Wednesday, February 29, 2012

If you give a lesbian a blessing...

Have you heard anything about this story yet? Details:
The Catholic Church teaches against homosexual behavior and gay marriage. But when a lesbian woman was denied Communion at her mother's funeral Mass and the priest walked out on the burial service, the Archdiocese of Washington D.C., was officially appalled.

Michelle Boorstein has the details at the Washington Post. Barbara Johnson, married to her partner in Washington, D.C., was stunned when the Rev. Marcel Guarnizo of St. John Neumann Catholic Church in Gaithersburg, Md., blocked the Communion cup with his hand and called her a sinner in front of the church.

Johnson recalled to Boorstein on Tuesday, and again to MSNBC today, that he refused the sacrament and called her a sinner as she came to mourn her devoutly Catholic mother.

The Archdiocese of Washington, which includes Gaithersburg in southern Maryland, has apologized in a letter to Johnson. According to The Post, a high-ranking official wrote:

... the lack of "kindness" she and her family received "is a cause of great concern and personal regret to me."

and the letter said:

I am sorry that what should have been a celebration of your mother's life, in light of her faith in Jesus Christ, was overshadowed by a lack of pastoral sensitivity. I hope that healing and reconciliation with the Church might be possible for you and any others who were affected by this experience. In the meantime, I will offer Mass for the happy repose of your mother's soul. May God bring you and your family comfort in your grief and hope in the Resurrection."

[...] Johnson told an MSNBC she wanted Guarnizo removed from parish life "so no other family will experience this."
Deacon Greg Kandra has been hosting discussions of the matter.

Canon lawyer Ed Peters spells it out: apparently, it is every priest's job to help people eat and drink condemnation upon themselves, even if the person in question makes a point of stopping by the sacristy before her mother's funeral Mass to announce that she is a partnered lesbian and to introduce her "lover," and even if the person in question has also been self-identifying as a Buddhist (that is: not a Catholic) since before her days of teaching in a Catholic school. (And even if the lesbian in question is actually "married" to her partner, though most people married outside the Church know that they're not supposed to receive Holy Communion.) I do have to wonder, though: if Canon 915 had been in force in St. Tarcisius's day, would this poor boy-martyr even have been up for canonization? After all, he didn't know that the howling mob which beat him to death for refusing to give them the Sacrament he was carrying was composed of people who were obstinately persisting in manifest grave sin. Maybe his bishop should have apologized to the howling mob for Tarcisius's lack of sensitivity and failure to appreciate their diversity.

The most troubling aspect of this story is the way in which Ms. Johnson seems to be trying to force Father Marcel Guarnizo out of his parish (and maybe out of ministry altogether). In children's-book parody form, the story seems to be:

If you give an openly partnered lesbian a blessing, she will demand Holy Communion.
If you fail to give her Holy Communion, she will alert the media.
If she alerts the media, the media will begin slamming the Church in the press.
If the media slams the Church in the press, the archdiocese will apologize for her feelings being hurt.
If the archdiocese apologizes because the openly partnered lesbian's feelings were hurt, she will demand the firing of the pastor who didn't give her Communion.
If the archdiocese removes the pastor, it will send a clear message that the archdiocese cares more about the hurt feelings of openly partnered lesbians living in sin than it does about the profanation of the Blessed Sacrament. But if the archdiocese doesn't remove the pastor, the openly partnered lesbian will alert the media. Again...

Given that this particular archdiocese sent out an apology letter that characterized a Funeral Mass as "...a celebration of your mother's life..." I wouldn't hold my breath hoping that the officials of this archdiocese do, in fact, care more about the profanation of the Blessed Sacrament than they do about the hurt feelings of openly partnered lesbians living in sin. After all, we've got to have priorities.

UPDATE: Rod Dreher is posting on this, but, alas, believes that Canon 915 justifies the priest's actions, even though we've been assured by Ed Peters that it does not. I've asked Dr. Peters (in the comments) to consider heading to Rod's blog to set the record straight.


Red Cardigan said...

