A woman in the Washington, D.C., area is reeling after being denied communion at a funeral Mass for her deceased mother. From the Washington Post:
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.
The Archdiocese of Washington said that the offending priest’s actions were against church policy:
“When questions arise about whether or not an individual should present themselves for communion, it is not the policy of the Archdiocese of Washington to publicly reprimand the person,” the statement said. “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.”
An auxiliary bishop sent a letter to Johnson expressing his regret for the lack of pastoral kindness:
“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.”
Another Washington Post writer sought comment from Guarnizo to no avail, but found a video of him praying in front of a Maryland clinic. Read the post and see the video here.
While episodes like this are perhaps not common in the church, it is not surprising when they do happen. Strong rhetoric against same-sex marriage and even legal protection for gay individuals from US bishops makes its way into parishes, and some priests seem to forget their duty to serve as pastors. At a Mass I attended last weekend, the priest said that Catholics are engaged in severe “spiritual warfare” and that Lent is a time to polish our spiritual armor. In an article in this month’s US Catholic, one priest said he was more concerned about “protecting the faith” than allowing a child of a same-sex couple into his parish school. It’s sometimes easy to dissociate language from actions, though perhaps the story above is an example of what trumped up rhetoric looks like in real life.