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Priest who refused communion to lesbian removed from church

Archdiocese says he ‘engaged in intimidating behavior’

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“I write to inform you that effective today, Father Marcel Guarnizo’s assignment at St. John Neumann Parish is withdrawn and he has been placed on administrative leave with his priestly faculties removed until such time as an inquiry into his actions at the parish is completed,”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

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25 Comments

25 Comments

  1. Judy Jones

    March 11, 2012 at 6:19 pm

    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)

    • Michael

      March 12, 2012 at 2:29 pm

      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.

    • Larry

      March 15, 2012 at 5:48 pm

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

  2. Chris

    March 11, 2012 at 8:26 pm

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

  3. Fausto Fernandez

    March 11, 2012 at 10:40 pm

    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.

    • Larry

      March 15, 2012 at 5:47 pm

      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.

  4. JeannieGuzman

    March 12, 2012 at 12:08 am

    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!

  5. JT

    March 12, 2012 at 4:57 am

    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?

  6. PJ Seleska

    March 12, 2012 at 8:21 am

    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.

  7. GBullough

    March 12, 2012 at 9:40 am

    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.

  8. ugh

    March 12, 2012 at 12:11 pm

    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!

    • Michael

      March 12, 2012 at 2:31 pm

      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).

    • Larry

      March 15, 2012 at 5:50 pm

      exactly

  9. Eileen

    March 12, 2012 at 4:21 pm

    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.

  10. IreneTH

    March 12, 2012 at 10:59 pm

    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.

    • Larry

      March 15, 2012 at 5:50 pm

      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.

  11. Adetola

    March 13, 2012 at 10:40 am

    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.

  12. Larry

    March 15, 2012 at 5:43 pm

    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.

  13. D Paul

    April 13, 2012 at 5:49 pm

    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.

  14. Dymphna

    May 11, 2012 at 2:18 am

    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.

  15. Joanne Newnam

    February 12, 2013 at 3:01 pm

    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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Comings & Goings

Nathanson takes role at Outright Action

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Rikki Nathanson

The Comings & Goings column is about sharing the professional successes of our community. We want to recognize those landing new jobs, new clients for their business, joining boards of organizations and other achievements. Please share your successes with us at: [email protected] 

The Comings & Goings column also invites LGBTQ+ college students to share their successes with us. If you have been elected to a student government position, gotten an exciting internship, or are graduating and beginning your career with a great job, let us know so we can share your success. 

Congratulations to Rikki Nathanson on her new position as Senior Advisor – Global Trans Program with OutRight Action International in New York. Nathanson will be based in D.C.  

 “I am absolutely thrilled to be taking on this new role as Senior Advisor in OutRight’s Global Trans Program,” said Nathanson. “I have finally found the perfect fit for me: as a trans woman who has been fighting for equality not only for myself, but for others globally, this position is not only a job, it’s intrinsically part of who I am. So, what better way to live, nurture and grow myself.” 

Nathanson will be working closely with all program staff to ensure a cohesive and intentional approach to gender issues throughout OutRight’s programs, including its approach to gender ideology movements. She will lead new initiatives on gender advocacy and policy change, focused but not limited to legal gender recognition and anti-discrimination legislation and policies.

Prior to this Nathanson was director of housing programs at Casa Ruby in D.C. She has also held a number of other positions including: founder/executive director of Trans Research, Education, Advocacy & Training (TREAT), Zimbabwe; chairperson Southern Africa Trans Forum, SATF, Cape Town, South Africa; executive director, Ricochet Modeling Agency, Zimbabwe; and company secretary for Dunlop Zimbabwe Limited, Zimbabwe. 

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SMYAL Director Shakir to step down Dec. 31

Board to launch Executive Search beginning in January

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SMYAL Executive Director Sultan Shakir addresses the crowd at the 2021 Fall Brunch. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Sultan Shakir, who has served as executive director of D.C.’s LGBTQ youth advocacy organization SMYAL since August 2014, announced on Friday that he will be stepping down from his position effective Dec. 31.

In a Dec. 3 announcement, SMYAL said details of Shakir’s future career plans would be announced in the coming weeks.

“While we are sad to see Sultan leave, we wish him nothing but the same success in his new endeavor as he had at SMYAL,” said Rob Cogorno, SMYAL’s board chair. “His leadership and vision enabled SMYAL to expand greatly needed services to LGBTQ youth in the DC metro area throughout his tenure,” Cogorno said.

“I am immensely proud of the work we have been able to accomplish together in my time at SMYAL,” Shakir said in a statement released by SMYAL. “SMYAL has been an integral and vital resource in the DMV community for over 37 years, and while we have come a long way in combating homophobia, transphobia, racism, sexual health stigma, homelessness, violence against the LGBTQ community, and oppression, we have a long way to go,” he said.

