March 11, 2012 | by Lou Chibbaro Jr.
Priest who refused communion to lesbian removed from church

A priest who refused to serve communion to a lesbian at her mother’s funeral service last month at a Catholic church in Gaithersburg, Md., has been removed from the church and placed on administrative leave pending an investigation, according to a letter from the Archdiocese of Washington to all of its priests.

The March 9 letter, written by Bishop Barry C. Knestout, chief of staff to Cardinal Donald Wuerl, who heads the Archdiocese, said the action taken against Father Marcel Guarnizo was based on allegations that he engaged in “intimidating behavior” against members of the staff and “others” at St. John Neumann Catholic Church, where he served as a parish priest.

The letter, a copy of which was obtained by the Washington Blade, makes no mention of the allegation by D.C. resident Barbara Johnson that Guarnizo “humiliated” her at her mother’s funeral Mass at the church on March 25 when he reportedly refused to allow her to receive communion as she and others approached the church altar, saying she was living in sin.

“I write to inform you that effective today, Father Marcel Guarnizo’s assignment at St. John Neumann Parish is withdrawn and he has been placed on administrative leave with his priestly faculties removed until such time as an inquiry into his actions at the parish is completed,” Bishop Knestout said in his March 9 letter.

“This action was taken after I received credible allegations that Father Guarnizo has engaged in intimidating behavior toward parish staff and others that is incompatible with proper priestly ministry,” he said in the letter. “Given the grave nature of these allegations, and in light of the confusion in the parish and the concerns expressed by parishioners, Father Guarnizo is prohibited from exercising any priestly ministry in the Archdiocese of Washington until all matters can be appropriately resolved, with the hope that he might return to priestly ministry.”

Last month, Johnson told the Washington Post that Guarnizo “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.’”

According to the Post’s account, Johnson’s partner of 20 years had been helping Johnson’s family at the church prior to the service when Guarnizo asked Johnson who she was. “I’m her partner,” the Post quoted Johnson as saying she told Guarnizo.

Bishop Knestout said in his letter that Guarnizo is a priest of the Archdiocese of Moscow, Russia, and has been serving since March 2011 as “parochial vicar” at the St. John Neumann Church parish.

Chieko Noguchi, a spokesperson for the Archdiocese of Washington, said the Archdiocese issued a statement on the same day Bishop Knestout issued his letter that repeats, nearly word for word, the contents of the letter. Noguchi initially indicated the letter was read during Mass at area churches last weekend. But she contacted the Blade to clarify that the letter was only read during the masses offered over the weekend at St. John Newmann Catholic Church in Gaithersburg, where Fr. Guarnizo had been assigned.

Noguchi said the Archdiocese would have no further comment, including a clarification of whether the action taken against Guarnizo is linked to his alleged behavior toward Barbara Johnson, because the action is a “personnel” matter that must remain confidential.

Guarnizo has told news media outlets that he would have no comment on the matter involving Barbara Johnson.

Reports of Guarnizo’s refusal to serve communion to Johnson triggered an uproar among LGBT activists, including LGBT Catholic activists in the D.C. area.

Shortly after the reports surfaced, the Archdiocese of Washington issued a statement saying Guarnizo’s action violated church policy and Archdiocesan officials would look into the matter.

“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.”

Lou Chibbaro Jr. has reported on the LGBT civil rights movement and the LGBT community for more than 30 years, beginning as a freelance writer and later as a staff reporter and currently as Senior News Reporter for the Washington Blade. He has chronicled LGBT-related developments as they have touched on a wide range of social, religious, and governmental institutions, including the White House, Congress, the U.S. Supreme Court, the military, local and national law enforcement agencies and the Catholic Church. Chibbaro has reported on LGBT issues and LGBT participation in local and national elections since 1976. He has covered the AIDS epidemic since it first surfaced in the early 1980s. Follow Lou

25 Comments
  • In this intense climate of so much child sex abuse within the Catholic church system, it is important that church officials stop the secrecy and explain why Rev. Marcel Guarnizo was barred from ministry?

    Judy Jones, SNAP Midwest Associate Director, USA, 636-433-2511
    “Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests” and all clergy.

    (SNAP, the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, is the world’s oldest and largest support group for clergy abuse victims.
    SNAP was founded in 1988 and has more than 12,000 members. Despite the word “priest” in our title, we have members who were molested by religious figures of all denominations, including nuns, rabbis, bishops, and Protestant ministers and increasingly, victims who were assaulted in a wide range of institutional settings like summer camps, athletic programs, Boy Scouts, etc. Our website is SNAPnetwork.org)

    • I’m not sure it would be appropriate to release the full details of the actions taken. As with most employer-employee relationships, it is inappropriate to release details of punitive actions. While I, too, am extremely curious as to what other actions the priest took, if none are outside of poor pastoral behavior, then it would seem inappropriate. I know if I were disciplined at work, I’d prefer that to be between my boss and me.

    • There are more protestant ministers who have been accused of child abuse then priests. This however is never reported.

  • I thought it was God who was supposed to pass judgement and no one else.

  • Fausto Fernandez

    The Catholic Church’s position is that communion must be denied to “unrepentant” sinners, such as a practicing gay person. The problem is not the priest, the problem is the Catholic Church itself. A self-respecting LGBT should not be a member of this medieval myth-inspired organization.

    • Exactly. You can disagree with the Catholic church but not with a priest who is following the doctrine he swore to uphold. Those Catholic officials who would remove him are actually the ones who the pope should remove from their positions.

  • Jesus said that He came to “save the lost,” but unfortunately this message has been “lost” in the Catholic Church. To deny anyone the healing comfort of the sacraments, when a loved one dies, is totally unconscionable and totally out of character for one, who proclaims to be a Christian and a priest at that! Unfortunately, when I was growing up in the 1950′s, we were always told, “When you are asked if you are a Christian, say, NO! I am a Catholic! ” I guess that just about sums it up!

  • To the commenter above, oh please, nuns don’t molest. One freak weirdo case that no one’s EVER heard of that you insist is a case does not validate even mentioning it. Give that crap a rest. It’s men who molest 99.9% of the time, in or OUT of the church, and that would enthusiasticaly include gay men as perpetrators. Gay men always want to equate women with male degeneracy. Sorry, it will never happen. EVER. Why don’t you pay attention to NAMBLA and spread the word about them? Is there a SNAP for NAMBLA?

  • It’s interesting that this posturing should occur after the Pope has denounced LGBT people. What a crock of crap and talking out of both sides of their mouths. The Catholic church becomes more and more disgusting every day.

  • It is telling that they have to find reasons other than his deliberate public humiliation of a bereaved, grieving, daughter and the dereliction of his duty to complete the funeral observances (he disappeared and failed to show up at the cemetery for the internment) to suspend this “minister.” Heaven forbid that the Church should publicly value the human dignity of a Lesbian.

  • The Priest did nothing wrong. In fact, if you are gay, you should not be receiving comunion! If you are gay and want to play church, go to the episcopal church! If you don’t believe in the tenets of the Catholic church, GO SOMEWHERE ELSE!!! Gay people don’t dictate what the church teaches. And if you read your bible, God does not say being gay is OK. In fact he says it is a sin. Just accept it!

    • Actually, there is nothing that prohibits LGBT persons from attending Mass and receiving communion. In the teachings of the Church, it would only be the sexual behavior and not the sexual orientation that would be “sinful,” but not different than unmarried persons having sex and using contraception (which, I assure you, MANY Catholics receiving communion fall into that category).

  • as a bisexual recovering catholic who has a girlfriend – but who also occasionally participates in catholic masses for my mother’s sake, since i believe sprituality takes multiple forms – i find what this priest did absolutely abhorrent. however, i blame *him*. i am not going to blame the entire catholic church – there are understanding priests, nuns, and bishops out there. i know some of them (yes, even bishops). unfortunately, change is glacial in the catholic church, which is why i am a recovering catholic and not an actively practicing one.

