Lesbian denied Communion at her mother’s funeral is also a Buddhist
by Ben Johnson
- Thu Mar 08, 2012 16:26 EST
GAITHERSBURG, MARYLAND, March 8, 2012, (LifeSiteNews.com) – The lesbian who is attempting to get a Catholic priest removed from his parish for denying her Holy Communion at her mother’s funeral is a Buddhist who describes herself as a “naturally born agitator” committed to a “culture war.”
Barbara Johnson created a national feeding frenzy after alerting the media that Fr. Marcel Guarnizo had refused to give her the Eucharist because she is a sexually active homosexual.
On February 26, Fr. Marcel Guarnizo of St. John Neumann Catholic Church in Gaithersburg, Maryland, covered the ciborium containing the Host as Johnson approached and whispered, “I can’t give you Communion because you live with a woman, and in the eyes of the Church, that is a sin.”
In the ensuing national media coverage, Johnson was repeatedly painted as the victim of prejudice, while the priest was lambasted as a bigot, even being censured by his own diocese.
But in the days following the incident, new information has emerged about the woman at the center of the controversy that raises questions about why she presented herself for Communion in the first place. The priest had publicly explained the conditions for receiving Communion during the funeral mass.
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Johnson published a paper on Academia.edu entitled “Coming Out in the Heteronormative and Homophobic World of Education” that discussed her sexual and religion identification.
When taking a job as an art teacher in a Catholic high school, she wrote, “I felt I couldn’t allow myself to be put into a position to be closeted, even for a few months,” because doing so would leave her “feeling invisible and unworthy of knowing.”
“So in my interview with the principal we talked openly about my being a lesbian and a Buddhist.”
In a second paper she wrote, “As a Buddhist, my role model of an enlightened, highly realized, and happy human being is Gautama Buddha.”
Under canon law, only Roman Catholics are permitted to receive the Eucharist at a Catholic Mass.
In her paper about her experiences in Catholic education, Johnson portrays herself as committed to a “culture war,” insisting it is “important to note the place in which the issue exists in our society, a place of deep and historically violent conflict – war…Ironically, the group who most often portray LGBT people as a menace is the same group responsible for ‘virtually all rape, assault, murder, theft, child abuse, spouse abuse, and war.’”
She complained that her principal told her, “I’m no bigot” but warned her that some Catholic school parents object to teachers discussing their homosexual sex lives in class.
“I was forewarned, and now any problems I might have would surely be of my own making, and most likely, in need of my own solutions,” she wrote. “The decision was mine to make, and I made it with all the zeal and enthusiasm of any naturally born agitator who every now and again enjoys challenging the status quo. And how could I not take this opportunity to challenge this status quo where our laws ‘facilitate and nurture an educational system where schools are able to use tax money [or in this case government voucher money] to speak about respect while modeling bigotry’?”
In her paper, posted online “about a year ago” as a graduate student at Kutztown University, Johnson quoted John Howard Griffin’s statement that he wrote Black Like Me to show “the white majority how a small but powerful group of whites viciously oppressed blacks [while] well-meaning whites looked the other way.” She asked, “Isn’t it time the well-meaning heterosexual majority looked this issue straight in the eye?”
She went on to liken societal “heterosexism” to the Jewish blood libel and the lynching of blacks, and hoped her words would “propel all educators out of our comfort zones and into action.”
Decrying “the false sexual binaries of mascule/feminine and heterosexual/homosexual,” she wrote LGBT people must be “embraced as part of a new, more expansive definition of normal.”
“The next step must be for the public school system” to “celebrate both LGBT faculty and students for the unique perspectives and experiences we can provide the greater school community,” she wrote.
Johnson says she facilitated this celebration in her career by teaching “a project based on Judy Chicago’s Dinner Party,” which is “based on tikkun olam…the Jewish concept behind much of Chicago’s work.” Students were asked to discuss “discrimination,” then create art projects, displayed throughout the school, “to honor…marginalized groups.”
Joshua Bowman, who runs the blog the “Prolix Patriot,” wrote, “a quick glance at the Facebook and Twitter pages of [Johnson’s] art school (for children!) reveals a series of pro-abortion and pro-[gay] links which are clearly and explicitly at odds with the teachings of the Catholic Church.”
Canon 915 of the Roman Catholic Church’s Code of Canon Law states those who are “obstinately persevering in manifest grave sin are not to be admitted to holy communion.” However, canon lawyers disagree about how much interaction is necessary before a priest may deny someone Communion in practice.
A source close to the incident, Diego von Stauffenberg, told LifeSiteNews.com exclusively that Johnson introduced herself and her “lover” to Fr. Guarnizo before the ceremony. She then reportedly stormed out, with her lesbian partner blocking the door. After being denied the Eucharist by Fr. Guarnizo, Johnson went into another line and received Holy Communion from an Extraordinary Minister.
Von Stauffenberg’s account calls several aspects of Johnson’s story into question.
After the ceremony, Johnson wrote a complaint, leading to Archdiocese of Washington Auxiliary Bishop Barry Knestout penning a formal letter of apology blasting Fr. Guarnizo’s “lack of pastoral sensitivity.”
Popular Catholic clogger Thomas Peters writes at CatholicVote.org that, in light of Johnson’s history of activism, the entire ordeal constitutes “a blatantly political attempt by Johnson to generate sympathy and support for gay marriage and to foment public judgment against the Church.”
“The liberal narrative is that the Catholic Church is oppressing women,” Bowman wrote at Prolix Patriot, “but the truth is that radical liberals who do not believe in the Church’s teachings are manufacturing controversy with the help of manipulative media elites.”
Bp. Knestout’s March 9 letter on Fr. Guarnizo
by Professor Thomas Peters, JD, JCD
Most of the lesbian/Communion controversy has been a dis-edifying parade of misleading commentary being proffered about misapplied laws. I don’t write here to correct these many errors, as their partisans (whether ‘left’ or ‘right’) don’t seem especially interested in what the law actually says, but I am happy to offer some observations on Bp. Knestout’s letter of March 9 for those who are trying to understand what is, and is not, at work in this matter.
1. Fr. Guarnizo has not been suspended (suspension is a canonical penalty levied only upon guilt for crimes, per c. 1333), but he has been placed on “administrative leave”, a term not found in the Code, but nevertheless serving as a practical description of a situation in which, usually, one is not permitted to function as a cleric for so long as a wider situation requires resolution. A priest’s faculties for confession, preaching (homilies), witnessing weddings, etc. can be restricted a couple of different ways, and there is no reason to think that those ways were not satisfied in this action (although direct discussion of them is lacking).
From the text of the letter, I cannot tell whether Guarnizo is prohibited from celebrating Mass even in private (he is certainly prohibited from public celebration), although the trend in such cases is to allow for private celebration. This question could easily be addressed between Knestout and Guarnizo, and probably has already been answered.
2. A vicar general almost certainly has sufficient authority to issue such a letter (c. 479 § 1); one may expect the Cardinal to be informed of this action in a timely manner (c. 480).
3. As a parochial vicar, Guarnizo has considerably fewer procedural rights to office than would a pastor. Compare a pastor’s rights under c. 522, etc., and c. 1740 etc., with those of a parochial vicar, per c. 552. All associate pastors know this.
4. Guarnizo is not “incardinated” in the Archdiocese of Washington (c. 265 etc.); the situation of an “extern” priest is inherently more tenuous than is the situation of locally incardinated clergy, it being a function more of contract (express or implied) than of law. All extern priests know this.
5. Little in Knestout’s letter suggests that this action is being taken in response to the lesbian/Communion controversy (though one may be sure that the pro-lesbian camp will claim victory, and the pro-Guarnizo camp will decry the ‘mistreatment’ of the priest).
The allegations of “intimidating behavior” by Guarnizo are not recited in Knestout’s letter, but three questions would occur to me: (a) is this just a pile-on by people looking to kick Guarnizo while he is down?, or (b) are there long-standing legitimate complaints against Guarnizo that the recent controversy made more likely to surface? , or (c) did Guarnizo’s post-controversy conduct in the parish render him intemperate with others, provoking what are really recent complaints? Such are the things that an investigation is designed to, well, investigate.
6. The letter expresses the hope that Guarnizo will be able to return to priestly ministry. + + +
So, I noticed some hits coming from WaPo, and I clicked back to see what was sending readers my way. Now, I’m confused.
A Washington Post news blog by one Michelle Boorstein states that “Specific details about why the Rev. Marcel Guarnizo was barred from ministry – a severe penalty – were not immediately available.” The words “a severe penalty” are hot-linked to my post above.
But, the very first point of my post above is that Guarnizo is NOT under a penalty (let alone, a severe one, a description of suspension that I never used).
Ever wonder why so few professionals try to blog complex current events? It’s because we usually end up wondering, how on earth can our crystal clear statements be so completely misunderstood and/or misrepresented? Sigh.
Washington D.C., Mar 14, 2012 / 01:25 pm (CNA).- In an extensive statement provided to CNA, Father Marcel Guarnizo insists that the reasons the Archdiocese of Washington placed him on leave “have everything to do” with his recent decision to withhold communion from Barbara Johnson.
Fr. Guarnizo explains that he decided to issue the detailed March 14 statement because of the questions his parishioners and the public are asking about the recent incident.
His response, which is published below, offers corrections to previous news reports, responds to canonical arguments and gives information about where the allegations of intimidation came from.
Fr. Marcel Guarnizo’s Response to the Eucharistic Incident
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.