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Incident Spurs Reflection on Holy Communion

Given the importance of this matter, and how it is a special teaching moment, here is an article from the archdiocesan newspaper . . .

Incident at St. John Neumann spurs reflection on significance of Holy Communion

Special to the Standard

Recent news accounts have reported an incident at St. John Neumann Parish in Gaithersburg, where a woman was initially denied Communion at her mother’s funeral Mass (she did, however, receive Communion from a Eucharistic minister) and the celebrant did not attend the burial. (Another priest did preside at the graveside service.) In response, the Archdiocese of Washington issued a statement (below) and Auxiliary Bishop Barry Knestout, vicar general, personally contacted members of the family.

This is the statement issued by the archdiocese on February 27:

“In matters of faith and morals, the Church has the responsibility of teaching and of bringing the light of the Gospel message to the circumstances of our day. When questions arise about whether or not individuals should present themselves for Communion, it is not the policy of the Archdiocese of Washington to publicly reprimand the person. 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.

“The archdiocese is looking into the incident at a funeral Mass that was celebrated by Father Marcel Guarnizo and will handle this as a personnel issue.”

This situation provides an opportunity to refresh our understanding of the Eucharist, its importance and the guidelines on how it is to be administered and received.

For Catholics, the Eucharist is the most important of the seven sacraments because we believe that through this mystery, we literally receive the Body and Blood of Christ. It is not just a symbol. Jesus is truly present Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity. It is an intimate encounter with Christ, in which we sacramentally receive Christ into our bodies, and become more completely assimilated into his.

Therefore, because the Eucharist is Christ himself, who is the center of all Christian life, the Church teaches that Catholics must be properly disposed to receive the Eucharist worthily. Catholics should examine their conscience and make use of the Sacrament of Reconciliation if they have committed grave sin before receiving the Body and Blood of Christ.

The following guidelines, issued by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, clarify how Catholics should prepare prior to receiving the Eucharist:

“As Catholics, we fully participate in the celebration of the Eucharist when we receive Holy Communion. We are encouraged to receive Communion devoutly and frequently. In order to be properly disposed to receive Communion, participants should not be conscious of grave sin and normally should have fasted for one hour. A person who is conscious of grave sin is not to receive the Body and Blood of the Lord without prior sacramental Confession except for a grave reason where there is no opportunity for Confession. In this case, the person is to be mindful of the obligation to make an act of perfect contrition, including the intention of confessing as soon as possible (canon 916). A frequent reception of the sacrament of penance is encouraged for all.”

The priest has an obligation to make sure that the sacraments are respected. Since it is difficult to know what is in a person’s heart, it is also important that when doubt arises regarding whether a person is properly disposed to receive the Eucharist, it is handled in a pastoral and compassionate manner, privately between the priest and the communicant.

The reception of the Eucharist is a blessing and a grace. We should receive Jesus with the intention of becoming more like him. No one is entitled to the Eucharist. It is a free gift that should be received with humility and reverence. It is also a sign of unity with the Church’s teaching on faith and morals.

CLICK for Guidelines for the Communion Line

NEWS ALERT:  Ms Johnson is Buddhist and Gay Rights Activist!

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27 Responses

  1. Fr was not only protecting the Eucharist, but IMHO, he was also trying to protect her own eternity. If the facts that I have read are accurate, and she truly told him prior to the Mass, and introduced her ‘lover’ … she may very well have had her own agenda. That’s the sad part that we, as observers, will never know. But HE will. Lord, have Mercy!

  2. What happened between the priest and the daughter at Communion had nothing to do with presiding over the burial of the mother. Clearly, the priest should have continued his duties of presiding over the burial of the mother, after the Mass.

  3. Both were in the wrong, but it began with Barbara Johnson. It seems she was willing to use even her mother’s funeral to further a personal agenda. Even though she obviously had no respect for the priest or the Eucharist and the teachings of the Church, she should have shown respect for her mother’s Faith by not presenting herself for Communion. Sadly, this is an issue upon which our American bishops cannot seem to agree. In our Diocese, Biden would be refused Communion, as would any public official who is openly pro-abortion.

    Unfortunately, in Washington, DC, they continue to make a mockery of the Sacrament and the Church. This priest got caught in that fallout. My heart goes out to him for trying to preserve the sanctity of the Eucharist.

    My priest would have refused her Communion by virtue of the fact that first of all, she is not in communion with the Church. She is a self-professed Buddhist. She may not receive the Eucharist because her MOTHER was Catholic, not even at her mother’s funeral. Secondly, Father Guarnizo knew of her lifestyle. She wrote about it, and appeared before the priest with her “lover.” She made their lifestyle public knowledge. To my mind, she gave Father no choice but to ask her not to present herself for Communion which he did before the funeral began. He tried to avoid any scandal. No one in attendance should have thought it unusual for a non-Catholic lesbian activist not to receive Jesus in the Eucharist. When someone is in a state of mortal sin, that sin is compounded by them receiving the Eucharist unworthily. His concern was for both the integrity of the Eucharist and the state of her soul. When she ignored him and presented herself anyway, he should not have said a word, however, but merely given her a blessing. Was she also told not to give a eulogy and came forward for that also? We do not know, but it seems she would be bold enough to have done so.

    FATHER JOE: It is against the liturgical policies of the Archdiocese of Washington to give individual blessings during the reception of Holy Communion. The practice started in Catholic schools for purposes of inclusion in regard to Protestant children and young Catholic children who had not yet received their First Penance and First Communion. Increasingly adults are coming forward with the crossed arms (signifying a request for a blessing and not communion). However, if the person is not a believer or in a state of grace— the blessing would be of dubious value. A person in mortal sin is not spiritually disposed for God’s favor or for merit.