Hi, potential commenters!

I've had two people post anonymously on this so far, but I've not approved the comments. I don't allow anon. comments without any sort of nickname, etc. Please resubmit with some sort of nickname or "tag"--e.g., "Jane123" or "Chestertonfan" or something. Thanks!

Siarlys Jenkins said...

I don't think my pastor would have offered her communion either.

I do think that the priest might have made a brief announcement before serving communion that "We invite all present who are in communion with the Roman Catholic Church to receive the sacrament at this time, and express our warm appreciation to those of you not in communion with the Church who came to pay your respects to this faithful woman.

Then, if the daughter persisted, instead of denouncing her as a sinner, at her mother's funeral, the priest could have put his hand over the cup and quietly affirmed "As I said, I may only serve communion to communicant members."

A letter of apology from the bishop might have been similarly framed, rather than implying that the priest darn well should have served her communion.

My mother is not Catholic, but my aunt's ex-husband's late wife was, and had I been at her funeral, I know better than to take communion.

L. said...

Too bad her mother's funeral wasn't held at Most Holy Redeemer in San Francisco.

Alisha De Freitas said...

Since I'm not Roman Catholic, I have a few questions. If this woman is now Budhist, doesn't that automatically mean she's not to receive Communion? When I attend Catholic masses, I've never gone up to partake because I'm Protestant.

Second, my husband is Catholic (although we are members of an Anglican church). When we visit Catholic churches, he takes Communion. However, we were married in a civil ceremony. Is he in error as we were married outside the church? Thanks for your help in advance.

Anonymous said...

I can't comment under anything but Anon as it will not let me comment under my Wordpress account name. I have the problem with all blogs who use blogger.

Anonymous said...

I am so upset about this. It is no wonder bishops have so little moral authority left. The Church has "rules," not to make people feel bad, but for their salvation. The Eucharist is the source and summit of our spiritual lives, our lives, period. None of us is worthy of the privilege (NOT the RIGHT) of receiving our Lord, but we should humbly make the effort with every bit of our being to follow the teachings of the Church that have been enumerated through the guidance of the Holy Spirit by the successors of the Apostles themselves! And we should ONLY present ourselves if we are in a state of grace or risk committing another grave sin. I am just at a loss that the Archbishop would pander to this woman with a letter that is based on emotion and placating the 'feelings' of someone who so brazenly flaunts that she is living in mortal sin. What can this do to the morale of good, holy priests who care deeply about the salvation of their flock and not the 'PR' of the Church? I've always thought how amazing it would be if one of my boys chose the priesthood as a vocation, but this story really shakes my confidence. And what a slap in the face to those with homosexual feelings who have chosen to live a life of chastity under great emotional pain so they can remain in good standing with the Church and receive our Lord. Frankly, it's disgusting. Please forgive these simplistic, incoherent ramblings... this post is not up to the level of the posts I regularly read on Erin's blog, but they have come pouring out of my heart from a place bordering on despair and I do not have the motivation to organize my thoughts. Thank you.

Southern Mom

Red Cardigan said...

Anon, above--sorry about the Wordpress problem. But as you can see from "Southern Mom's" post directly above, all I mean is--go ahead and click the "anonymous" button and then add a name or nickname or series of random numbers/letters etc. at the bottom of your post--like signing a letter. That way if people want to respond, engage in conversation, etc., we don't get those weird threads where someone has to write: "I like what Anonymous at 8:37 wrote, but must disagree with Anonymous at 7:15--and Anonymous at 12:30 seems to be on the right track..." esp. when one or more of those turns out to be the same person!

eulogos said...


If you were married outside the church without the express permission of the church, your marriage is not valid in the eyes of the church and your husband should not receive communion. I hasten to add that it would be easy to have your marriage "validated" should he decide to return to the church.

Also, if your husband is attending an Anglican church and receiving communion there, this is a "delict" of schism. By taking communion with Anglicans, he expresses belief in all the teachings of that church, and makes himself one with it. Therefore, he cannot also make himself one with the Catholic Church. Either you are a Catholic or an Anglican. If you are a Catholic, you can't receive communion in an Anglican church and still be a Catholic.