  • What about “hate the sin, love the sinner” It is even more outrageous that this was done at her mother’s funeral. Remember compassion? Churches move farther away from walking in Christ’s footsteps every day.

    • That’s great but that is not the position of the Catholic church and the priest has been removed for upholding the laws of the church he ministers. The Bishop should instead be removed.

  • Let no one hide under d cover of d LAW (all thns r lawful, but not all r expidient, al thns r lawful, but i won’t put myself under d power of any); both Man n Law shall d judged by d Almighty God. No one has d power 2 justify from sin but Christ. Sanctify us oh LORD by thy truth, thy Word is Truth. Don’t hesitate 2 surrender 2 JESUS CHRIST. He is d only Way of Eternal Life. Let go n let GOD. Choose life dat u n ur children may life. There’s a way dat seems right b4 men, bt d end thereof is destruction. Live 4 heaven not hell, bcos both r real. D later allows sin but d former doesn’t. Ur decision however determins ur destination.

  • This priest did exactly what the church tells him to do. The Catholic church does not follow political correctness. The pope would stand by this priest. There are strict guidelines about a gay and lesbian lifestyle and it is considered a mortal sin just as are many other actions. Any priest who knowingly gives communion to someone in mortal sin is himself committing the same sin and as a leader in the church he of all people must do what is right and right is not measured by political correctness or feeling but by church doctrine. You can disagree with the Catholic church but you cannot disagree with what this priest did. God bless him for standing up for his faith despite opposition by secular groups. Hopefully the falling out of many church leaders who would remove this man will not prevail.

  • Malachi Martin in his writings had plenty to say about Archbishop Donald Wuerl. JPII blocked his appointment to be AB of St. Louis. Benedict did not see the same view and promoted him to AB of Washington.

  • You guys that are judging the priest really need to read up on the conditions for receiving the Eucharist. In Catholic believing, receiving the Eucharist in a state of mortal sin can actually harm, rather than help. That is why confession and repentance is important.

    “CCC 1385 To respond to this invitation we must prepare ourselves for so great and so holy a moment. St. Paul urges us to examine our conscience: “Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of profaning the body and blood of the Lord. Let a man examine himself, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For any one who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment upon himself.”218 Anyone conscious of a grave sin must receive the sacrament of Reconciliation before coming to communion.”

    “Can. 916 A person who is conscious of grave sin is not to celebrate Mass or receive the body of the Lord without previous sacramental confession unless there is a grave reason and there is no opportunity to confess; in this case the person is to remember the obligation to make an act of perfect contrition which includes the resolution of confessing as soon as possible. ”

    If someone is gay, and open and proud about it, then they’re obviously not repentant about it. There are loads of people who accept communion every week, who don’t repent like they’re supposed to. The only difference is that their sins are not out in the open for priests to object to. Yeah, if you feel being gay is more important than your relationship with your Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, I can’ stop you from turning your back on him. But know this, everything in this world is temporal, even people you love. God, heaven and hell are eternal. The Catholic church calls all gays to a life of celibacy, where you can still be gay, but not live in a state of mortal sin. Consider it or don’t. It is your choice.

  • Johnson confronted the priest in the Sacristy as he was preparing for Mass, announced that she was a practicing lesbian, demanded that she receive Communion and had her partner block the exit. Confronting a priest in the Sacristy, as every real Catholic knows, is just not done. Alarm bells! Ms. Johnson set the priest up and she knows it. Non-Catholics are not even allowed to receive Communion, so someone who announces her mortal sin is there not for the Real Presence of Jesus, not for her Mother but for her agenda. Go away, sin all you want, take your chances with Heaven but the freedom to do what you want, to believe what you want that you so cherish was just denied to Father Guarnizo.

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