    From here on, I feel Father Guarnizo was at fault. Though to receive our Lord, she attempted to deliberately put him in a compromising position. He was wrong to leave during the eulogy. He should have dealt with this privately at another time. He was certainly wrong for not continuing on to the cemetery. His obligation was to the deceased – despite her daughter’s disrespect. One of the corporal works of mercy is to bury the dead.

    Unfortunately, he let his emotions get the best of him, and gave Barbara Johnson more ammunition. His priesthood requires him to act in persona Christi. He should have been the “better man” here. Instead he stooped to Barbara Johnson’s level.

    FATHER JOE: The priest said that he suffers from severe migraines, often brought on by anxiety and stress. He came back out and completed the funeral commendation rites and escorted the casket to the door. He had another priest do the graveside ceremony. This is not unusual. Often because of illness, tight schedules and long distances to travel, priests will get another priest or a deacon to do the brief graveside prayers. Father Guarnizo still offered the funeral Mass for the repose of the dead woman’s soul. Unlike Protestant services, such prayer for the dead is his primary purpose. The secondary purpose is to give consolation to the grieving. Whatever else might be said, to this extent he did his duty for the deceased.

    I am afraid our priests will face more of these publicity stunts which attempt to degrade the Sacraments They must be willing to face criticism for holding fast to the teachings of the Church. It is time our bishops stand together when our Sacraments come under attack. This is not a place for compromise. It lends validity to the actions of public figures who blatantly and persistently commit mortal sins for the entire world to see, and then, present themselves for Communion. It is confusing. It gives the impression that even though you are not in a state of grace, you may still present yourself to receive Jesus in the Eucharist. No repentance required. This is contrary to Scripture, the Catechism and Canon Law. The Sacrament of Reconciliation is available and required rather than receiving the Eucharist unworthily.

    FATHER JOE: There seems to be some dispute among the canonists as to what the law of the Church required. Like most priests I know, we feel badly for the man. It seems that he did not act out of malice. Sometimes it is hard to know what to do. Good priests want to do the right thing. We want to safeguard the sacraments and not cause scandal against the faith. We also want to be obedient and respectful of just ecclesial authority.

    We need to continue to pray for our priests.

  4. I really do not know much about the priest or how a clergyman of the Archdiocese of Moscow came to be assigned in the parish. I have never met him. I understand that he was charged with raising funds for the Church in Eastern Europe. I anticipate he will soon be waving goodbye to family in Northern Virginia and flying back to Russia. We have probably seen the last of a priest who apparently tried to do the right thing. But I suspect we will be seeing and hearing a great deal more of Barbara Johnson. She has been featured on the media daily and continues to seek publicity, even though it may be turning some public sympathy against her. It is becoming clear that funeral or no funeral, she would be upset with any priest who labels her lifestyle as immoral or asks that she refrain from the sacrament. Here is more proof of the pudding:

    New Ways Ministry’s Seventh National Symposium, From Water to Wine: Lesbian/Gay Catholics and Relationships — Saturday, March 17, 2012.

    Maryland Governor O’Malley will share the floor with Barbara Johnson (and her partner) at the upcoming New Ways Conference in Baltimore! A retired dissenting Australian bishop purportedly will offer the liturgy and give communion to lesbian, homosexual, bi-sexual and transgendered attendees.

    There will be a celebration of the recent passage of Same-Sex Marriage in Maryland.

    Ms Johnson will address the assembled meeting participants about her recent experiences. Immediately following her remarks, the participants will confer a blessing upon Ms. Johnson, her partner, and their entire family.

    Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend will also speak and promote her book that argues for silencing the voice of the Church in politics and the public forum, a view held by other dissenting Catholics in government.

    The organization has been censured by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops for its dissent from Catholic teaching on homosexuality. Their agenda is to change Catholic teaching and practice regarding same-sex relationships. Barbara Johnson has lamented that a priest ruined her mother’s day at the funeral; however, there has been no reservation on her part to publicize her grievance and to accept the celebrity status given her in the cause of promoting what many regard as human perversity. She seems to have gotten what she wanted.

    This matter gets worse and worse.

    Over and over again she repeated her desire for revenge.

    She told the press…

    “Before we will feel resolution, my family wants a public apology from Father Marcel, and to see him removed from parish life. Our purpose is that he never be allowed to harm another family in this way again.”

    She wrote the priest…

    “You brought your politics, not your God into that Church yesterday, and you will pay dearly on the day of judgment for judging me. I will pray for your soul, but first I will do everything in my power to see that you are removed from parish life so that you will not be permitted to harm any more families.”

  5. Dear Fr. Joe,

    God smote Sodom and Gomorrah and also all those satan inspired acts such as Babel. It is simply a sign that satan is on the ascendant and that’s predicted in the Bible.

    Rowan Williams, a sort of pope for the protestants has announced that he’s standing down (no doubt with a nice pension!), and I suspect that the homosexuality and priestesses issues have given him cause for stress, but he has been walked over, possibly because he wanted to be, by these disoriented and determined deviants. He failed to stand firm and uphold the teaching of Christ and The Bible, but then the protestants have a history of that. At least he will be out of the picture when they start marrying men to men and women to God knows what!

