Fr. Marcel Guarnizo, the Catholic priest who has come under fire after withholding communion from a lesbian woman during her mother's funeral, has broken his silence. In a release published on CNSNews.com, Guarnizo defended his actions, refuted details and attempted to provide his side of the story.
As The Blaze has reported, the woman, Barbara Johnson, has publicly called for 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. In his written statement, he says that he "did the only thing a faithful Catholic priest could do in such an awkward situation."
He began his letter with condolences for the Johnson family, then he launched into his version regarding what happened at the funeral on Feb. 25. According to Guarnizo's recap of the events, his refusal to provide communion was done quietly and without fanfare. Additionally, Johnson ended up getting communion from a Eucharistic minister after he declined to offer it, the priest says. Guarnizo also clarified that he, like other priests, is not anxious to withhold communion, but that the circumstances led to -- and in his view warranted -- such an action:
In the past ten days, many Catholics have referenced Canon 915 in regard to this specific circumstance. There are other reasons for denying communion which neither meet the threshold of Canon 915 or have any explicit connection to the discipline stated in that canon.
If a Quaker, a Lutheran or a Buddhist, desiring communion had introduced himself as such, before Mass, a priest would be obligated to withhold communion. If someone had shown up in my sacristy drunk, or high on drugs, no communion would have been possible either. If a Catholic, divorced and remarried (without an annulment) would make that known in my sacristy, they too according to Catholic doctrine, would be impeded from receiving communion. This has nothing to do with Canon 915. Ms. Johnson’s circumstances are precisely one of those relations which impede her access to communion according to Catholic teaching. Ms. Johnson was a guest in our parish, not the arbitrer of how sacraments are dispensed in the Catholic Church.
In all of the above circumstances, I would have been placed in a similar uncomfortable position. Under these circumstances, I quietly withheld communion, so quietly that even the Eucharistic Minister standing four feet from me was not aware I had done so. (In fact Ms. Johnson promptly chose to go to the Eucharistic minister to receive communion and did so.) There was no scandal, no “public reprimand” and no small lecture as some have reported.
Details matter. Ms. Johnson was not kneeling when she approached for communion, she did not receive the cup as the press has reported she has stated. It is the policy of St. John Neumann parish never to distribute under both species during funerals.
As The Blaze reported in an earlier piece, Johnson has allegedly admitted allegiance to the Buddhist faith in the past. This, in itself, would provide reasoning -- at least by Guarnizo's own words -- for the refusal to provide communion to her. Now, there's no evidence the priest knew of her faith, as he doesn't mention it as a reasoning for withholding. But the revelation of her beliefs as it pertains to Catholic law is interesting nonetheless.
Also, Guarnizo goes on to refute the notion that he walked out on the funeral due to the couple's sexuality. Instead, he says he took some time away from the event (about 25 minutes) to recover from a migraine he felt coming on. He continues:
I finished the Mass and accompanied the body of the deceased in formal procession to the hearse, which was headed to the cemetery. I am subject to occasional severe migraines, and because the pain at that point was becoming disabling, I communicated to our funeral director that I was incapacitated and he arranged one of my brother priests to be present at the cemetery to preside over the rite of burial.
Furthermore, as the testimony of the priest that was at the cemetery conveys, he was present when the Johnson family arrived, and in fact mentioned that being called to cover the burial rite is quite normal, as many priests for reasons much less significant than mine (rush hour traffic, for example) do not make the voyage to the cemetery. He routinely covers for them. This change in plans, was also invisible to the rest of the entourage. Regrets and information about my incapacitating migraine were duly conveyed to the Johnson family. [...]
I did not and would not refuse to accompany Barbara Johnson and her mother to the cemetery because she is gay or lives with a woman. I did not in any way seek to dishonor her memory, and my homily at the funeral should have made that quite evident to all in the pews, including the Johnson family.
The priest goes on to say that his removal from official activity has everything to do with the communion incident and nothing to do with "intimidating behavior" claims that were announced by Bishop Barry Knestout. Read the rest of his response here.