“This work has never been about one person,” said Shakir. “SMYAL was founded by our community and we’re still around because of our community,” he said. “I leave knowing that the commitment and passion of the SMYAL Board, staff, volunteers, and youth leaders have created a solid foundation from which our work will continue to grow until LGBTQ youth no longer need us.”

The SMYAL statement says that under Shakir’s tenure, SMYAL, which stands for Supporting and Mentoring Youth Advocates and Leaders, expanded its programs and services for LGBTQ youth. Among other things, in 2017 SMYAL opened its first of several housing facilities for homeless LGBTQ youth that include culturally competent case management, education and employment assistance.

“The Youth Housing Program now comprises five programmatic models that serve a combined 61 youth residents,” the statement says.

It points out that also under Shakir’s leadership, SMYAL expanded the age range of the youth its programs serve under a new Little SMYALs program, which welcomes LGBTQ youth ages 6-12. And earlier in 2021 under Shakir’s guidance, SMYAL began a new Clinical Services Department “which provides affirming and accessible mental health counseling,” the statement says.

“The SMYAL Board of Directors will officially launch an Executive Search beginning in January 2022 and expects to have named a new Executive Director by summer 2022,” the statement says. It says the board will soon name an interim executive director to work with SMYAL’s Deputy Executive Director, Jorge Membreno, and the organization’s leadership team to oversee the day-to-day activities until a new executive director is named.

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Rainbow History Project to honor LGBTQ ‘Pioneers’

Virtual celebration to take place on Dec. 9

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David Mariner, gay news, Washington Blade
David Mariner (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

D.C.’s Rainbow History Project says it will honor and recognize 12 individuals and one organization by designating them as Community Pioneers “for their diverse contributions to the Washington-area LGBTQ community” at a Dec. 9 virtual celebration.

“Rainbow History Project is an all-volunteer organization dedicated to collecting, preserving and sharing the LGBT history of metropolitan Washington, D.C.,” the group says in a statement announcing the event. “The Pioneers awards recognize diverse community leaders for their roles as organizational founders, innovators, advocates and volunteers,” the statement says.

“The Pioneers celebration will be held virtually and is designed with special features that reproduce the feeling of attending in-person, such as live streaming and video chatting with other attendees and Pioneers before and after the core awards programing,” according to the statement.

“Celebrating our Community Pioneers has been a cherished tradition since Rainbow History Project’s founding 21 years ago,” said Rob Berger, the organization’s chairperson. “It’s always an inspiring event, and we are happy that our virtual platform will still allow participants to meet and talk with the Pioneers,” Berger said in the statement.

The virtual event is free and open to the public, the statement says. Organizers released this link for those interested in attending, saying a short registration process may require registering in advance. 

Remo Conference

Following is the list of Community Pioneers scheduled to be honored at the Dec. 9 event as released by Rainbow History Project along with the project’s description of their backgrounds.

Arlington Gay and Lesbian Alliance, a local group that since its founding has addressed equal rights issues for LGBTQ Virginians from a state and local perspective.

– Eboné F. Bell, founder and editor-in-chief of Tagg Magazine and Tagg Communication LLC.

Bart Forbes, founding member of “Gay Fairfax,” a pioneering television newsmagazine program in Northern Virginia.

– Ellen Kahan, youth and family advocate, president of Rainbow Families, former director of the Lesbian Services Program at Whitman-Walker Health, and currently senior director of programs and partnerships at the Human Rights Campaign Foundation.

– Theodore Kirkland (deceased), a co-founder of D.C. Black Pride in 1991, member of the Gay Liberation Front and Skyline Faggots, active community health volunteer and advocate.

– Paul Marengo, community leader through LGBTQ organizations including Reel Affirmations, Cherry Fund, and Pride celebrations for youth, Latino, Black and Transgender communities.

– David Mariner, executive director of CAMP Rehoboth, and former executive director of the D.C. Center for the LGBT Community.

– Mark Meinke founder longtime chair, Rainbow History Project, and co-founder of Rainbow Heritage Network, a national organization for the recognition and preservation of sites, history and heritage associated with sexual and gender minorities.

– Michael “Micci” Sainte Andress, artist, health educator and advocate and an early leader in bringing African Americans into HIV/AIDS clinical trials.

– Boden Sandstrom, founder and owner of Woman Sound (later City Sound), the first all-woman sound company, which makes LGBTQ rights rallies and the women’s music scene possible.

Casse Culver (deceased), nationally acclaimed D.C. lesbian feminist singer-songwriter, and partner of Boden Sandstrom, whose followers said her love songs and feminist lyrics moved audiences from foot stomping to silent reflection.  

Alan Sharpe, playwright, director and co-founder of the African American Collective Theater in Washington, D.C., in 1976, which now focuses on LGBTQ life and culture in the Black community.

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