    I fail to see how this system can continue for much longer, the banks, the hidden hand, the lack of moral compass and the inertia of all our leaders, the world wide fiat monetary deception. I would give it 10 years at the most and then we will see Jesus coming back on a cloud as the King of the Universe, and many will be cast into the lake of fire. I pray to God that I will be dead before then and that He will mercifully judge me as faithful to his law.

    And don’t forget the apostasy that has been predicted and is actually happening in front of our eyes.

    I understand the need to edit……..that’s OK.

    With love, Paul.

  6. Dear Fr. Joe,

    This need not be a nightmare for either the Church or the much maligned Priest Fr Guarnizo if the Church had the courage to stand behind her Priest and publicly support him.

    Those trusted with much are expected to honour that trust. They singularly fail to deliver.

    The cover up of errant priests too is terrible.

    And do you know what is at the bottom of all this?…money!!!

    We are told that the love of money is the route of all evil, and so too here. Either those who are trusted with the adminstration are worried about litigation (the American disease), or they don’t want to upset “The Faithful” lest the pews empty and the revenue drops off.

    I implore the Catholic Church to stand behind her Faithful Priests.

    With a sort of frustrated love, Paul

    [FATHER JOE: Sorry for the heavy editing. Remember, I am a frog living in this particular pond.]

  7. This incident is really becoming a nightmare for everyone concerned.

    The funeral is over, but how about this week, or next? What if she goes to your church or my church? What if she goes to the cathedral and gets into the bishop’s communion line? What if she brings her friends? She is now the poster-girl for lesbianism in the Catholic Church around the globe. She has been on television and in the newspapers. She will be the guest, along with her “lover” at the New Ways Convention coming up in Baltimore. She does not quietly live the gay life but is a public advocate for it. She is also a practicing Buddhist who feels that the Church needs to be open to heretical teachings and practices. Who decides now whether she can receive? Are we ready for the cameras that will go off the next time she takes the sacrament? Has the Church boxed itself into a corner with her and her fellow dissenters? This is more than a personnel matter, it is a teaching moment to which the Church needs to respond. The enemies of the Church are having a party. Faithful Catholics are upset and confused.

    We may have lost the initial battle of the MARRIAGE MATTERS political fight in Maryland, but we must still fight for the truth in society, no matter how unpopular. There is also the matter of working with God’s grace in trying to save souls. We need to win the hearts and minds of our people.

  8. Can a priest deliberately extend a personal blessing upon a person who is a manifest sinner? Just as with the Eucharist, (which should nurture us with a share in the divine life), can come to our judgment; what benefits can be obtained from a blessing when a person is not disposed to grace?

    While I would probably have handled things differently, are we not obliged to accept the priest’s assertion that he became ill? Emotional stress, combined with a proclivity toward migraines might certainly have overcome him— especially when he was struggling to keep control of the situation. His first obligation here, as you said, was to bury the dead and to bring solace to mourners. But what was said in the eulogies? Years ago, I had to stop a eulogy because the speaker was a Protestant minister and he began to berate Church teaching about purgatory and prayer for the dead. He made the funeral an opportunity to proselytize. Was this eulogy a celebration of her sexual orientation and a call for tolerance? Did he interpret her actions and remarks as an attack on the faith? Further, given that those gathered sympathized with the woman, did he feel safe to continue to the cemetery? There are many questions that complicate this case. From pictures I have seen, he is a young men. Young men often make mistakes and should be mentored and forgiven. But do we know all the facts? If he did what he thought was right, has he been wronged?

    The Mass itself can bring forgiveness to venial sins. Note how the Mass begins with the Confiteor and Kyrie. The Gloria also emphasizes that we are sinners and must be washed clean by the blood of the Lamb, Jesus. This is all by way of helping us to be properly disposed for the sacrament.

    I am also worried about “publicity stunts” that distort the meaning and importance of the Eucharist. Such was a major worry for me, given that the published guidelines seem to imply situations where a priest might have to withhold communion. But who actually makes that determination? I was worried a week ago that we might have droves of dissenters in our communion lines, advertising their same-sex behavior and/or pro-abortion stands, on hats and tee-shirts. I have seen people come to Mass wearing political advertisements and even Planned Parenthood shirts and buttons. Is such sufficient to turn them away? The late Cardinal O’Connor had the Eucharist spat into his face by such dissenters. It can get much worse before things get better. We have to be careful not to give mixed signals. Determination may force altercations; passivity may undermine moral authority.

    Every mobile phone records both audio and pictures. The legendary fish bowl has now turned into a television where the priest is on a reality show. When bishops or simple priests gave communion to John Kerry or Nancy Pelosi or the late Ted Kennedy, it was an even bet that the photo would be picked up by the right-wing press and blogs. Deny communion, and one might face Church censure and recrimination from left-wing organizations and the liberal media. Is there any way to avoid scandal and controversy?

    I am very sympathetic to those voices who say that we should refuse the sacrament to those who have taken public stances against the sanctity of life. I have a couple of friends among the bishops who have made such the policy in their dioceses. But, as a priest under authority, I am also an extension of my Ordinary’s ministry and must follow his lead. Such is an element of priestly obedience that many good people do not understand. Further, pretty much all the bishops support teachings about marriage, human sexuality and the sanctity of life. Where they disagree is how we might (in practice) best promote these values and preserve the place of the Church in a secular society.

    Every good priest takes seriously his obligation to safeguard and to honor our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament. But the priest can say and do nothing that violates the seal of Confession. Further, except for a few notable saints, few priests are able to read souls. Thus, there is a presumption that the person who comes forward is worthy of the sacrament. Reception signifies faith in the real presence and unity with the Church. Apart from the creed, receiving the Eucharist is a faith profession in all that the Church believes and witnesses. It is not a gift given to those outside our family of faith. We ask the Protestant community to refrain, make a spiritual communion and pray for that day when all Christians will be one. When a person receives who is not a member of our community or who is not spiritually prepared, we are faced with a fractured sign. The unity that should be signified is not there. If a person receives out of ignorance, about its meaning and his eligibility, there is no moral fault. However, what is received is received according to the mode of the recipient. Other than visually fitting in with the crowd, it has no genuine spiritual benefit. The Catholic in a state of grace is nurtured and is ever more and more transformed by the sacrament into the likeness of the one received. It brings him healing and greater union with our Lord. He is conscious that he is receiving the risen Christ, humanity and divinity, whole and complete— God himself. God became a man so that men and women might be divinized by grace— sharing in the divine life. The person who rejects Catholic teaching and morals, knowing about the “closed table,” receives no benefit from reception. Indeed, the sacrament which should come to their salvation inflicts judgment or condemnation upon them instead. This is why some critics argued that the priest in the news might have withheld communion out of love and concern about the woman’s soul.

  9. Both were in the wrong, but it began with Barbara Johnson. It seems she was willing to use even her mother’s funeral to further a personal agenda. Even though she obviously had no respect for the priest or the Eucharist and the teachings of the Church, she should have shown respect for her mother’s faith by not presenting herself for Communion. Sadly, this is an issue upon which our American bishops cannot seem to agree. In our diocese, Biden would be refused Communion, as would any public official who is openly pro-abortion. Unfortunately, in Washington, DC, they continue to make a mockery of the Sacrament and the Church. This priest got caught in that fallout. My heart goes out to him for trying to preserve the sanctity of the Eucharist.

    My priest would have refused her Communion by virtue of the fact that first of all, she is not in communion with the Church. She is a self-professed Buddhist. She may not receive the Eucharist because her MOTHER was Catholic, not even at her mother’s funeral. Secondly, Father Guarnizo knew of her lifestyle. She wrote about it, and appeared before the priest with her “lover.” She made their lifestyle public knowledge. To my mind, she gave Father no choice but to ask her not to present herself for Communion which he did before the funeral began. He tried to avoid any scandal. No one in attendance should have thought it unusual for a non-Catholic lesbian activist not to receive Jesus in the Eucharist. When someone is in a state of mortal sin, that sin is compounded by them receiving the Eucharist unworthily. His concern was for both the integrity of the Eucharist and the state of her soul. When she ignored him and presented herself anyway, he should not have said a word, however, but merely have given her a blessing. Was she also told not to give a eulogy and came forward for that also? We do not know, but it seems she would be bold enough to have done so.

    From here on, I feel Father Guarnizo was at fault. Though to receive our Lord, she attempted to deliberately put him in a compromising position;, he was wrong to leave during the eulogy. He should have dealt with this privately at another time. He was certainly wrong for not continuing on to the cemetery. His obligation was to the deceased – despite her daughter’s disrespect. One of the corporal works of mercy is to bury the dead. Unfortunately, he let his emotions get the best of him, and gave Barbara Johnson more ammunition. His priesthood requires him to act in persona Christi. He should have been the “better man” here. Instead he stooped to Barbara Johnson’s level.

    I am afraid our priests will face more of these publicity stunts which attempt to degrade the Sacraments.

    They must be willing to face criticism for holding fast to the teachings of the Church. It is time our bishops stand together when our Sacraments come under attack. This is not a place for compromise. It lends validity to the actions of public figures who blatantly and persistently commit mortal sins for the entire world to see, and then present themselves for Communion. It is confusing. It gives the impression that even though you are not in a state of grace, you may still present yourself to receive Jesus in the Eucharist. No repentance required. This is contrary to scripture, the catechism and Canon Law. The Sacrament of Reconciliation is available and required rather than receiving the Eucharist unworthily.

    We need to continue to pray for our priests.

  10. The Vatican has provided insight into the relevant canon, Canon 915, through The Pontifical Council for the Interpretation of Legislative Texts (PCILT) with a Declaration dated June 24, 2000 (Declaration). In the Declaration the PCILT clarifies the phrase “and others who obstinately persist in manifest grave sin.” I don’t understand why we haven’t heard some references to this.

    According to the Declaration 3 things are needed to establish the need to refuse communion:

    1. Grave sin- which cannot reasonably be in dispute here.
    2. Obstinate persistence – the Declaration specifically states that the only thing required is that the sin is enduring…”no other requirements (attitude of defiance, prior warning, etc.) [are] necessary to establish the fundamental gravity of the situation.”
    3. Manifest character – the Declaration clarifies that the opportunity for scandal must be removed.

    Here, the woman’s sinful lifestyle was undoubtably known to more than a few in attendance. Not only was the funeral congregation comprised of some number of people who likely know the deceased’s daughter, but her lifestyle was evident from the death notice published in the Washington Post death notice, listing the woman and her partner, Ruth, as if they are a married couple. A reasonable person could easily conclude that the opportunity for scandal was significant.

    The PCILT states that while “prudence strongly suggests the avoidance of public denial…[that] is not the controlling factor.” Rather, the Declaration states that when such precautionary measures “have not had their effect or… were not possible, the minister of Communion must refuse to distribute it to those who are publicly unworthy.” Fr. seems Fr. Guarnizo to have done exactly what should have been done.