Even if he does't commune at the Anglican church, if he attends there instead of going to mass, he shouldn't receive communion until he goes to confession and confesses that.

Now, he may not agree with what I say, but I think you were asking for the official teaching of the Church.
Susan Peterson

Red Cardigan said...

Thanks, Susan! I meant to get to this later--Alisha, Susan has things correctly. But if there's any doubt about your husband's status, I'd just add that he should ask the parish priest where you visit.

Catholics believe that when we receive Holy Communion we are receiving Jesus Christ, Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity, really and truly present under the appearances of bread and wine. To receive Communion further says that one is, literally, in communion with the Church--that is, that one is a Catholic in good standing. If your husband no longer considers himself a Catholic or practices as a Catholic, then no, he should not receive Communion.

I hope this is helpful--please feel free to email me if you'd like!

Ed Peters said...

I noted a few hits to my site from your blog, and clicked back to see what you might have said. I found this "Canon lawyer Ed Peters spells it out: apparently, it is every priest's job to help people eat and drink condemnation upon themselves, ..."

I am sorry to see that when critical thinking is most called for, you still find it easier to resort to sarcasm.

Tell me, please, is it Canon 915 that you dislike so much, or my explanation of it that you find objectionable? If the former, please direct your ire to the pope. If the latter, please tell me where you think I am wrong. nb: wrong.

In either case, please stop telling people that I encourage priests to help people commit sacrilege. You're not being clever, you're being uncharitable.

Red Cardigan said...

Ed, please clarify this for me: either it IS the job of every priest to help people eat and drink condemnation upon themselves BECAUSE they have no power to refuse Holy Communion to anyone UNLESS the exact and narrow guidelines of Canon 915 are met, OR each priest and/or pastor DOES have a certain amount of discretion to act when, say, a woman who has been teaching at the school as a practicing Buddhist announces that she's also a lesbian and introduces her "lover" right before Mass, at which time the priest tells her not to present herself for Communion.

I'm not really attempting sarcasm here. Is it, or is it not, the job of every priest to aid people in eating and drinking condemnation upon themselves?

The Orthodox (I've been told) have strict rules about Communion, such that strangers, those unknown to the priest, etc. can't just expect to receive. In my mother's day in the Chicago area Catholics who would be traveling outside their parishes on a Sunday had to receive some sort of "ticket" to present at the other parish if they wanted to receive Holy Communion; otherwise, they simply didn't receive. So either something drastic has changed with the present iteration of Canon Law such that it is now the job--or even the duty--of priests to ignore questions of worthy reception and give Holy Communion to all who present themselves, or else Canon 915 is being misinterpreted somehow.

I'm not, obviously, a canon lawyer as you are. You, a canon lawyer, tell me that no, Canon 915 is not being misinterpreted--that only in cases of obstinate persistence in manifest grave sin does a priest have the power to withhold the Sacrament. Thus, I conclude, logically, that it is, indeed, the job of every priest to help people eat and drink condemnation upon themselves EXCEPT in those few, tiny, practically nonexistent (according to some bishops) situations where the exacting standards of Canon 915 have been so obviously met that no one could possibly quibble.

Am I wrong? What have I missed?

Red Cardigan said...

One more thing, Ed: Rod Dreher is posting on this and is under the erroneous impression that the priest was justified under Canon 915. You might wish to set the record straight, as he has thousands of daily readers who might form the wrong impression. The post is here:

Sid said...

As an Orthodox Christian, I have to agree with Erin. Say what you will about Orthodoxy versus Catholicism, there seems to be (for obvious reasons) a common approach to the eucharist, namely, that one must be in communion with the Church and must be in the right state of relationship with the Church in order to receive. So, it wouldn't be unusual in an Orthodox Church for the priest to remind everybody that they must be Orthodox, must have had a recent confession, must have fasted from the night before and must be in love and charity with their neighbors in order to approach the chalice. Since the priest couldn't know this for sure about a visitor, it could happen, unless a conversation had happened beforehand, that an Orthodox visitor could be denied communion.

