Tuesday, 28 February 2012

In Denying Communion at Mother's Funeral, Priest Contravened the Catechism

A Catholic priest has refused communion to a lesbian, solely because she is a lesbian - at her mother's funeral. He said to her directly that he did so because she is living with a woman, and that is a sin, according to the church.
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.”
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. As the Catechism (1861) reminds us: “We must entrust judgement of persons the justice and mercy of God
Third, there is an equally important part of Catechism teaching, which has been flagrantly ignored:

 "Respect, Compassion, Sensitivity". Fr Guarnizo has displayed none of these.
There is one tiny smidgeon of good news in here: 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.”
This is to be welcomed, but it is not enough. The priest in question must be made to understand that his own actions are in clear contravention of the Catechism, and should publicly apologize. If acting contrary to the Catechism is necessarily sinful, then by his own standards he is himself in sin. 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.
New Ways Ministry suggests writing to Cardinal Wuerl:

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  

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.
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