  11. Dear Fr Joe,

    It is just so sad, and symptomatic of our times and the desire to appease and be seen as ‘politically correct’ that, as far as I can see, ‘The Church’ has failed come to the aid of this much maligned priest, yet alone publicly support and stand behind him.

    And the fact that ‘a Eucharistic Minister’ gave this woman the Sacrament of The Holy Eucharist only reinforces my personal belief that lay people should not be allowed to touch The Blessed Sacrament.

    We had a set up here in UK last summer when some arrogantly and active homosexual men booked into a Christian Families’ Bed and Breakfast to share a bed. The family asked them to leave…….big publicity and the family were dragged through the courts and fined. This is not a freedom of the individual issue here, this is a direct attack on the Church by satan inspired sinners.

    Sure, we are all sinners and I would wish to kick you, Fr Joe, from prime position not to usurp your claim to supremacy in the league of sinners but to honestly install myself there. Even though my heart wants not to sin, my body is weak and I go astray (where have we heard that one before, why dear old St Paul of course), but it’s true; however I claim to sin, what I do is sinful and I fail to uphold all God’s Laws some of the time. What this woman appears to have done is claim that she is not sinning, that her lifestyle and choice of religion is a perfectly good choice. And she can not truly believe in The Real Presence, otherwise she would have been humbled to abstain, and if she does not believe then what on earth is she doing presenting herself to receive………….it’s all a stunt and I am really upset that The Whole Church is not backing this Priest.

    When Jesus told His Disciples that it really was His true flesh and it really was His true blood, many walked away and just refused to believe, it was too difficult for them, and it is today as it was 2,000 years ago. Many walk away because they refuse to believe, we should never call them back and compromise the Truth…….Jesus didn’t, He let them walk away, it was their choice. Sadly satan has entered into them, as he did with Judas, and they are willing also to sell The Light of Truth for the cost of earthly and animal passion. Ultimately it could cost them their immortal soul.

    Let’s hear a good word for Fr Guarnizo, who it appears, upheld Christ’s teaching, and that of the Apostles and of the Apostolic Tradition, and of The One True Church and let’s stop appeasing those with an agenda.

    Paul Brann

  12. The woman in question is an openly gay woman and has publicly described herself as a Buddhist. If you do not believe that this resulted from a lack of respect on her part for the sacrament, you are either naive or lying.

    I will pray for the soul of her mother. It is shameful that her funeral was used as an opportunity for her anti-Catholic daughter to drag the Church through the mud.

  13. Indeed, it seems to me that he faced a serious quandry, trying to do his duty in burying a parishioner while not undermining Catholic moral teaching in regard to the evil of same-sex relations. The priest has been faulted by the archdiocese and others, but this woman should probably have excused herself from communion if she were “living in sin.” The same could be said about heterosexuals who cohabitate and have relations outside the sacrament of marriage. They should come to Mass, but not take communion until their situations are regularized.

    Now that she is a public and international figure, will her pastor give her communion this coming Sunday? She has not repented from her lifestyle; indeed, the incident has become a new weapon in the propaganda machine of lesbian and homosexual advocates.

  14. Ann, I have gay family members I love who are in openly gay relationships. They do not receive communion when we go to church as a family, even at funerals. If you do not follow the Church’s teachings then you should not receive communion.

    The priest in question has said that Ms. Johnson introduced her partner to him as her “lover” before Mass. The priest was aware of the sin, and chose to protect the sacrament. I can’t think of a reason to say that to a priest unless you are trying to cause a situation.

    If this were my mother, and I was denied communion, I would not speak to the press out of respect for my mother and her faith. The day is about her mother, not gay rights. This could have been handled privately, the fact that it was made so public seems to support the priest’s version of events and the appearance of an agenda on Ms. Johnson’s part.

    I have sympathy for anyone who loses a loved one, but that doesn’t mean I lose all sense of reason when examining their behavior.

  15. Priests often make an announcement before communion at weddings and funerals about who can and cannot receive. I usually say something like, “At this time I would ask those Catholics who are spiritually prepared to please come forward to receive Holy Communion.” Catholicism practices the so-called “closed table” as opposed to the “open” or “everyone is welcome” table of Episcopalism. The reception of the Body and Blood of Christ implies a juridical and moral union with the Catholic Church. Only Catholics are invited forward, and they should be practicing their faith and not in mortal sin.

    I frequently ask couples (outside of Mass) who are cohabitating not to take Eucharist until they receive absolution and the sacrament of matrimony. Sexual activity outside of marriage is the “matter” of mortal sin. As with all human actions, there is always a subjective element to sin that is weighed in conscience and judged by the confessor in private. The priest in question knew Catholic teaching and was right about the objective norm. Those who would fault him on this are barking up the wrong tree. The problem has to do with its pastoral (and canonical) application. Had he sat down with this woman? Did he know the depth of her Catholic faith? Was he aware of the full dynamics of her relationship with her partner? Did he feel that compassion and compromise would somehow taint his own witness? Was he concerned that giving her communion might inflict upon her the mortal sin of sacrilege? Did he love her? This last question is very important. Our people might not always be on the same page with us and the Church, but we have to treat them as if they and their welfare mean everything to us. Did he love her? The failure to love is very hard and maybe impossible to hide. I wonder, even though she is angry and feels dejected, does she love him? These two people need to get together, probably with a third party moderator or concilitator, and peace has to be restored. She has to stop making demands and he has to say from his heart that he is sorry for any miscommunication and any lack of compassion.