I understand similar conditions apply to the Catholic faithful, but, if the only controlling rule here is canon 915, those conditions are meaningless - literally, without force and open to be ignored.

In Orthodox versus Catholic discussions, it's not uncommon for Catholics to have good fun mocking the Orthodox concept of economia - as Wikipedia puts it, "discretionary deviation from the letter of the law in order to adhere to the spirit of the law and charity" - especially, for example, as it applies to the Church's discipline surrounding divorce. But it could cut both ways, and I think there's a lesson here: it is practically inconceivable that this situation, in the year 2012, can be seen as anything other than a provocation. So, even if the priest didn't follow the letter of the law, I don't see how any person following goings-on in the culture at any level can understand that he achieved the right result - which is, after all, the point - even if it was done the wrong way. That's why the Church should not be too legalistic, but should exercise its Christ-given discretion to attend to people's souls as is best for them.

Obviously, there's a limit to how far discretion can be stretched, but one thing seems clear to me: producing a public apology letter, and one that fails to even reiterate the Church's teaching on morality (just to be sure no aid and comfort can be taken by the Church's opponents) is foolish. If you want to take the time to run through a few PowerPoint slides on the application of canon 915 with Father internally, that's great, but to handle it in this way does nothing but scandalize the faithful. The Pharisee would be proud of the Archdiocese: it's sticking right with the rules, and it may well receive its reward.

Anonymous said...

In all honesty, the priest should have handled it better. Why in the world would you be so rude to someone who has just lost someone so dear to them. He should get some sort of trouble out of this. No matter if she were lesbian, straight, part of the church, not part of the church, Catholic, pagan, or otherwise.


Anonymous said...

OK I don't Care if I get posted or not but We have a right to go and receive communion at the funeral of a dead family member whether we are Lesbian transgender gay or even if we have a different religion. It is the point of honoring the faith of the family member. The priest was not in the right to stop the women from honoring her mothers religion just because she was a Lesbian.

Patrick said...

She should not have presented herself for Communion. Period.

And yes, effective, smart priests take the opportunity at weddings and funerals to remind the people who may and who may not present themselves for communion. It's a great teaching moment and he blew it.

He sounds like a bad priest.

Red Cardigan said...

I've posted the comment from the anonymous person at 5:19 because it is illustrative of the mindset we're dealing with here.

People with no connection to the Church whatsoever and whose lifestyle amounts to obstinate persistence in manifest grave sin think they have a "right" to receive Holy Communion--that is, eat and drink condemnation on themselves--because it will make them "feel good" at a funeral.

America should be placed under interdict. As should most of Europe.

Alisha De Freitas said...

Thank you, Susan & Erin. No offense taken! I wanted to know the answer based on the RC's teachings. I just told my husband and he was surprised. Slightly off topic, but he and many of my friends who were raised Catholic have limited knowledge of what the RCC actually teaches. They all have hazy memories of poor catechisis. Many don't believe in transubstantiation. Btw, Erin, I know about The Real Presence. I even have a couple of books on it, one by Mark Shea.

Also, my husband and I considered a Church wedding, but were told no because I'm not Catholic. The same thing happened with my sister and her husband who is Catholic. they were actually told they couldn't get their daughter baptized at one church...

Anyway, thanks for the info. He said he's going to think about it. :-)

Anonymous said...

If that is true about this canon 915, then, yeah, I wish the priest had given her Communion and I'm sad that the priest wasn't trained enough on this or if he was, refused her anyway. I also wish the woman hadn't gone to the media, but had tried to state her anger, feelings, whatever, privately, with the priest, bishop, whoever. This is just a train wreck.

Ann Marie

Anonymous said...

Ok on the interdict, another thought experiment.... Maybe we do need identification cards to go to Mass, or at least to go up to Communion. I'm not kidding. Like the Mormons, how they guard their temples and ceremonies so tightly. As opposed to their regular meeting halls.

