Priest defends denying Communion to lesbian

A Catholic priest who was pulled from ministry after a furor over denying communion to a lesbian at her mother?s funeral insists he did the right thing, and criticized the Washington archdiocese for disciplining him. By David Gibson.

(RNS) A Catholic priest who was pulled from ministry after a furor over denying Communion to a lesbian at her mother’s funeral insists he did the right thing and criticized the Washington archdiocese for disciplining him.

“I did the only thing a faithful Catholic priest could do in such an awkward situation, quietly, with no intention to hurt or embarrass,” the Rev. Marcel Guarnizo said of his decision to withhold Communion from Barbara Johnson during a Feb. 25 funeral Mass for Johnson’s mother.

Guarnizo, who issued a statement to conservative Catholic news outlets on Wednesday (March 14), explained that he left the altar for a few minutes during the funeral and did not accompany the family to the cemetery because a migraine attack had left him “incapacitated.”

While both sides offer differing accounts, Guarnizo said he learned moments before the funeral at St. John Neumann Catholic Church in Gaithersburg, Md., that Johnson was a lesbian and was attending the Mass with her partner. Guarnizo refused Johnson Communion when she approached the altar during the liturgy.

The Archdiocese of Washington said the priest’s action was a violation of church policy because he had not spoken in detail with Johnson beforehand to be able to make a proper determination of her status. The archdiocese later placed Guarnizo on administrative leave, citing “intimidating behavior toward parish staff and others that is incompatible with proper priestly ministry” in unrelated incidents.

In his statement, Guarnizo accused archdiocesan officials of treating him unfairly, and said “the lack of clarity on this most basic issue puts at risk other priests who wish to serve the Catholic Church in Washington, D.C.”

Guarnizo said that he denied Communion to Johnson — a baptized Catholic — on the same basis that he would have denied it to a “Quaker, a Lutheran or a Buddhist,” or someone who “had shown up in my sacristy drunk, or high on drugs.”