    Monsignor Everitt was a real mainstay at St. Mary of the Lake. Of course, he was an experienced priest and a pastor there for some 30 years. The young priest in Maryland was ordained in Russia and has a special ministry on the behalf of the Church in Eastern Europe. I suspect that he misjudged the impact of his actions in our culture today. No matter how much training, young priests make mistakes. And sometimes young priests remind the rest of us that maybe we play it too safe and compromise too much. It is disingenuous for his critics to say that he might remain a priest but should never again be engaged in parish ministry. Would he just preach to himself in the mirror?

    Priests always regard themselves as the first of sinners. If he did anything wrong, then he should ask pardon from anyone he hurt and he should be allowed to continue his ministry, hopefully a little wiser, more prudent, and sensitive to the struggles and hurts of others. The bombardment of television interviews, newspaper stories, and blog attacks has gone way too far. What needed to be said has been said. Destroying this man would compound the tragedy. Despite assertions to the contrary, I fear that the excess is escalating into a crusade for revenge. Hopefully, the funeral of this poor woman’s mother will not be hijacked “by others” who care less about bereavement ministry than they do about promoting a strident political agenda and moral differences with the Church.

    I pray that this situation will soon come to a peaceful resolution. And lost in the commotion, let us not forget what should have been centermost all along, the remembrance of a good woman and the commendation of her soul to the Lord:

    “Into your hands, Father of mercies, we commend our sister Loetta in the sure and certain hope that, together with all who have died in Christ, she will rise with him on the last day. Merciful Lord, turn toward us and listen to our prayers: open the gates of paradise to your servant and help us who remain to comfort one another with assurances of faith, until we all meet in Christ and are with you and with our sister forever. Amen.”

  16. Good morning Father,

    Barbara Johnson stood first in the line for Communion at her mother’s funeral Saturday morning. But the priest in front of her immediately made it clear that she would not receive the sacramental bread and wine. Father Marcel Guarnizo put his hand over the body of Christ and looked at her and said, ‘I can’t give you Communion because you live with a woman, and in the eyes of the church, that is a sin. ” Family members said the priest left the altar while Johnson was delivering a eulogy and did not attend the burial or find another priest to be there. Guarnizo learned that Johnson was a lesbian just prior to the service. It was at this time, prior to the Mass when Ms. Johnson introduced the priest to her partner that Guarnizo made mention to Johnson not to receive the sacrament. She refused to listen, he refused the wafer. What this appeared to come down to was a battle of wills with two very head strong participants.

    Father Marcel Guarnizo was wrong. Johnson was not asking the priest to marry her and her partner, she was asking that her ‘straight’ mother be buried with dignity. The priest denied this by his actions. I have no idea what part of pre-historic Maryland this Priest-Rex evolved from, but in his defense, rules are rules.

    Ms. Johnson may not be a complete innocent here. No one forces you to be a Catholic or take Communion. I have been to churches and synagogues for funerals, weddings and other occasions. I will stand, sit and even kneel when it is appropriate. To me, prayer is prayer. I take the approach that “hey, it can’t hurt.” It’s not my faith, but I’m a guest in their home. But what role does Johnson have? Did she decide to make this a political stand? A social enlightenment? Clearly Johnson choose to upstage and openly challenge the priest when she was told not to receive.

    The archdiocese does not want the clamor and fallout. Late Tuesday, Johnson received a letter of apology from the Rev. Barry Knestout, one of the archdiocese’s highest-ranking administrators, who said the lack of “kindness” she and her family received “is a cause of great concern and personal regret to me. I am sorry that what should have been a celebration of your mother’s life, in light of her faith in Jesus Christ, was overshadowed by a lack of pastoral sensitivity,” Knestout wrote. “I hope that healing and reconciliation with the Church might be possible for you and any others who were affected by this experience. In the meantime, I will offer Mass for the happy repose of your mother’s soul. May God bring you and your family comfort in your grief and hope in the Resurrection.”

    I’ll leave you with this. In 1972, the Sunday after the United States Olympic team lost in basketball to the USSR, I was outside my parish in Lakewood, NJ. Men were talking to men and women to women. A man stood off to the side waiting to speak to Monsignor George Everitt. The Monsignor saw him and walked over to him when the man said, “Father, I’d like to join this church.” Monsignor said well, come back on Monday and there is some information to fill out. The man cut him off and said “but Father, I’m gay.” To this George Everitt out his arms on his shoulders and said “I’m Monsignor Everitt, I’ll be your new pastor. Welcome to Saint Mary of the Lake.” This was 1972, 40 years before Guarnizo vs. Johnson.

  17. Barbara has no hidden agenda. She is not political. Her dying mother has been the consuming element of her life, staying in the hospital room with her, saying countless rosaries for her and with her. As her mother breathed her last in the ICU, she was reciting the Hail Mary and Our Father for her soul. The pastor came to the funeral home the night before the Mass and was wonderful in giving condolences to the family. In stark contrast, the parochial vicar was cold and businesslike. Where did he come from anyway? I read that he is a priest of the Archdiocese of Moscow. How did he end up here? Someone joked that he might give a whole new “literal” meaning to a person being exiled to Siberia. How can he get past this episode? Where can he go? Who would have him? Barbara feels that we would all be better off with this priest gone, even if he does have fans in the more radical ranks of the anti-abortion movement.

  18. You are quite right; the “disorientation” is not regarded, in itself, as a sin. The situation is a real mess.

  19. There is no sin in being gay. The sin is in performing sexual acts outside of marriage between a man and a woman. Barbara Johnson openly introduced her partner, a woman, to the pastor as her “lover” and right before the funeral began, and then avoided speaking to him. The priest had no choice but to quietly deny her communion, he knew her heart as she told him about it. She received communion from the other minister because his refusal was so subtle and discreet the other ministers didn’t even notice it. Now she is doing the rounds in the media, turning her devout mother’s funeral into a personal sounding board for gay rights.

    Bottom line, this was a set up. How despicable to treat your mother’s funeral in this matter. The poor priest had no choice but to protect the sacrament, but the woman in the homosexual relationship should have chosen not to take communion, just like any straight person should do if they are in a state of grave sin.

  20. I heard that as her mother lay dying in the hospital, this woman lay in the bed with her mom, embraced her and recited countless rosaries for her mom’s comfort as she lay dying.

    Personally, my best friend was in a “gay” marriage. But they were living as sisters – no sexual encounters – after their first few years together. 20 years later, my friend’s “wife” spent 24/7 at her bedside praying and loving my friend to her passing. Together they raised a nephew who had been abandoned by the woman’s sister (and later OD’d in a suicidal manner) and had spent his first 8 years in a homeless shelter. Together they paid (no county assist) for Catholic school and college at full tuition. They tutored him, and never failed to attend Mass as a “family” and stayed involved in his school and parish activities. Some at the very proper high school may have been shocked (furthermore because this nephew was a 6’8″ black male and they were too short, very white lesbians), but they held their heads high and did the right thing. I am horrified that a priest, not knowing their situation of living as sisters, not lovers, and their firm commitment to the Faith might humiliate the devastated partner like this in public. Despite the jeering, the prejudice and the snickers, these women stuck to their faith and did the right thing right up to the end. The nephew, who is about to pop the question to a lucky lady, I understand, cherished both his “Aunts” and gave a lovely eulogy to his Aunt by affection who taught him to play sports, to not give up, and never, ever failed to miss his Eagle Scout ceremony, his confirmation, and weekly Mass – and she was a Lutheran (her partner is Catholic).

    If you don’t know what is going on in the bedroom, one should not pass judgment. Much less in public. Much less at a funeral. Shame on this priest.

  21. Dear Fr Joe,

    In the days of Jesus this woman and any male homosexuals would have been stoned to death, as was the woman caught in adultery by the hypocrites. Although Jesus did not condemn the woman, and by extension others too, he did tell her to “sin no more”

    This is the issue here and I seem to pick up a defiant attitude against the teaching not only of The Church but of Jesus as well. He condemned anyone for committing adultery even in that persons heart by looking lustfully an another. Any coitus outside of marriage (and there is only marriage between man and woman) was considered as anathema by Him and no matter how the aggrieved may feel, homosexuality is sinful and to deliberately proclaim that life style and then expect to receive The Blessed Sacrament is just bizarre.

    Queen Victoria could not even consider that two women would be able to have sexual relations, or so it was reported, but sadly none of us these days is as naive as she was, and we all know what being a lesbian means. Only those who are proud of that lifestyle would want to proclaim it especially in a Catholic Church. Dignity, respect and a certain decorum in wisdom would have suggested a discrete silence in this regard..

    If it ain’t broke it don’t need fixin’. Perhaps the Funeral Director could have suggested a Protestant Church that accepts this divergence from God’s Law, or perhaps we do not know all the facts, but it is also important for a priest to show compassion and behave as is fitting of his position. Unfortunately satan is gearing up his attacks on The Church and if he can use homosexuals and lesbians to do his bidding he will. He is the father of deception and fuels rebellion and hatred, and for whatever reason that I do not understand, he has been given free reign on the Earth to tempt many away from the Truth, from God’s Law.

    It really is very simple,
    Paul

    That’s how I see it.

  22. Now that the woman is a public figure and the poster-girl for active Catholic lesbians, will she still be eligible for holy communion? What if she goes to the cathedral and stands before the bishop this weekend? Will he give her holy communion, knowing what he now knows? What if hundreds or thousands of lesbians and homosexuals hit Washington churches, wearing sashes or shirts as part of their “coming out,” will they all be given the Body of Christ?

    This is about more than one hurt woman now, it is an anger that is focused upon Church teaching and the right to enforce such teachings. As with the healthcare fight, this too is a religious liberty matter. Her venom against this one man could quickly find itself translated against others. Will the message face censorship? Will orthodox priests suffer punishment and banishment?

    She writes to Fr. Guarnizo: “You brought your politics, not your God into that Church yesterday, and you will pay dearly on the day of judgment for judging me. I will pray for your soul, but first I will do everything in my power to see that you are removed from parish life so that you will not be permitted to harm any more families.”

    Tactful or not, this priest did what he thought was right. But where is the public support? I am shocked that even his brother priests are quiet. I guess they are afraid that they might be next… well, don’t be surprised… they are soon coming for you!

  23. There is absolutely no excuse for this priest’s actions. We were all shocked and had trouble believing it. He compromised both his priesthood and his Christianity with his heartlessness. He threw his modular phone and kicked it in anger across the sanctuary floor. The guy totally lost it. Throughout the service, he seemed distracted and confused. He walked out during Barbara’s eulogy for her mother. Her mother accepted and loved her. The priest seemed offended by this message. It has been reported that he had engaged in special projects; had he ever officiated at a funeral before? It did not appear so.

