Rev. Marcel Guarnizo, the priest who denied communion to Barbara Johnson, a Catholic lesbian woman, at her mother’s funeral, has been temporarily removed from pastoral duties and has had his priestly faculties suspended, because of “credible allegations” that he has intimidated pastoral staff and others, according to a letter from Washington, DC, Auxiliary Bishop Barry Knestout.
The letter, dated March 9, 2012, is addressed to priests in the Archdiocese of Washington. No mention of Ms. Johnson’s case is made in the letter. According to The Washington Post’s blog posting on this development, Fr. Thomas LaHood, pastor of St. John Neumann parish, Gaithersburg, where Fr. Guarnizo was assigned and where Ms. Johnson’s mother’s funeral Mass took place, announced the news to parishioners on Sunday,
“including noting — and repeating — that the removal was not related to the Communion standoff, but ‘pertains to actions over the past week or two.’ He did not elaborate.”
The Washington Post report adds that the pastor told the parishioners:
” ‘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. However, how we live out this love is important. The Scriptures tell us that we are known above all by how we love,’ he said before reading the letter. After, he said ‘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.’
“An archdiocesan spokeswoman Sunday would not clarify if LaHood’s comments meant that Guarnizo would not be penalized for his handling of Barbara Johnson at the funeral.”
Ms. Johnson has issued the following statement:
“The Johnson family continues to pray for the Archdiocese of Washington, Father Guarnizo, and all Catholics during this time of upheaval. While we understand this letter does not pertain to the events that occurred at our mother’s funeral, we are hopeful that Bishop Knestout’s decision will ensure that no others will have to undergo the traumatic experiences brought upon our family. We urge all Catholics to put aside political points of view, and pray that our Church will remain in Christ’s love.”
New Ways Ministry’s Executive Director, Francis DeBernardo, made the following statement about this development:
“The Archdiocese of Washington’s removal of Fr. Marcel Guarnizo from priestly duties and parish life pending an investigation is a good first step towards ensuring that full and just reconciliation can occur for Barbara Johnson, her family, and the people of St. John Neumann parish. Though the cruel and insensitive way that Fr. Guarnizo treated Ms. Johnson at her mother’s funeral is not mentioned in Bishop Knestout’s letter, it should definitely be included in any investigation of “intimidating behavior,” since that label can be accurately applied to his denial of communion to Ms. Johnson at her mother’s funeral. For that reason, Ms. Johnson and her family most certainly should be consulted in this investigation.
“This first step is necessary towards determining any future and permanent actions for Fr. Guarnizo. The Archdiocese of Washington also needs to take the important step of providing better training for priests and church professionals for ministering to and with LGBT people and their family members. The funeral incident caused tremendous pain for Ms. Johnson and her family, but it also revealed that training in pastoral care for LGBT people is sorely needed for all church professionals. Administering justice for Fr. Guarnizo’s actions is one step, but the only way to guarantee that such an incident doesn’t happen again is for better education on LGBT issues to be part of the church’s preparation for pastoral ministers.”
As Bondings 2.0 reported two days ago, Ms. Johnson will be a special guest at New Ways Ministry’s upcoming Seventh National Symposium, From Water to Wine: Lesbian/Gay Catholics and Relationships, March 15-17, 2012, Baltimore, Maryland. Ms. Johnson will address the Symposium participants and receive a blessing from them at the closing session on the morning of Saturday, March 17th.
“Barbara Johnson’s faith witness has been strong throughout this whole ugly incident,” said DeBernardo. “We are honored and humbled that she will be with us for the Symposium, and we are sure that all will benefit greatly from her presence.”
For more information about the Symposium, click here. For other past Bondings2.0posts about Barbara Johnson’s story, click on any of the following titles:
–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry