The Best of 2012 in Catholic LGBT News

Thumbs_upYesterday, we posted our list of the worst of 2012 in Catholic LGBT news.  Today, as promised, we end the year on a positive note by presenting our list of the BEST of the previous year.  Much good has happened in 2012, with Catholics at all levels of the church speaking out for justice and equality for LGBT people.

Thanks to the 286 of you who voted in our poll to determine the selection and ranking of these best news stories.  The percentage following each story is the percentage of people who chose this item as one of their top five.

The Top Ten

1. Catholic lay support aids marriage equality victories in Maine, Maryland, Minnesota, and Washington State. 23.08%

2. Priests in Minnesota and Maryland publicly counter the local hierarchy’s opposition to marriage equality. 14.69%  

3. Berlin’s Cardinal Rainer Maria Woelki suggests that the church should treat gay and straight couples similarly9.09%  

4 & 5.  TIE                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                             Bishop Richard Malone in Maine announces that the diocese will not take an active political role against the state’s marriage equality referendum. 8.39%                                                                                                                                                                                                                                         Surveys show increase in support for LGBT issues among Hispanics, especially Catholics. 8.39%

6. At New Ways Ministry’s Seventh National Symposium, Australia’s Bishop Geoffrey Robinson calls for the church hierarchy to re-think its sexual ethics teachings8.04% 

7 & 8. TIE                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    The University of Notre Dame gives official recognition to a gay-straight alliance after years of student activism. 5.24%                           Austrian Cardinal overturns a pastor’s decision to bar a gay man from serving on a parish council. 5.24%

9. Catholics in Media Associates gives its top award to TV’s Modern Family, a show featuring a gay family. 3.85%  

10. Maryland priest who denied communion to a lesbian woman at her mother’s funeral is removed from pastoral ministry. 3.5%  

Editor’s Note:  One item which we neglected to add to the list for voting was that Vice President Joe Biden, a  Catholic, endorsed marriage equality, paving the way for President Barack Obama to do the same.  Biden also referred to transgender equality as “the civil rights issue of our time.”  We feel these should deserve some mention on the list of the best Catholic news of 2012.  We regret that we didn’t include them for voting.  Mea maxima culpa.

Other items

Cardinal Francis George apologizes for comparing the LGBT community to the Ku Klux Klan. 2.45%  

Ontario requires all schools, including state-supported Catholic schools, to institute gay-straight alliances. 2.1%  

Jesuit author James Martin endorses Spirit Day, a national program to end bullying of LGBT youth. 2.1% 

Pastor at Most Holy Redeemer parish in San Francisco reverses his earlier decision to ban drag queens from parish events. 1.75%

Students at Stonehill College, a Catholic campus in Massachusetts, win a new and improved non-discrimination policy. 1.4%  

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

Priest Who Denied a Lesbian Communion Is No Longer Welcome in Archdiocese

Father Marcel Guarnizo

The priest who denied communion to a Catholic lesbian woman at her mother’s funeral Mass is no longer in active ministry in the Archdiocese of Washington, DC, where the incident occurred.

Father Marcel Guarnizo refused to offer a host to Barbara Johnson at St. John Neumann parish, Gaithersburg, Maryland, back in February.  The incident made international headlines.  Shortly afterwards, Guarnizo was placed on leave from ministry for unspecified “intimidating behavior,” and now the Archdiocese of Washington has revealed that he will no longer be ministering within its borders.

MSNBC. com reports that Chieko Noguchi Scheve, director of media and public relations for the Archdiocese of Washington, announced on July 10th:

“Fr. Marcel Guarnizo is a priest of the Archdiocese of Moscow, Russia, who was given a temporary assignment at St. John Neumann parish. That assignment period has ended and Father Guarnizo is no longer in ministry in the Archdiocese of Washington.

“Scheve did not comment further on the matter.”

Barbara Johnson

The website also reports on Ms. Johnson’s response to this announcement:

“She told on Monday that she was relieved by the archdiocese’s move, although she thought it might have more to do with the alleged ‘intimidating’ behavior than how she was treated at her mother’s funeral.

“ ‘It gives me great comfort to see that the Archdiocese of Washington acted swiftly initially not only to point out that his behavior was wrong and not in accordance with their policy but then to suspend him. And this final message from them says to me that, unfortunately, this was not a person that was meant to be in the ministry in this region,’ she said. ‘Knowing that he will not be able to visit such pain on another family in the Washington archdiocese gives me and my family a lot of comfort.’

