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