Thursday, March 15, 2012

Bad Priest Speaks Out

Recently a priest in Gaithersburg, Father Marcel Guarnizo, decided that the Church would not want him to serve communion to a grieving lesbian woman, Barbara Johnson, at her mother's funeral, nor should he stand listening respectfully while she delivered her eulogy. Further, the priest decided that the Church would not want him to go to the gravesite to say a prayer over the casket when he had a headache.

Shortly thereafter the Church suspended him. The Bishop's statement made it sound like he was suspended not for cold and hateful behavior toward a grieving daughter, but because he was a jerk to the people he worked with. And the question is, where does the Church actually stand on the topic of denying communion to LGBT people in times of despair and need?

Now the priest has issued a statement through CNS News:
If a Quaker, a Lutheran or a Buddhist, desiring communion had introduced himself as such, before Mass, a priest would be obligated to withhold communion. If someone had shown up in my sacristy drunk, or high on drugs, no communion would have been possible either. If a Catholic, divorced and remarried (without an annulment) would make that known in my sacristy, they too according to Catholic doctrine, would be impeded from receiving communion. This has nothing to do with Canon 915. Ms. Johnson’s circumstances are precisely one of those relations which impede her access to communion according to Catholic teaching. Ms. Johnson was a guest in our parish, not the arbitrer of how sacraments are dispensed in the Catholic Church. Father Marcel Guarnizo: 'I Did The Only Thing a Faithful Catholic Priest Could Do'

After denying Ms. Johnson communion, he says, he felt a migraine coming on during the eulogies and slipped away to recover. He says he accompanied the body to the hearse and then told the funeral director he couldn't go on because of his headache.

None of it was his fault. People blocked his way, his head hurt, people said the wrong things to him. It happens all the time, priests get stuck in traffic and stuff, he said.

I am skipping through this longish statement.
But I am going to defend my conduct in these instances, because what happened I believe contains a warning to the church. Such circumstances can and will be repeated multiple times over if the local church does not make clear to all Catholics that openly confessing sin is something one does to a priest in the confessional, not minutes before the Mass in which the Holy Eucharist is given.

I am confident that my own view, that I did the only thing a faithful Catholic priest could do in such an awkward situation, quietly, with no intention to hurt or embarrass, will be upheld.

Otherwise, any priest could--and many will--face the cruelest crisis of conscience that can be imposed. It seems to me, the lack of clarity on this most basic issue puts at risk other priests who wish to serve the Catholic Church in Washington D.C.

Before the funeral, Barbara Johnson had introduced herself to the priest, and introduced her lover, who she referred to as "my lover." This priest considers that an instance of "openly confessing sin" and figures she deserved to be punished, which of course any Catholic priest will understand and agree with, according to him.

And that is the question -- is this guy on his own, or is this how it's going to be?

It is important that the Church authorities moved relatively quickly to relieve Guarnizo of his duties, it is a sign that the higher-ups are aware that he screwed up. But the Bishop's letter removing Guarnizo's "priestly faculties" made no mention of the anti-gay gesture, no mention of the incident at all. While a few days after the funeral there was a sympathetic letter from the Bishop of the Archdiocese of Washington to Ms. Johnson apologizing for "a lack of pastoral sensitivity," the pastor who announced the priest's suspension at St. John Neumann Catholic Church made it clear that the removal was not related to the funeral incident, but "pertains to actions over the past week or two."

The Catholic Church has been an energetic and well-organized enemy of gay rights, and we do not expect any kind of statement saying that lesbians are cool or anything, that is not the question. The problem is that the Church's failure to mention this hateful act in relieving the priest from his duties could almost be seen as an endorsement. They said he was suspended because he "has engaged in intimidating behavior toward parish staff and others that is incompatible with proper priestly ministry." How about intentionally breaking somebody's heart on what might be the worst day of their life, when they are burying their mother? Apparently not a problem.

The Church has a very well-known transparency problem, and they are not doing anything here to make it better. A priest withheld communion from a grieving daughter at the one time she most needed it, the funeral of her mother who she loved, and the Church should be able to figure out how to make a statement condemning that act of hatred without seeming to take sides on the issue of homosexuality. In failing to do so, they seem to imply that this is fair play.


Post a Comment

<< Home