Communion Denied to Lesbian Woman at Her Mother’s Funeral

The blogosphere has been abuzz with the news that Rev. Marcel Guarnizo, a priest at St. John Neumann parish in Gaithersburg, Maryland (Archdiocese of Washington), recently denied communion to a lesbian woman at her mother’s funeral.  HuffingtonPost.com has posted a summary of various blog posts on the incident, including Ann Werner’s post on AddictingInfo.org, which broke the story.   Werner offers the details:

“My friend Barbara [Johnson], the daughter of the deceased woman, was denied communion at her mother’s funeral. She was the first in line and Fr. Guarnizo covered the bowl containing the host and said to her,  ‘I cannot give you communion because you live with a woman and that is a sin according to the church.’  To add insult to injury, Fr. Guarnizo left the altar when she delivered her eulogy to her mother. When the funeral was finished he informed the funeral director that he could not go to the gravesite to deliver the final blessing because he was sick.”

WUSA9.com, the website for a Washington-DC TV station, reports that the Archdiocese of Washington has issued a statement denouncing the incident:

“In a written statement, the Archdiocese of Washington conceded that Father Marcel had acted improperly, saying, ‘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.’

“Barbara Johnson says she’s satisfied with the statement, though she adds that the damage done, both to her family and to her mother’s memory, could never be repaired.”

An action like this from a priest should not be tolerated.  What is still needed is a public apology from the priest and an offer of pastoral mediation between him, the woman, and her family.  These remedies are possible if Catholics contact Cardinal Donald Wuerl, the head of the Archdiocese of Washington. His contact information:

Cardinal Donald Wuerl                                                                                                                                                      Archdiocese of Washington                                                                                                                                                               P.O. Box 29260                                                                                                                                                                        Washington, DC 20017-0260  

chancery@adw.org

Tell Cardinal Wuerl that as a Catholic you oppose such blatant discrimination and pastoral incompetence.  Let him know that you consider the action offensive and insensitive.  Explain that you support free and equal access to communion of all Catholics, especially at such a pastorally critical moment as a funeral.  Let him know of your love and support of LGBT people.  Request that he instruct all his priests and pastoral ministers not to repeat such an action.  Call on him to provide pastoral training on LGBT issues for his priests and pastoral ministers. Ask him to call for an apology from Fr. Guarnizo, and to offer pastoral mediation between this priest, Ms. Johnson, and her family.  Speak from your heart and from your faith.

It’s important to keep in mind that Fr. Guarnizo’s action is not representative of the thousands of priests who minister daily to LGBT and heterosexual Catholics across the country.  At the same time, one incident is one too many.  As the blogosphere echoes with the reverberations of this story, this priest’s action is sending a loud negative message about the Catholic Church to LGBT people and their allies.  While we try to correct this negativity by writing to the Cardinal, we must also counter it by reminding people of our own stories of positive and affirming Catholic parishes which welcome and celebrate LGBT people.  Most importantly,we must speak out to Cardinal Wuerl to ensure that reconciliation occurs, and that an incident like this one never happens again.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

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25 Responses to Communion Denied to Lesbian Woman at Her Mother’s Funeral

  1. Thanks so much for telling us about this, as it is indeed very troubling. I have to wonder what the pastoral atmosphere is like at St. John Neumann parish, where such an attitude is allowed to exist? Given what the pastor very recently wrote in the parish bulletin about Marriage, the actions of Fr. Guarnizo may not be all that surprising. The pastor, Fr. LaHood, recently (2/12/2012, http://www.saintjohnneumann.org/Main/sjnPastorsLetter.htm) compared same-sex marriage to slavery and several other moral issues. Specifically, he wrote: “The invocation of slavery and same sex marriage in the same category may seem startling. But, they both come under the same moral category.” Unfortunately, he does not go on to explain how, in his view, they fall “under the same moral category.”

    • Thanks for this additional piece of relevant information, Tim!

    • Amadeus says:

      Totally contrary to what is stated on their website homepage, “By our baptism, we have become disciples of Christ and members of His Holy Church. As disciples of Christ, we are called to love the Lord above all things and to love others as Christ loves us. We manifest our love for the Lord through faithfully offering the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass and through prayer. Our love for the Lord also motivates us to use our gifts and talents in loving service to His people.”

  2. This is outrageous, In claiming to be upholding the Catechism, Fr Guarnizo is displaying woeful ignorance ot it, on at least three counts. First, there is nothing at all in the Catechism against two women simply living together. There is only (alleged) sin if there are “genital acts”. He has not made any such claim to justify his action.
    It would also be quite improper to assume that such acts occur, or even if they do, that they are subjectively sinful. We all have an obligation to follow conscience in these (and all other) matters. The catechism also teaches that we may not judge the state of another’s conscience.
    Third, there is an equally important part of Catechism teaching, which has been flagrantly ignored: to treat us with “respect, compassion and sensitivity”. Fr Guarnizo has displayed none of these. If acting contrary to the Catechism is necessarily sinful, then by his own standards he is himself in sin. That is why he needs to apologize. The theory of confession states that not only must we repent and confess our sins – but also that for absolution, we must make reparation to those we have injured. The hurt in this case cannot be undone – the least that will suffice is a public apology.

    Without it, by his own logic, Fr Guarniza should himself be denied communion.

  3. [...] Communion Denied to Lesbian Woman at Her Mother’s Funeral « Bondings 2.0. [...]

  4. As I understand it, the principle is that you do not make a scandal at the Communion rail. That is the moment of communion with God- the priest has disturbed that communion by his acts. Another Anglican told me that the Catholics will always give communion if you go up for it- though I would not, myself, put a priest in that position. To do this at the woman’s mother’s funeral is an act of monstrous cruelty. Has this priest ever given communion to a divorcee?

