Oh joy, just what we all want — another thread about homosexuality. Alas, as so often happens, the controversy now in the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Washington involves homosexuality, religion, and changing social mores. Let us dive in, shall we?

Here is the front page story that appeared the other day in the Washington Post. Excerpt:

Deep in grief, 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.

Johnson, an art-studio owner from the District, had come to St. John Neumann Catholic Church in Gaithersburg with her lesbian partner. The Rev. Marcel Guarnizo had learned of their relationship just before the service.

“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,’ ” she recalled Tuesday.

She reacted with stunned silence. Her anger and outrage have now led her and members of her family to demand that Guarnizo be removed from his ministry.

Family members said the priest left the altar while Johnson, 51, was delivering a eulogy and did not attend the burial or find another priest to be there.

“You brought your politics, not your God into that Church yesterday, and you will pay dearly on the day of judgment for judging me,” she wrote in a letter to Guarnizo. “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.”

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.”

Johnson called the letter “comforting” and said she greatly appreciates the apology. But, she added, “I will not be satisfied” until Guarnizo is removed.

Read the whole thing.  But notice what Get Religion points out about the story:

While this story contains a variety of voices representing various flocks of stakeholders, including the archdiocesan leadership, it does not contain any material that attempts to explain the viewpoint of the priest.

In other words, to use Poynter language, it appears that Father Guarnizo is not a stakeholder in a story that centers on his actions and beliefs. This is most strange.

The priest declined to be interviewed, but it wouldn’t have been difficult for the reporter here to explain why canon law directs the priest to do exactly as he did. For pastoral reasons, it may not be the policy of the Washington archdiocese to do as Fr. Guarnizo did in this situation, but it cannot fairly be claimed, as Barbara Johnson insists, that Fr. Guarnizo did this for political reasons. The Church’s teaching on who is to receive communion is clear. The priest learned that she was in a committed lesbian relationship, a fact that, by church law (Canon 915: “Those who have been … obstinately persevering in manifest grave sin are not to be admitted to holy communion”) disqualifies her from communion. Knowing this, for the priest to have given her communion would have been a severe violation of his conscience, given that one of the priest’s responsibilities is to protect the integrity of the Sacrament.

I know that the comments thread here is going to fill up with people saying that Fr. Guarnizo doesn’t deny communion to divorced people who don’t have annulments, or other unrepentant sinners. For one thing, how would you know? Unless you are part of his parish, and know this for a fact, this claim would be groundless. For another, even if Fr. Guarnizo is selective in his application of this pastoral practice, that doesn’t mean he was wrong in principle to have observed it here; it may simply mean that he should be more consistent.

People who say that Barbara Johnson ought to have been given communion that morning have to explain why a priest ought to have knowingly violated canon law to have done so. That’s not nothing for a priest. Personally, I believe that there can be situations in which a priest is justified in violating the law out of a sense of mercy. In my opinion, this probably would have been one of those occasions. Had Fr. Guarnizo given her communion under these circumstances, I believe it would have been uncharitable for orthodox Catholics to insist that he ought to have stood on the letter of the law, instead of showing mercy in this extraordinary situation. Still, I say “probably” because if it is true that Johnson introduced Fr. Guarnizo to her “lover” (her alleged words) in the sacristy before the service, and that Fr. Guarnizo instructed her not to present herself for communion, then the scandal here is entirely on Johnson, who in that case would have chosen this sacred moment to make a point. Let me make this clear: if Father Guarnizo privately told her not to present herself to communion, and she did so defiantly, in public, then Johnson is guilty of exactly what she accused Guarnizo of: politicizing the Eucharist. If, after that, Johnson was bound and determined to defy the priest and receive communion, then she could have presented herself to a Eucharistic minister — as she ended up doing, and receiving communion.

Nevertheless, the fact remains that Fr. Guarnizo — who, it must be said, behaved badly by leaving the altar and subsequently refusing to go to the graveside service — did exactly what canon law tells him to do. Barbara Johnson is trying to get him fired from his job as pastor for upholding the teaching and practice of the Roman Catholic Church. The demand for his firing is so absurd it’s hard to believe anybody is taking it seriously. The Archdiocese of Washington has already distanced itself from Fr. Guarnizo’s actions, but I find it hard to believe that it hasn’t issued a formal statement of support for Fr. Guarnizo, putting to rest any question that he will be removed from his ministry, as Johnson demands.

Catholics (and Orthodox) these days have such misguided ideas about the Eucharist. Unlike in Protestant churches that practice communion, Catholics and Orthodox are expected to have had a recent confession before receiving the Eucharist, and not to be conscious of any serious sin. The idea is that to receive the Eucharist — which, in Catholic and Orthodox theology, is not a symbol but is actually, and mystically, the Body and Blood of Jesus — while in a state of serious sin is blasphemous. Barbara Johnson may not believe that being an active (= non-chaste) homosexual is sinful, but the Roman Catholic Church believes it is. Does Barbara Johnson’s opinion trump the Church’s teaching? Does she have a right to expect the Eucharist? She apparently thinks she does. So do a lot of Catholics and Orthodox. It is also undoubtedly the case that with certain exceptions, the clergy of both churches have done little or nothing to instruct them otherwise.

A similar controversy erupted at the Orthodox (OCA) cathedral in Washington, DC, last year. A deacon declined to commune an Orthodox lesbian living openly with a female partner. It caused a big row. The deacon was driven out of the parish — which is Metropolitan Jonah’s own parish, note well. As the Archdiocese of Washington appears to be doing with Father Guarnizo, the hierarchy of my church allowed a principled member of the clergy to be thrown under the bus for defending official Church teaching and practice regarding the sanctity of the Eucharist.

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160 Responses to The Priest and the Lesbian Communicant

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  1. Jesus would not have made use of a facile mislabel like “Obamacare,” even if the Republican majority in congress and the liberal media all facilely make use of it.

    Jesus probably would have answered questions about the health care reform of 2009-2010 with some variation on “Render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s.” He would have qualified for medical coverage, probably at a rather low premium on the sliding scale.

    You entirely miss the point on the mandate. The fact that Roman Catholics, like everyone else, have to comply with a general law, and Roman Catholics, unlike a good portion of the rest of us, find reason in the teachings of their faith to think it is a bad law, does not mean they are being singled out AS Roman Catholics. In fact, the bishops are the ones trying to single out Roman Catholics (and a few other faiths allied with them on this issue) for exceptional treatment.

    If the wording of the law applied DIFFERENT standards to Roman Catholics than to everyone else, that would be the constitutional violation.

    Comerford, on the other hand, indulges in something more rank than cherry picking. He is hiding a good deal of material a learned scholar of his faith must know something of.

    To start with a mild example, Pope Lei XIII, who had some good things to say at times, appears to assume that democracy and popular government are at the least to be viewed with suspicion, and other forms preferred: “many excellent men find the term Christian Democracy objectionable. They hold it to be very ambiguous and for this reason open to two objections. It seems by implication covertly to favor popular government and to disparage other methods of political administration.”

    Pius IX, a truly evil man, asserted “Contrary to the teachings of the Holy
    Scriptures, of the Church, and of the Holy Fathers, these
    persons do not hesitate to assert, that “the best condition
    of human society is that wherein no duty is recognized
    by the Government of correcting, by enacted penalties,
    the violators of the Catholic Religion, except when the
    maintenance of the public peace requires it.” From this
    totally false notion of social government, they fear not to
    uphold that erroneous opinion most pernicious to the
    Catholic Church, and to the salvation of souls, which
    was called by Our Predecessor, Gregory XVI (lately
    quoted) the insanity [deliramentum] (Ibid.): namely, “that
    the liberty of conscience and of worship is the peculiar
    (or inalienable) right of every man, which should be pro-
    claimed by law, and that citizens have the right to all kinds
    of liberty, to be restrained by no law, whether ecclesiasti-
    cal or civil, by which they may be enabled to manifest
    openly and publicly their ideas, by word of mouth,
    through the press, or by any other means.”
    (Quanta Cura and the Syllabus of Errors).

    I’m sure I could find much more, but most people who prefer democracy to Papal rule already know of them, whereas those who earnestly desire to believe that the Popes have always been true friends of democracy will not consider facts to the contrary.

  2. Richard W Comerford says:

    Mr. Siarlys Jenkins


    You are not helping the cause by citing a Pope of the superstitious Romans out of context:

    “Democracy and its partisans as Christian Democrats, in opposition to what the socialists call Social Democracy. Not much exception is taken to the first of these two names, i.e., Social Christians, but many excellent men find the term Christian Democracy objectionable. They hold it to be very ambiguous and for this reason open to two objections. It seems by implication covertly to favor popular government and to disparage other methods of political administration. Secondly, it appears to belittle religion by restricting its scope to the care of the poor, as if the other sections of society were not of its concern.”

    The superstitious Pope in praise of Christian democracy wrote:

    “Christian Democracy, by the fact that it is Christian, is built, and necessarily so, on the basic principles of divine faith, and it must provide better conditions for the masses, with the ulterior object of promoting the perfection of souls made for things eternal. Hence, for Christian Democracy, justice is sacred; it must maintain that the right of acquiring and possessing property cannot be impugned, and it must safeguard the various distinctions and degrees which are indispensable in every well-ordered commonwealth. Finally, it must endeavor to preserve in every human society the form and the character which God ever impresses on it. It is clear, therefore, that there in nothing in common between Social and Christian Democracy. They differ from each other as much as the sect of socialism differs from the profession of Christianity.”

    See: http://www.vatican.va/holy_father/leo_xiii/encyclicals/documents/hf_l-xiii_enc_18011901_graves-de-communi-re_en.html

    You must be careful lest you are accused of being a bigot instead of merely trying to be helpful helpful.