“One positive aspect of what happened to her was that ‘it showed the very human face of the issue regarding the church and the church’s teachings, and behavior towards the LGBT community within the church,’ she said. ‘I just wish that there was a more global and more positive church response to the LGBT community’ on issues such as marriage equality and communion.”

In interviews during this incident, Ms. Johnson spoke eloquently on the need for better understanding between the institutional church and its LGBT members.  In March, shortly after the funeral incident,  she addressed New Ways Ministry’s Seventh National Symposium in Baltimore, Maryland,  and thanked Catholics for the amazing outpouring of love she received and about how the church needs to focus on its mission of love:

“What matters…and all that matters…is love. The love that you, and so many others have shown me during my darkest hours, has been uplifting and healing. . . .”

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

Priest Who Denied Communion to Lesbian Woman Is Removed from Parish Ministry

Rev. Marcel Guarnizo

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.”

Barbara Johnson

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:

“Communion Denied to Lesbian Woman at Her Mother’s Funeral”

“Is It Possible to Find Hope in This Week’s Painful New”

“Lesbian Denied Communion Explains How Her Faith Has Been Strengthened”

“Barbara Johnson to Address New Ways Ministry Symposium!”

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

Lesbian Denied Communion Explains How Her Faith Has Been Strengthened

Barbara Johnson

Barbara Johnson’s story about how she was denied communion at her mother’s funeral because of her lesbian relationship has struck a nerve with Catholics–and so many other people–across the country and around the globe.  She is emerging not as a victim, however, but as a woman of faith who wants to contribute to the life of the church.

In an interview with CNN, Ms Johnson spoke of the pain of the incident, of how they want the priest removed from ministry so that no other family experiences the same pain, and that the incident has actually strengthened her faith:

“My family are very appreciate of all of the outreach we’ve received. However, we believe the only reason to be talking about this still is because we would not want any other family to go through what was the worst experience on the very worst day of all of our lives…we feel that it is important that Father Marcel is removed from parish life. . . .”

“My immediate response to this whole incident was anger and upset, and my first thought was that I would never return to the church. In the days that followed, through a lot of prayer and an outpouring of support and love from many devout Catholics and the clergy themselves its actually strengthened my faith in the Church itself.”

(You can watch the interview on CNN’s website by clicking here.)

Ms. Johnson’s statements are a testimony to how the power of the church defined as the People of God can work miracles of healing for those abused by leaders.

As evidence of the international interest in this incident,, a British Catholic LGBT blog, has already reported twice about it: the first post reports the incident; the second post offers analysis and reflection.

In a Windy City Times article, Chuck Colbert reports on the messages and significance that this incident has for the church. He quotes New Ways Ministry’s Francis DeBernardo:

“What it tells me is there has to be a lot better pastoral training of priests, particularly on gay and lesbian issues.”

Colbert also cites Mary Hunt, co-founder and co-director of the Women’s Alliance for Theology, Ethics and Ritual (WATER), who stated:

“The Eucharist is a sacrament, not a political football. . . .This terrible abuse of one family at a time of great pastoral need is but a snapshot of anti-LGBTQ theology in action. It is outdated, outmoded, and outrageous.”

In an op-ed, on the Washington Post’s “On Faith” blog, DignityUSA’s Marianne Duddy-Burke highlights the growing pastoral crisis that this incident might pre-figure:

“The reality is that this could happen to almost any one of us, given the escalating conflicts between pastoral care and the demand for adherence to a handful of socially conservative aspects of doctrine being played out in Catholic churches across the country. Whether we Catholics use birth control, have remarried after a divorce, believe that women are qualified for official ministry, or support lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender equality, most of us hold several views that contradict official Roman Catholic teaching. Could any of us be the next Barbara Johnson?” has posted the response of Joe Murray of the Rainbow Sash Movement,which concludes:

“The present climate of hostility to everything LGBT in the Catholic Church I fear has only encouraged this priest to take this course of action. I fear the example set by US Catholic Bishops in their open hostility to the Gay and Lesbian Community has led this priest to believe he is just following orders.”

Bondings 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 incident.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry