A couple of HA readers have written to ask me to comment on the recent controversy about the Maryland priest who denied communion to a self-identified lesbian at her mother's funeral.
Fr. Marcel Guarnizo's superiors in the archdiocese have apologized to the woman, Barbara Johnson, and she's made a national media tour trashing the priest and demanding that he be suspended from ministry. She fervently claims that she is not trying to make a political point or subject the Church to ridicule. Given the media circus she's stirred up and her ridiculous demands, that's hard to believe. She has also accused the priest of "bringing his politics" into the Church, an accusation that tells me she knows little about the faith she claims to profess. And, of course, the media are playing this up from its usual left-liberal, anti-Catholic ideological biases.
IF--and that's a huge IF--we have the whole story, then I would have to say that the woman should not have been denied communion. I would never deny anyone communion w/o first talking to them privately. And even then I would need to consult the bishop. Though I often fail, I always try to presume the presence of grace.
Many supporting the priest's actions cite canon law and the obligation of priests to "protect the sacrament." The requirements of canon law on this issue are hotly contested, but I do think it's clear that anyone denied communion must be obstinately, gravely sinful and their sin must create a public scandal. Whether or not this woman fits the bill is doubtful. And that's sufficient in my mind to err on the side of giving her communion. If she were a parishioner, I'd ask to meet with her and discuss the Church's teaching on same-sex relationships and the necessity of being properly disposed to receive communion. If she persisted in the relationship and still came forward for communion, a conversation with the bishop would follow.
I think the Good Father made a snap decision in good conscience. There's no reason to believe that he was being mean-spirited or uncharitable. In fact, evidence demonstrates that he is anything but mean-spirited and uncharitable. He's an excellent pastor by all accounts and his superiors in the archdiocese threw him under the bus in order to short-circuit any unpleasant controversy with the gay community. The apology issued by the archdiocese makes no mention of the Church's teaching on same-sex relationships or the necessity of being properly disposed to receive communion.
If anything good can come out of this mess, let it be this: pastors DO NOT allow eulogies at funeral Masses. The bishops have discouraged them precisely b/c individuals often use them to tell inappropriate stories about the deceased; take cheap pot shots at the Church; ridicule the faith in general; and to try and settle old family feuds. I always tell the deceased's family that stories can be told at the grave site but not during the Mass.___________________
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