01 March 2012

On being denied communion at your mother's funeral Mass. . .

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.

Follow HancAquam and visit the Kindle Wish List and the Books & Things Wish List

Recommend this post on Google!


  1. Anonymous10:40 AM

    I really feel for this pastor. I had something similar happen to me. I had a funeral and the family did not want to come and have a meeting with me. They wanted the funeral to look, "Just like Mom's," which of course I had no idea. Then at the funeral I grab a memorial card of the deceased and read on the back, "survived by daughter x and her partner y." So I was torn about approaching the family as they walked in the door. I did give my usual talk before communion, "Communion is for Catholics in good standing with the Church, if you are not Catholic or not in good standing with the Church you can still come forward with your arms crossed and I will ask almighty God to bless you." The daughter came up without her partner and wanted commuion and I just thought, "Lord, I warned her." Heaven forgive me but I gave her the Eucharist. I did confess it later because I felt so guilty that I didn't make a stand for my Lord. But now with all the heat that this poor priest is getting, I'd probably do it again.

    Fr. Joshua

  2. Anonymous1:35 PM

    This is a double-edged problem. To the poor priest I want to remind him that if he had enough contact with the bereaved to understand that she wanted to give a reflection at the Mass, then he had enough contact with her to touch other important bases ahead of time and his excuse that he was taken off guard is neither honest nor sufficient.

    On the other hand, the real villains here are the Bishops of the United States. By my observation over a long period of time, the American bishops have repeatedly identified by their behavior, the single most important teaching of the Roman Catholic Church. It is it not belief in the trinity nor in the two natures of Christ; it is not belief in the Real Presence in the Blessed Sacrament, the Virgin Birth nor is it belief in the physical resurrection of Christ. No, the single most important principle of Roman Catholicism to our bishops, and a truth they unanimously and consistently announce over and over and over and over and over again is this: A BISHOP DOES NOT INTERFERE IN OTHER BISHOPS' business / turf / diocese / prerogatives, or whatever you want to call them. For example, let Catholics be scandalized that Sinsinawa Dominican Sister Donna Quinn escorted countless women into abortion clinics over the years. Too bad about the scandal, but the lay people are just going to have to get over it; it's going to have to stand unresolved because the nun lived in one diocese, worked outside an abortion clinic in another diocese and belongs to a Congregation with its motherhouse in yet another diocese. Oh, my, oh my, oh my. No bishop can do anything about it now because to do so would be to be interfering in a brother bishop's area - this would be to risk offending a brother bishop and this is the FIRST and FOREMOST and in the long run, the ONLY Catholic principle that really truly matters to our bishops and for which they wold even give their lives, I bet!
    Now, what's this got to do with this ugly business at hand about the poor priest who refused Communion to a grieving lesbian daughter at her mother's funeral Mass? You cannot blame this priest, even though he could have done better. It is the bishops who are at fault because after all these years, they still refuse to get together and decide upon policies to govern such situations in consistent ways that are faithful to the Church's teaching. No priest has any idea whether or not his bishop is going to back him up on a difficult issue or not. (Unless it was Cardinal Mahoney who automatically gave a green light to every left-wing initiative anybody could think up). Priests don't know if they are supposed to support the Church's teachings or not and they don't know what interpretation the Church is giving to somewhat complex or ambiguous teachings because the BISHOPS WON'T GET TOGETHER AND DECIDE THESE THINGS. I asked an archbishop once with all of her resources, talents, monies, relative staff, etc., the American Church still hasn't come up with a damage control program following the sexual abuse scandal that has torn the heart out of the Church these past twenty years. The archbishop smiled weakly and said "Because we can't agree on how to proceed. We're too disunited."

    I used to like to blame Vatican II for everything that went wrong in the world; Obama quickly become the more appropriate source of all all that is morally ill in the world, but in the end, the U.S. bishops really get that "award." God help us.