  5. Ann Connolly says:

    Can anyone be surprised that the current toxic tone of the American Catholic Church toward lesbian/gay persons has resulted in this deplorable act of cruelty? With the Church sanctioned exclusion and judgment extended toward those in the LGBT community, our bishops/priests need to take a close look at their own personal spirituality. Theirs is a far cry from the loving outreach to the marginalized that Jesus Christ modeled while on earth. Theymay be Catholic, but are not worthy to be called Christian!

  6. [...] Communion Denied to Lesbian Woman at Her Mother’s Funeral (newwaysministryblog.wordpress.com) [...]

  7. wild hair says:

    Father Marcel Guarnizo states: “I cannot give you communion because you live with a woman and that is a sin…”

    I wonder if Jesus would have to come down and give Father Marcel Guarnizo communion. For only sinless people get to receive the Lord, Jesus.

  8. Vern Smith says:

    Goodness, gracious . . . just when I allow myself to get a bit complacent, allow myslef to think, “Well, we really have come a long way in the last 40 years. Marriage equality is coming to Maryland, the governor signs it into law Thursday. Let’s relax a little and celebrate!” And then this ridiculously insensitive act takes place in famously liberal and suburban Montgomery County, MD . . . not in a more conservative rural town like where I was raised. It just goes to show: celebrate the progress, but stay the course in the fight for LGBTQ rights . . . and against ignorance, fear, and hatred. In addition to writing the bishop, I hope that the good people of this parish take their leaders to task in a spirit of love. May the parishioners demand better of their priest, and speak out until reconciliation is made with their parishioner, and with the entire community. And may his good brother priests in the DC area reach out to him with the same sense of urgency, to get him to realize the damage he has done, and to right the wrong. The call for reconciliation needs to come from all directions: from the grass roots of the community to the top of the local hierarchy.

  9. Michael says:

    As being a Parishioner to St. John Nuemann church my entire life i have never seen so much hate come a this man! this is a holy man and very well respected i believe that this news that was written is extremely bias and meant for people to see only one side of the story and not the other half! i feel ashamed for who ever wrote this and i will be praying for them.

    -God bless the world

    • Michael: While I cannot speak for others, I’m sure you can understand that what people are reacting to is not Fr. Guarnizo per se, but rather to his actions and what has been reported to have happened at this funeral. As far as I can see in all the coverage, there has been no challenge to the facts of the incident itself, so I’m not quite sure what “other half” of the story there is that you are referring to. However, if the facts as reported accurately reflect what happened, then Fr. Guarnizo’s actions are totally inexcusable and not in any way in accord what how a priest should act (especially during the Eucharistic Liturgy, and even more so at a Funeral Mass). Note, I say this as one who was ordained a priest and who had the honor and privilege of celebrating hundreds of funerals in my years in active ministry. He may indeed be a “holy man,” but even holy people do unholy and un-Christian things — and to treat a grieving member of the Body of Christ by denying her the gift of the Eucharist is one of the most egregious things a priest can do. Not only did he stand in judgment of this woman, he did so in a public way that has truly caused scandal to the Church. If he is indeed a “holy man,” his heart will be open to seeing how wrong he was to do what he did.
      Yes, may God indeed bless all the world and all God’s holy people — including God’s LGBT sons and daughters.

  10. [...] suggesting that apology for his own possible sin would be appropriate. As Frances DeBernardo did at New Ways/Bondings yesterday, I urge that you too, do the [...]

  11. JUANITA DORNER says:

    I am appalled that this priest has been reprimanded for doing what is right!!! he followed solid doctrine. two wrongs do not make a right. The woman ought to know that she is living a life outside accepted Catholic doctrine. The reprimand goes along with the liberal mode of what is wrong with our culture. She identified herself as lesbian and mandated that the priest do what is correct. making all kinds of exceptions is a mockery of Jesus Himself. The archdiocese needs to pubicly apologize to this priest stating that his actions were congruent with Catholic doctrine and law. I applaud this priest; may all priests follow his actions.

  12. Mike Jacobson says:

    This is not a gay-friendly parish! You know this! http://newwaysministry.org/GFP.html

  13. [...] 2.0 has already reported on this incident twice: 1) calling for Catholics to write to the Archdiocese of Washington; and 2) asking readers if and how they find any hope from this [...]

  14. [...] funeral at St John Neumann parish, Gaithersburg, Maryland.  You can read the initial story here.  Since then,  news outlets across the country have run with the story.  The Washington [...]

  15. [...] 2.0‘s three reports about the event; you can access those posts, in chronological order, here, here, and here.  Ms. Johnson’s experience continues to make headlines.  Just this week, [...]

  16. [...] Marcel Guarnizo, the priest who denied communion to Barbara Johnson, a Catholic lesbian woman, at her mother’s funeral, has been temporarily [...]

  17. [...] Catholic lesbian woman in Maryland is denied communion at her mother’s funeral Mass. [...]

  18. […] funeral at St John Neumann parish, Gaithersburg, Maryland.  You can read the initial story here.  Since then,  news outlets across the country have run with the story.  The Washington […]

  19. […] event is reminiscent of a 2012 incident when Barbara Johnson, a lesbian woman in Maryland, was denied Communion at her mother’s funeral. In that case, the priest was not only removed from ministry, but […]

  20. […] had one terrible occasion of pastoral care violation directed toward an LGBT person when in 2012, Barbara Johnson, a lesbian woman was denied communion at her mother’s funeral.  In that case, the […]

  21. […] funeral at St John Neumann parish, Gaithersburg, Maryland.  You can read the initial story here.  Since then,  news outlets across the country have run with the story.  The Washington […]

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