    These people were mourning and he did not seem to care. It was a time to bury the dead and to console the grieving, not to rigidly enforce his morality against her daughter, for whom he had no love or respect. Before the Mass started there was an embarrassing argument with the morticians about the eulogies. He demanded that there be only one while the family had planned for two people to speak, beginning with Barbara. I guess he did not want her to either receive communion or to open her mouth at her own mother’s funeral.

    Barbara was the first to line up for the sacrament. He placed his hand over the hosts as if he thought she would steal one. He insisted that because she lived with a woman and “that is a sin according to the Church,” he would not give her the Eucharist. Did he know her faith journey? Was he her confessor? Was he privy to what she and her companion did or did not do behind closed doors? No, he took it into his mind to be her judge and jury. His act condemned her before her family and friends. Everyone was aghast and many also refused communion so as to be in solidarity with her. Later a female extraordinary minister tried to make up for the injustice and gave her the sacrament. An old priest went to Gate of Heaven Cemetery and his kindness was especially felt and needed after this tragic ordeal.

    Barbara is a very spiritual woman, raised in the Catholic faith. She is a daughter of the Church. And yet this priest, called to be her spiritual father, proved that he did not have the mind and heart of Christ about the children of God. Jesus was all about healing and forgiveness. This priest sowed pain and resentment. Jesus called prodigals home and embraced the outcasts. This priest was about self-righteousness and exclusion. This was wrong on more levels than I can say. I suppose that is why it is resonating with people across the country and around the world. Barbara is not the only one offended and angry. The bishop in the archdiocese apologized and the local pastor did, as well. There is still goodness, mercy, love and tolerance in the Church. Will this event awaken this priest to his insensitivity? He has been silent. No apology has been forthcoming. If he were truly sorry, I am confident that the archdiocese would have publicized it. That is what compounds the tragedy of this incident. He is morally blind to the wrong that he has committed.

  24. There are a number of conflicting reports about what happened. One source reported that the deceased woman’s daughter introduced the priest to “her lover” in the sacristy before Mass and that he asked her not to present herself for Holy Communion. If true, why is this left out of so many reports? I also read that he (or the funeral director) got another minister to do the graveside prayers because the priest was feeling sick. Why omit this fact in various interviews? It makes me suspicious that this came at the heels of the same-sex marriage passage in Maryland. Was this a setup or has this matter been hijacked by those with an agenda? Everyone seems to be saying that a funeral was the wrong place to make an issue about the woman receiving communion. But if she praised her mother in the eulogy as an example of one who supported and did not negatively judge her lesbian lifestyle, did she, herself, not change the general thrust of the service to something other than a simple funeral?

    FATHER JOE: Funerals can get out-of-hand, but it was still a funeral.

  25. Certainly the Church takes a negative view toward homosexual or lesbian activity; but if the woman’s sin was not public knowledge, the priest’s actions may have inadvertently added to her embarrassment and to scandal for the Church (which was going to happen no matter, given the seriousness of the issue). As a practical matter, priests often do not even consider refusing communion because they either do not know about any irregularity or because such an action might itself breech the confessional seal. Further, they defer to the judgment of their bishops. Why? It is because they are men under authority; while they are priests of Christ, they are also extensions of the ministry pursued by their Ordinaries.

  26. Dear Fr Joe,

    This is exactly the sort of thing that those of us who doubt some of the wisdom of Vatican 2 are concerned about. Vatican 2 didn’t prohibit the Mass in Latin and it’s universality, but it allowed for the Mass to be celebrated in the vernacular of each country, it allowed women into the sanctuary, it allowed men and women who had not been and never would be consecrated to God in Holy Orders, to, not only touch the Eucharist with their unholy and unannointed hands, but also to dispense it to others. It allowed for the laity to drink from the cup of Christ’s Blood, and it allowed for the introduction of all sorts of base music and pantomime. It is thus little wonder that the sanctity and sacredness and respect and awe have been so downplayed.

    It allowed the altar to be completely turned around so that, rather than the Priest and congregation all offering the sacrifice to God, it became a sort of audience inclusive theatrical performance without mystery and respect. Some Masses appear little more than committee meetings around a table. Sliced white bread has replaced the special host that was designed to quickly dissolve in the mouth so that those of evil intent could not expurge it for nefarious purposes. Goodness knows how politically incorrect it would be nowadays for the Nuns who taught me to tell their children that they should not even let the Host touch their teeth.

    We had a war mongering protestant prime minister here in UK who it was rumoured would receive Holy Communion long before he was especially fast tracked into the Church. I still doubt his credentials.

    So why are so many Churches empty, why are so many Catholics disillusioned and laisez-fair about going to Mass every Sunday?
    Perhaps the lack of specialness, sanctity, respect, reverence, mystery, dignity, universality and sheer majesty just might have something to do with it?

    With concern, Paul Brann

    FATHER JOE: The priest involved in the scandal is said to be very traditional and regularly offers the Tridentine liturgy. I am sure the hosts were proper and the rubrics were generally followed. You are right that many may have an improper view of the Eucharist today, and are too quick to receive while possibly in mortal sin. But I would not fault the ritual. While sometimes a little awkward or complicated, I find the new translation rich in theology. Personally, I am happy that the Holy Father has given greater freedom to priests in offering the older ritual; however, I am quite pleased with the reformed rites. The orientation of the altar, communion lines, and communion in the hand are subjects for discussion; but, the solemn mystery remains intact. I am always quick to remind critics that the first Modernists were generated in a church that only had the traditional Latin liturgy and piety. Many of the tensions with secular modernity would have afflicted the Church, even if Vatican II had never happened. Indeed, the council was in response to what the Church saw evolving around it.

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