The Washington Post has a story that has left many deeply disturbed. Barbara Johnson was attending her mother’s funeral at the St. John Neumann Catholic Church in Gaithersburg, Maryland when she went up to receive communion. Upon seeing her, Rev. Marcel Guarnizo refused to give her the host, saying that he was aware that she was a lesbian living with another woman and therefore a sinner. Later, when Johnson was giving the eulogy, Gaurnizo abruptly left the service — leaving no priest at the remainder of the service or attending the burial.
Rev. Guarnizo was informed of Johnson’s status before the ceremony by someone in the church. She said “He put his hand over the body of Christ and looked at me 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.’”
The confrontation has led to angry letters demanding the removal of Guarnizo. In response, Rev. Barry Knestout, one of the archdiocese’s highest-ranking administrators, wrote an apology for the act of unkindness that “is a cause of great concern and personal regret to me.” He added: “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.” Hoping that “healing and reconciliation with the Church might be possible for you and any others who were affected by this experience,” Rev. Knestout offered to conduct a “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.”
There is now however a push back from other parishioners who cite Canon Law 915. This canon reads: “Those upon whom the penalty of excommunication or interdict has been imposed or declared, and others who obstinately persist in manifest grave sin, are not to be admitted to holy communion.”
Yet, the Archdiocese has stated that “it is not the policy of the Archdiocese of Washington to publicly reprimand the person” and that “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.”
This still leaves the issue of communion. If Rev. Guarnizo had raised it privately before the service, would the Archdiocese agree with him that Canon 915 bars the receipt of communion? Of course, there remains the sudden departure of the priest.
The issue of discrimination by religious organizations remains a difficult one. I have previously written against the application of discrimination laws in some circumstances to religious groups as a denial of the free exercise of religion. I think we can all agree that this priest’s conduct was inexcusable in how he handled the matter and he should be disciplined. However, what about the more general question of denying communion to Ms. Johnson. Which should control Canon 915 or non-discrimination laws? I have to ultimately (and reluctantly) support the Church’s right to exclusion. What do you think?
Source: Washington Post