And maybe we should be interrogated on everything before we are issued the card. I'm really genuinely asking this, where do we go from here?

Ann Marie

Siarlys Jenkins said...

While interdict would be a matter of irrelevance or humor to me, I agree that American culture has cultivated the notion that "I have a right to whatever I want, from anyone."

You have the right to say things in the public square that you do NOT have the right to say in my living room -- or rather, I can ask you to leave the premises if you try it. Then you can shout it out on the street all you want.

Churches are, in matters of faith and doctrine, virtually independent of the United States Constitution, because the First Amendment says so. If you're not a communicant member, you are not entitled to anything.

A right to communion? Citation please. Show me the applicable law. There is none. That's just spouting a burst of emotion. Nobody is obligated to comply.

One might reasonably claim to ATTEND the funeral of a dead family member, but not to receive any sacrament of a church, even if it is offered at the funeral. A church COULD even exclude you from the funeral... Mrs. Mitt Romney's family were barred from the Mormon wedding that joined them, because they were not Mormon, although a separate ceremony was also held for them.

Red Cardigan said...

Alisha, I hope I didn't imply that you don't know about the Real Presence--just wanted to make it clear why the Church views Communion the way she does.

Also, I'm surprised that you couldn't be married in the Church! I have a relative who married a non-Catholic. A dispensation is required, and the non-Catholic spouse has to promise to raise the children Catholic, but those are the main points.

Alisha De Freitas said...

The more I've thought about this story, the more I'm stuck on the woman's feelings of entitlement. I'm not trying to be harsh, and I'm sorry for her loss. But why does someone who claims to practice another religion feel she is entitled to receive the sacraments of her mother's faith?

I've been to a number of Protestant churches which didn't offer Communion to everyone because of Paul's admonition against partaking unworthily. I actually couldn't take Communion at my current church until I was rebaptized last May because my original baptism was invalid ( loooong story... I will do a blog post eventually, even though it could be pieced together from past ones). I didn't get angry. I understood the church's teachings and followed suit. Smh...

My m-I-l, who is a devout Catholic (and one of the holiest woman I know) was shocked we couldn't marry in a church around here. She was able to marry K's father who is Anglican, in her church in Trinidad once they agreed to the stipulations. I think she would've flown us down if she could!

Patrick said...

I know Red addressed this but I feel compelled to clearly state:

Good Lord, Anon at 5:19, what are saying????

You have NO legal or moral right to receive this sacrament at a religious service. Try enforcing the same "right" at a Muslim or Shinto service and see how you are treated.

And the priest had every right, legal and moral and otherwise, to deny her access to a sacrament.

People today think "I want" equals "I have a right to."

You need to educate yourself about your rights.

Anonymous said...

Not having read the actual account of events, it sounds like a case of vindicative sour milk on the woman's part, but also indiscretion on the priest's part as he pronounced judgment of the woman in a public. She wasn't in a state of grace to participate in reception of the sacrament of the Eucharist, but on the other hand she (seemingly) had not asked to participate in the sacrament of Confession (reconciliation), either!

I've noticed, to my disgust, how some people have no scruples in reporting anything related to the Catholic Church in irreverent tones, in a way in which reporting about a different faith to a similar situation would be clearly repugnant to read about in the newspaper. (The headline in one about the new ordained bishops spoke of new members of 'the club'--I can't imagine the elders of the Mormon Church being referred to as a cabal, or the leaders at the Southern Baptist Convention termed the 'high and mighty' or whatever. Some factions are quick to vilify the Church in print, as a caricature, disrespectfully and uncalled for. Also, lesbianism as any other sexual orientation is a hot topic in the media today, so there would be no shortage of fodder for gossip-mongers wanting to link the Catholic Church and an aggrieved non-communicant with a different sexual orientation. In essence, notifying the priest ahead of time she was no longer a Catholic before Communion meant she could not even consider receiving it, but one would wonder why the priest might not have considered her situation, as many non-Catholics attend funerals, even of close relatives.


Rebecca in ID said...

Alisha, oh dear, I am so sorry you were misinformed. I've never heard of such a thing! I know several couples who were married in the Church though one was not Catholic--even a couple cases where one was not baptised. Red is right that it only requires a dispensation (which is not hard to obtain) and the agreement that the children will be raised Catholic. Go to the Bishop if necessary. Praying for you and your family, that all of this can be sorted out!

Siarlys Jenkins said...

Although I generally agree with what Zircon has said, I CAN very well imagine the elders of the Mormon Church being referred to as a cabal, or the leaders at the Southern Baptist Convention termed the 'high and mighty.' There are times and places when such labels have been highly appropriate.

The interesting thing over at Rod's post on this is that almost EVERYONE (as he noted to his great surprise) agrees that the woman had no "right" to communion, and shouldn't have presented herself to receive it. There's hope for this old world yet!

Tony said...

From what I've heard of this story, the woman notified the priest in advance of her sinful domestic situation.

I see no difference between this and the rainbow sashers

who are denied communion on a regular basis.

c matt said...

It is the point of honoring the faith of the family member.

So you honr the faithof the deprted family member by violating its tenets? Odd way to show honor.

Anonymous said...

Although I think going to the media may have been a little extreme on the woman's part, I honestly think the priest should get into some sort of trouble over this. He did not handle the situation appropriately.

From what I have read in several accounts of the story, the priest walked out while the daughter was speaking and did not show up for the burial. He also did not try to find someone to take his place.

In all honesty, that is just rude.


Red Cardigan said...

No, Observing, you didn't get that right. The priest became ill during the Mass and told the family he wouldn't be able to accompany them to the grave site. He did indeed arrange for a replacement, and the replacement conducted the prayers at the grave site.

I like c matt's comment: one doesn't really honor one's mother's religion by being so rude as to ignore its rules. If I had, say, a Mormon family member I would hardly demand to participate fully in the funeral service if their rules didn't permit it. So why does a Buddhist lesbian get to ignore Catholic rules? Or do lesbians of other religions get a pass when they're rude to Catholics?

nate said...

"What have I missed?"

Generalize that proposition "it is the JOB of every X to help Y do Z because A unless B".

Is X being asked to be morally complicit in the interim until B? Or does X have two positive jobs?(1)Warn Y about Z (2) Follow A to B.

Canon Law and the Church do not view the priest as morally complicit for the sacrilege of communicants if he provides clear pastoral warning. Such a priest has the surety that he is is good company:

So he dipped the morsel and [took it and] handed it to Judas, son of Simon the Iscariot. After he took the morsel, Satan entered him. So Jesus said to him, "What you are going to do, do quickly." None of those reclining at table realized why he said this to him.

The power to excommunicate is real and it's serious. Let's not be scanadalized by the standard of free will (obstinate refusal) that is involved.

Red Cardigan said...

Nate, I appreciate your explanation, but I stand by what I wrote, especially in light of recent developments in this story.

What Canon Law apparently requires (according not only to Ed Peters but to plenty of others as well) is for priests to give Holy Communion to anyone who asks for it in the communion line, even if the priest knows ahead of time that the person isn't Catholic, is living an openly immoral life, etc., UNLESS the provisions of 915 are met (that is, the person is obstinately persisting in manifest grave sin). Even there, there seems to be a lot of disagreement about what "obstinate" and "manifest" mean.

Now, what confuses me is that apparently (according to Dr. Peters) a priest might have some discretion in stopping a person covered with satanic tattoos from receiving communion--but then I get confused again; does the person only need to cover the tattoos in order to receive?

If someone like P.Z. Myers announces his intention to desecrate the Blessed Sacrament, tells a priest right before Mass that he is an atheist and means to do so, and gets in the communion line--does the priest have any power to avoid giving him communion? Or does the fact that the Myers-wannabee is not obstinately persisting in manifest grave sin tie the priests hands such that even with a strong suspicion that the person intends desecration he must hand over the Blessed Sacrament regardless?