    God bless

    Richard W Comerford

  3. Richard W Comerford says:

    Mr. Siarlys Jenkins

    “Pius IX, a truly evil man”

    You are also not helping the cause by citing an author who begins by writing that Pope Pius IX is “a truly evil man”

    Kind of lets the cat of the of the bag. You know?

    And the example you gave of the writing of the unknown writer who titled Pius IX “a truly evil man” does not contain the word “democracy”.

    Kind of hard to justify your noble charge that Pius was anti-democratic when Pius fails to mention the word “democracy”. Is it not?

    You must be careful lest folks start saying things like anti-Catholicism is the last acceptable bigotry in the USA.

    Like I said. You are not helping the cause.

    God bless

    Richard W Comerford

  4. Richard W Comerford says:

    Mr. Siarlys Jenkins


    See: http://www.papalencyclicals.net/Pius09/p9syll.htm

    This is what Pius actually wrote. Sadly for the cause, he does not mention democracy.

    God bless

    Richard W Comerford

  5. Savia, forgive me for not reiterating properly: My primary assertion is that the RC Church should excommunicate those who are unrepentant, and failure to do so is unethical on two fronts: It dangles those unrepentant ones on an issue for which the Church has consistently stated it will not bend; it gives credence to the notion that the Church is more interested in numbers than it is in teaching and preserving doctrine. The first-person mode I used in recent posts confused that. I offer no personal judgment — laugh with me that a lifelong Pagan would dare to impose his decisions on Catholic doctrine enforcement — nor do I imply that you or other believers should be offering judgment. I observe the situation, and for me Occam’s Razor points to the truth of it.

  6. Richard W Comerford says:

    Mr Franklin Evans:

    “My primary assertion is that the RC Church should excommunicate those who are unrepentant”

    The superstitious Romans hold that Catholics excommunicate themselves by their own actions. The Church, in a few cases, merely announces the excommunication.

    “It dangles those unrepentant ones on an issue for which the Church has consistently stated it will not bend; it gives credence to the notion that the Church is more interested in numbers than it is in teaching and preserving doctrine.”

    And you know this how? The superstitious Romans claim that they privately approach a soul first. They also claim to be most reluctant to announce that a soul has excommunicated itself.

    “and for me Occam’s Razor points to the truth of it”

    Perhaps you and Mr. Occam should ask Mr. Google for a link to the superstitious Romans’ catechism? Everything they hold true in faith and morals is laid out in great detail with numerous citations. That way you could criticize the superstitious Romans on what they actually believe.

    God bless

    Richard W Comerford

  7. Richard, if after actually reading all of my posts on this thread, you still wish to respond only to my last one as you have, do please say so. It will save both of us much time, time I don’t have to walk you through the full context of my remarks on this topic.

  8. Richard W Comerford says:

    Mr Franklin Evans:

    “It will save both of us much time, time I don’t have to walk you through the full context of my remarks on this topic.”

    It would perhaps save time if you first read the superstitious Romans’ catechism so that you would know what you are criticizing?

    God bless

    Richard W Comerford

  9. Comerford, I offered direct quotes. I can’t help it if you know your own Popes so little that you mistake the words of one of them, for the words of someone who called Pius IX evil (that was my characterization, after quoting him verbatim), and add just enough context to the other, to plausibly distort what he was talking about. A poor showing sir.

  10. Richard W Comerford says:

    Mr. Siarlys Jenkin:

    “I offered direct quotes.”

    Actually you merely copied and pasted from a fairly infamous anti-Catholic web site.

    That website quoted, out of context, Leo XIII in GRAVES DE COMMUNI RE in order to make it appear that Leo was anti-democratic. However, as shown above, the same quote in context captures Leo’s thrust in GRAVES DE COMMUNI RE which is to praise Christian democracy.

    The second cut and paste job contains a mixture of lines from both the Syllabus of Errors of Pius IX and comments from the authors of the anti-Catholic website.

    “I can’t help it if you know your own Popes so little that you mistake the words of one of them”

    It is not I. Kindly cite a single main line historian ho describes Leo as anti-democratic.

    “for the words of someone who called Pius IX evil (that was my characterization, after quoting him verbatim”

    BINGO! So you are the author and owner of this professional anti-Catholic website? Congratulations. You are a busy little bee. But you must try harder. You are mucking things up.

    “and add just enough context to the other, to plausibly distort what he was talking about”

    As mentioned above (and perhaps you may not have noticed this little fact) Pius did not even address democracy in his Syllabus.

    “A poor showing sir.”

    This is the best you can do? You purport that the modern Catholic Popes going back to Leo XIII (1810 – 1903) are and were anti-democratic. You also purport that you have many Papal documents to support your charge of purported anti-democracy.

    Yet all you can present is Pius’ Syllabus, which does not even mention the word “democracy”, and Leo’s GRAVES DE COMMUNI RE which praises and advocates for Christian democracy.

    You keep this up you are going to give Nativists and Know Nothings a bad name.

    God bless

    Richard W Comerford

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