Communion Must be Denied
As Father Marcel Guarnizo recalled in his statement, in addition to the cases when Communion must be denied, listed in Canon 915, there are countless situations in which the priest has to decide on the spot what attitude to take, always seeking to avoid scandal, as much as possible; for example, in the case of non-Catholics, drunkards or drug-addicts, divorcees in new partnerships, who approach to receive communion.
In a July 2004 note to the USCCB, the then Cardinal Ratzinger recalled that denying communion where appropriate “is not a sanction or a penalty. Nor is the minister of Holy Communion passing judgment on the person’s subjective guilt, but rather is reacting to the person’s public unworthiness to receive Holy Communion due to an objective situation of sin.”13
Giving Holy Communion Inappropriately Can Scandalize
There can be scandal both in denying communion to someone in a public and visible way when his sin is not public, or in giving communion to someone who is in a public situation of sin or notorious dissent with the Church’s doctrine, and this is well known to the faithful present in the church. A typical example of the latter was the scandal given by Archbishop Niederauer of San Francisco, when he gave communion to two homosexual males associated with the notorious group Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence who presented themselves before him dressed up shamelessly as nuns.14
An Organized Homosexual Movement
Given the existence of an organized homosexual movement that seeks to impose its ideology by all means and takes advantage of every circumstance to advance its agenda, ecclesiastical authorities and members of the clergy must act with great prudence. It is always important to make it clear that homosexual sexual relationships (as any other sexual relationship outside of marriage) are intrinsically evil and sinful, so that a person publicly living in such a relationship is objectively not in conditions to receive the Holy Eucharist.
Footnotes1. “Full text: letter of apology to lesbian” at http://www.patheos.com/blogs/deaconsbench/2012/02/full-text-letter-of-apology-to-lesbian/. [back]
2. “Priest who refused communion to lesbian placed on leave, faculties removed — UPDATED” at http://www.patheos.com/blogs/deaconsbench/2012/03/priest-who-gave-communion-to-lesbian-placed-on-leave-faculties-removed/. [back]
3. 03/11/2012 10:03 pm. In the updated next day 03/12/2012 5:33 pm the title was changed: “Rev. Marcel Guarnizo, Priest Who Denied Communion To Lesbian, Put On Leave” at http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/03/11/rev-marcel-guarnizo-pries_n_1338120.html.[back]
8. Thomas Peters, “News Outlets Failed to Reveal Lesbian Denied Communion at Mother’s Funeral … is a Buddhist and Gay Rights Activist” at http://www.catholicvote.org/discuss/index.php?p=27899.[back]
9. Cf. Gail Huff, “Barbara Johnson denied communion at mother’s funeral due to sexual orientation” at http://www.wjla.com/articles/2012/02/barbara-johnson-denied-communion-at-mother-s-funeral-due-to-sexual-orientation-73210.html.[back]
10. “Priest: removal from ministry was tied to communion incident” - Fr. Marcel Guarnizo’s Response to the Eucharistic Incident, http://www.catholicnewsagency.com/news/priest-removal-from-ministry-was-tied-to-communion-incident/.[back]
11. “Prof. Peters examines development in the case of denial of Communion to aggressive lesbian” at http://wdtprs.com/blog/2012/03/prof-peters-examines-development-in-the-case-of-denial-of-communion-to-aggressive-lesbian/.[back]
12. For example, we read in an article The Baltimore Sun of March 14, 2012:
“Gov. Martin O’Malley, who continues to campaign for same-sex marriage in advance of a likely referendum aimed at overturning the law he signed this month, will speak Friday at a conference in Baltimore for gay and lesbian Catholics.
“Also scheduled to appear at the conference …[is] Barbara Johnson, who was denied Communion at her mother’s funeral Mass in Gaithersburg last month because she is a lesbian.” (Matthew Hay Brown, “O’Malley to speak at conference for gay and lesbian Catholics - Cardinal warns that ministry ‘in no manner’ speaks for church” at http://articles.baltimoresun.com/2012-03-14/news/bs-md-new-ways-20120314_1_new-ways-ministry-catholic-bishop-lesbian.[back]
13. Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, “Worthiness to Receive Holy Communion - General Principles” at http://www.priestsforlife.org/magisterium/bishops/04-07ratzingerommunion.htm.[back]
14. Cf. Luiz Sérgio Solimeo, “Sacrilege, Scandal and Homosexual Ideology in San Francisco” at http://www.tfp.org/tfp-home/news-commentary/sacrilege-scandal-and-homosexual-ideology-in-san-francisco.html.[back]