Fr. Marcel Guarnizo’s Response to the Eucharistic Incident

From CNA

I would like to begin by once again sending my condolences to the Johnson family on the death of Mrs. Loetta Johnson.

I also feel obliged to answer questions from my parishioners, as well as from the public, about the incident on February 25th.

Here are the facts: On Saturday February 25th I showed up to officiate at a funeral Mass for Mrs. Loetta Johnson. The arrangements for the Mass were also not my own. I wish to clarify that Ms. Barbara Johnson (the woman who has since complained to the press), has never been a parishioner of mine. In fact I had never met her or her family until that morning.

The funeral celebration was to commence at 10:30a.m. From 9:30 to 10:20, I was assigned to hear confessions for the parish and anyone in the funeral party who would have chosen to receive the sacrament.

A few minutes before the Mass began, Ms. Johnson came into the sacristy with another woman whom she announced as her “lover”. Her revelation was completely unsolicited. As I attempted to follow Ms.Johnson, her lover stood in our narrow sacristy physically blocking my pathway to the door. I politely asked her to move and she refused.

I understand and agree it is the policy of the Archdiocese to assume good faith when a Catholic presents himself for communion; like most priests I am not at all eager to withhold communion. But the ideal cannot always be achieved in life.

In the past ten days, many Catholics have referenced canon 915 in regard to this specific circumstance. There are other reasons for denying communion which neither meet the threshold of canon 915 or have any explicit connection to the discipline stated in that canon.

If a Quaker, a Lutheran or a Buddhist, desiring communion had introduced himself as such, before Mass, a priest would be obligated to withhold communion. If someone had shown up in my sacristy drunk, or high on drugs, no communion would have been possible either. If a Catholic, divorced and remarried (without an annulment) would make that known in my sacristy, they too according to Catholic doctrine, would be impeded from receiving communion. This has nothing to do with canon 915. Ms. Johnson’s circumstances are precisely one of those relations which impede her access to communion according to Catholic teaching. Ms. Johnson was a guest in our parish, not the arbitrer of how sacraments are dispensed in the Catholic Church.

In all of the above circumstances, I would have been placed in a similar uncomfortable position. Under these circumstances, I quietly withheld communion, so quietly that even the Eucharistic Minister standing four feet from me was not aware I had done so. (In fact Ms. Johnson promptly chose to go to the Eucharistic minister to receive communion and did so.) There was no scandal, no “public reprimand” and no small lecture as some have reported.

Details matter. Ms. Johnson was not kneeling when she approached for communion, she did not receive the cup as the press has reported she has stated. It is the policy of St. John Neumann parish never to distribute under both species during funerals.

During the two eulogies (nearly 25 minutes long), I quietly slipped for some minutes into the sacristy lavatory to recover from the migraine that was coming on. I never walked out on Mrs. Loetta Johnson’s funeral and the liturgy was carried out with the same reverence and care that I celebrate every Mass. I finished the Mass and accompanied the body of the deceased in formal procession to the hearse, which was headed to the cemetery. I am subject to occasional severe migraines, and because the pain at that point was becoming disabling, I communicated to our funeral director that I was incapacitated and he arranged one of my brother priests to be present at the cemetery to preside over the rite of burial. Furthermore as the testimony of the priest that was at the cemetery conveys, he was present when the Johnson family arrived, and in fact mentioned that being called to cover the burial rite is quite normal, as many priests for reasons much less significant than mine (rush hour traffic for example) do not make the voyage to the cemetery. He routinely covers for them. This change in plans, was also invisible to the rest of the entourage. Regrets and information about my incapacitating migraine were duly conveyed to the Johnson family.

I have thanked the funeral director and the priest at the burial site, for their assistance that day. Mrs. Loetta Johnson was properly buried with every witness and ceremony a Catholic funeral can offer. I did not and would not refuse to accompany Barbara Johnson and her mother to the cemetery because she is gay or lives with a woman. I did not in any way seek to dishonor Mrs. Johnson’s memory, and my homily at the funeral should have made that quite evident to all in the pews, including the Johnson family.

I would like to extend again to Ms. Johnson and her family, my sincerest condolences on her mother’s death. I would never intentionally want or seek to embarrass anyone publicly or increase anyone’s emotional distress during such a difficult time. I did not seek or contrive these circumstances.

But I am going to defend my conduct in these instances, because what happened I believe contains a warning to the church. Such circumstances can and will be repeated multiple times over if the local church does not make clear to all Catholics that openly confessing sin is something one does to a priest in the confessional, not minutes before the Mass in which the Holy Eucharist is given.

I am confident that my own view, that I did the only thing a faithful Catholic priest could do in such an awkward situation, quietly, with no intention to hurt or embarrass, will be upheld.

Otherwise any priest could-and many will-face the cruelest crisis of conscience that can be imposed. It seems to me, the lack of clarity on this most basic issue puts at risk other priests who wish to serve theCatholic Church in Washington D.C.

As to the latest allegations, I feel obliged to alleviate unnecessary suffering for the faithful at St. John Neumann and others who are following the case.

I wish to state that in conversation with Bishop Barry Knestout on the morning of March 13, he made it very clear that the whole of the case regarding the allegations of “intimidation” are circumscribed to two conversations; one with the funeral director and the other with a parish staff member present at the funeral. These conversations took place on March 7th and 8th, one day before the archdiocese’s latest decision to withdraw faculties (not suspend, since Cardinal Wuerl is not my bishop) on the 9th of March. I am fully aware of both meetings. And indeed contrary to the statement read on Sunday March 11th during all Masses at St. John Neumann, both instances have everything to do with the Eucharistic incident. There is no hidden other sin or “intimidation” allegations that they are working on, outside of these two meetings. The meetings in question, occurred in our effort to document from people at the funeral Mass in written form a few facts about the nature of the incident. We have collected more than a few testimonies and affidavits, testifying to what really took place during the funeral liturgy.

My personal conversation with both parties in question were in my view civil, professional and in no way hostile. I respect both individuals in question and really do not know the nature of their grievance.

On March 13, I asked Bishop Knestout about detail on this matter but he stated that he was not at liberty to discuss the matter. I would only add for the record, that the letter removing me from pastoral work in the Archdiocese of Washington, was already signed and sealed and on the table when I met with Bishop Knestout on March 9, even before he asked me the first question about the alleged clash.

In the days to come I look forward to addressing any confusion about the above conversations if the Archdiocese or the persons involved wish to talk about it publicly or privately.

I am grateful for all the good wishes and prayers I have received. And sincerely, having lost my own mother not long ago, I again extend my condolences to the Johnson family. I finally wish for the good of the Universal Church, the archdiocese, my parish and the peace of friends and strangers around the world, that the archdiocese would cease resolving what they call internal personnel matters of which they cannot speak, through the public media.

I remain my bishop’s and my Church’s, and above all Christ Jesus’obedient servant,

Very truly yours,

Father Marcel Guarnizo.

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15 Responses to Fr. Marcel Guarnizo’s Response to the Eucharistic Incident

  1. JabbaPapa says:

    For information purposes :

    Can. 915 Those upon whom the penalty of excommunication or interdict has been imposed or declared, and others who obstinately persist in manifest grave sin, are not to be admitted to holy communion.

    He is saying that communion was NOT refused on this basis — ie because the individual in question is not formally excommunicated ; nor by reason of this individual persisting “in manifest grave sin”.

    He is saying that because this individual declared herself to be in an unrepentant and unabsolved position of sinfulness, minutes prior to the Mass, she placed herself in a particular situation where she was unsuited to receive Communion from that priest during that Mass.

  2. Wall Eyed Mr Whippy says:

    Thanks Jabba

    I have said that all this fuss must have caused the relevant Archbishop to despair. Understandably.

    The woman in question certainly seems to have been a stroppy type.

    And better off as a Buddhist in a
    gompa
    in
    Tibet.

  3. Wall Eyed Mr Whippy says:

    I feel very sorry for the priest concerned – his account of events sounds like an absolute nightmare.

    What about his treatment by Bishop Knestout and the Archdiocese? He certainly seems to have got the bum’s rush, with discussion refused.

    If as CP&Sers have said, the priest was entirely correct and only did what he was supposed to do, then what does this say about a hierarchy which follows a route other than the right thing to do? If it’s just a cover up to make a PR problem go away, then that questions the honesty of the Archdiocese. What do other priests do in future, having seen all this?

  4. Laura Sedivy says:

    Couldn’t agree with you more, Mr. Whippy.

    Very glad to see this response by the priest. I’ll keep him in prayer. he does not deserve this treatment.

  5. Pierre Gregori says:

    Dear Father Marcel Guarnizo,
    You are in my prayers as are the Bishops and Cardinals
    Obedience to our superior is very important, St Padre Pio was ordered by the Holy See to desist from all activities exept the celebration of the Mass in private.With God the the truth will always prevail. He became a saint. God Bless you as you continue in His work.

  6. JabbaPapa says:

    What about his treatment by Bishop Knestout and the Archdiocese? He certainly seems to have got the bum’s rush, with discussion refused.

    It’s actually quite normal — because both the innocent and the guilty may be accused.

    He is presumed innocent, and seems in fact to BE innocent ; but it is legally normal that these accusations should be examined, and that pending the conclusion of this process, the priest should be “presumed innocent” — which is clearly not the same as never being accused in the first place — the less which said about, the better.

  7. Wall Eyed Mr Whippy says:

    Fr. Guarnizo has been very, very careful in his letter to show the facts as he sees them, to give respect to all concerned and yet to say what he experienced, and always with a thoughtful, weighed register of expression.

    Underneath the careful, factual, and inclusive words, I detect the tone of a man deeply hurt, a man bewildered, a man in pain. Without evidence, I believe that this letter was an enormously difficult piece to write. He had to avoid antagonising all parties concerned, especially the Church. He had to subjugate and put aside his own pain; he had to think of his own future in a church he loved, but which had let him down. He acted as he was taught, and has suffered as a consequence.

    It is a living hell to explain what you did at a given moment. It is hell to appear to go against current culture and your own church; you know that the church wants to close the affair, with you on the sacrificial altar. You worry that your vocation will be blighted. You worry that you are seen as ‘trouble’ You feel that you only followed taught practice, and ended up wounded.

  8. Laura Sedivy says:

    Wouldn’t it be nice if action had not been pre-determined …..before getting Fr. G’s side of the story? AND……..wouldn’t it be nice to see a public letter from the bishop BACKING the priest for taking appropriate action to prevent a daughter of God from committing a sacrilege?

    God will make good come from anything. And I believe this is a prime example.

  9. Wall Eyed Mr Whippy says:

    Laura – that Archdiocese is not really dealing with religion, but cultural and sexual politics.

    Anyone who has had to deal with the public in any capacity knows that apart from the stresses of the job in hand, dealing with strident protest can break you, as I think has happened to this priest.

  10. kathleen says:

    Mr. Whippy @ 19:59 yesterday:

    A very nice and thoughtful comment Mr. W.

    I first saw this article above on CNA late on Wednesday night, before Raven very wisely made a special post about it in the morning. As I commented on the “Ambassadors walk out the UN meetiing…..” thread, I really feel that the whole scandalous treatment of this humble good priest, Fr. Marcel Guarnizo, is a spiteful and calculated attack by the powerful ‘gay lobby’.

    Otherwise why would Ms. Johnson march into the sacristy and have the audacity to introduce her ‘lover’ to Fr. Guarnizo, knowing full well that living a lesbian lifestyle is sinful. She might have embraced Buddhism, but she was brought up a Catholic and was not ignorant of Catholic teaching on Faith and Morals. She then left before he could forewarn her not to receive Holy Communion, and her ‘lover’ blocked Father’s attempt to follow her! All obviously thought out and planned beforehand. So when she was refused the Sacrament (as she knew she would be) she could kick up the fuss she has….. and receive a lot of ‘sympathy’. Just look at what some of the media is saying about the incident!

    A triumph for the anti-Catholic ‘gay lobby’. And the Archdiocese of Washington has played right into their hands!!

  11. Laura Sedivy says:

    Thank you, Kathleen. I had heard before that this was a deliberate, thought-out and provoked plan. But I had a hard time believing that (not that I was doubting it, but hard to figure out how someone came to that conclusion). You provide that explanation and now it does make sense to me. Thanks for filling in the cracks.

  12. Wall Eyed Mr Whippy says:

    Thanks K,

    I have to say that I do not believe that this was the result of a plan or set up. I can see why you say that, but this would suggest a wider conspiracy. There is a tendency to see events like this as a form of deliberate sabotage or a form of persecution. I can’t share this.

    I think (only from the report here) that the woman was indeed the stroppy type, who is always ready for a conflict. She too may have felt that her lesbianism was subject to persecution and found an example, in her mind. She has done her cause no good, and there are no doubt many homosexuals who wish this had never happened. They won’t like it either, and will wish to practice their faith in peace.

    The priest was unlucky to be on shift and meet an aggressive, lesbian, buddhist catholic (!) accompanied by her lover at a funeral and seeking communion; and of course he is a bloke. You’d have a better chance at winning the lottery, such are these odds. He was also unlucky with his Archdiocese, who have handled this so badly. I think of the Blues song which says

    “If it wasn’t for bad luck, I’d have no luck at all.”
    When all this is forgotten, he will still be licking his wounds.

    Maybe this is the kind of stuff that the Archbishop of Canterbury was thinking of when he said that in his job he needed the strength of an ox and the hide of a rhinocerous. And of course he’s packed it in, to relax in the SCR in Magdalen or somewhere. He was never afraid to comment on politics, knowing that religion and politics are intertwined.

    I hope he trims that beard tho’.

  13. Laura Sedivy says:

    Perhaps it was a case of simple bullying by the “daughter”. I could buy that based on her comments on her blog about going back to her old school to teach art there.

  14. toadspittle says:

    .
    Laura Sedivy says:
    Perhaps it was a case of simple bullying by the “daughter”. I could buy that based on her comments on her blog about going back to her old school to teach art there.

    Laura has put her finger on the nub all right.
    The moment Toad (a one time art student) hears the words “art school” mentioned, he reaches, like Kathleen’s old soulmate, Goering, for his revolver.
    Quite right, too. Nothing good comes of art, or art schools.

    Nests of vipers.

    My six year old could draw better than that. (If I had one.)

    But, as Saint Augustine remarks, God draws in many mysterious ways. Apparently.

    Enter your comment here…

  15. Wall Eyed Mr Whippy says:

    “Goering” you allege in your SixPoints above. I thought you said it was a Spanish bloke with shiny black boots? Had a place at El Escorial…

    “Nothing good comes of art” sez T. Wot abaat that Damien bloke then? Made a few bob, dinn’e? Wot abaat that Luc..L…Lucy Freud? Bit in-yer-face but it goes nice in my front room next to the flying ducks.

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