A Catholic priest in the Washington, D.C. area has ignited controversy over the past month after he reportedly refused to grant communion to a lesbian woman at her mother's funeral.
As The Blaze has reported, the woman, Barbara Johnson, has publicly called for the Rev. Marcel Guarnizo of St. John Neumann Catholic Church to be removed. Now, following these pleas and the national outrage that followed, he has officially been placed on leave.
While specific details aren't yet available regarding why the Washington archdiocese made the decision to impose the harsh penalty, a letter that is dated March 9 and that addresses the issue has been uncovered by the Washington Post. In it, Bishop Barry Knestout, the leader of Washington D.C. and Maryland area churches, told other local priests that the punishment came as a result of Guarnizo "engaging in intimidating behavior toward parish staff and others that is incompatible with proper priestly ministry."
The entire letter reads:
I write to inform you that effective today, Father Marcel Guarnizo’s assignment at St. John Neumann Parish is withdrawn and he has been placed on administrative leave with his priestly faculties removed until such time as an inquiry into his actions at the parish is completed.
This action was taken after I received credible allegations that Father Guarnizo has engaged in intimidating behavior toward parish staff and others that is incompatible with proper priestly ministry.
Given the grave nature of these allegations, and in light of the confusion in the parish and the concerns expressed by parishioners, Father Guarnizo is prohibited from exercising any priestly ministry in the Archdiocese of Washington until all matters can be appropriately resolved, with the hope that he might return to priestly ministry.
Sincerely in Christ
Most Reverend Barry C. Knestout
Vicar General and Moderator of the Curia
Despite these words -- which don't mention the communion incident -- many are assuming that the removal is related to the priest's interaction with Johnson. Rev. Thomas LaHood, who is the pastor at St. John Neumann, denied this over the weekend, though. According to the Post, LaHood echoed the letter over the weekend and said that the removal has to do with "actions over the past week or two."
"As we know there’s been disagreement within the parish over how and to whom Communion is distributed. From my perspective this disagreement and related emotions flow from love. Love for Christ, really and truly present in the Eucharist," LaHood said during Sunday mass. "However, how we live out this love is important. The Scriptures tell us that we are known above all by how we love...I realize this letter is hard to hear. Please keep mind that this is a first personnel issue, dealing with issues of ministry in the church. Father Guarnizo will have every opportunity to present his position."
Johnson, like Guarnizo, has been relatively quiet over the past few days in regards to addressing the incident.
"We are hopeful that Bishop Knestout's decision will ensure that no others will have to undergo the traumatic experiences brought upon our family," Johnson and here family said in a written statement responding to the disciplinary actions taken against the priest. "We urge all Catholics to put aside political points of view, and pray that our Church will remain in Christ's love."
Here's what The Blaze originally reported about the incident:
Johnson, a lesbian, was joined at the church by her partner to celebrate her mother’s life. Just before the service, Guarnizo apparently learned about her sexuality and relationship. Then, during the service, when Johnson stood up to receive communion, the priest openly denied her.
“He put his hand over the body of Christ and looked at me and said, ‘I can’t give you Communion because you live with a woman, and in the eyes of the church, that is a sin,’” she explained following the incident.
Some bloggers, like Thomas Peters if CatholicVote.org, have railed against Johnson, pointing to a paper that appears to be published under her name. In it, she admits to being a Buddhist. Below, see a screen shot from the document, entitled, "Coming Out in the Heteronormative and Homophobic World of Education":
What’s that? Johnson is a self-professed Buddhist? No wonder she describes herself as a “student of … Buddhist philosophy” on her website.
So what was she doing presenting herself for Communion at her mother’s funeral if she apostatized? Why has she failed to mention this important fact in all of her appearances on the media?
Could it be, quite simply, because she herself has a political agenda? [...]
...I’m sick and tired of the media playing along with these agenda-driven personal stories while exercising zero vetting because they coincide with the media’s agenda.
Peters' point is that Johnson, a Buddhist, shouldn't be too concerned over the priest's refusal to give her communion. This, of course, depends on Johnson and her devotion -- or lack thereof -- to the Catholic faith. In the end, these details can only be speculated about. While critics would dismiss her claims, proponents, of course, would say that the priest's act was discriminatory.
(H/T: Washington Post)