Lesbian Is Denied Communion at Mother’s Funeral

From the MSNBC report:

Barbara Johnson knew last Saturday, the day of her mother’s funeral, would be difficult. But she and her lesbian partner of 20 years had no idea that the priest at St. John Neumann Catholic Church in Gaithersburg, Md., would be a source of her grief…

Johnson said the priest denied her Communion at her own mother’s funeral, telling her he couldn’t give it to her because she was gay.

When it came time to hand out bread and wine, [Father] Guarnizo “issued a strong admonition that only Catholics in a state of grace can receive Communion,” Johnson told msnbc.com. “I went up. I was standing next to my mother’s casket and he covered the bowl, and said, ‘I cannot give you Communion because you are with a woman, and in the eyes of the church, that is a sin.’ I stood there with my mouth open in a state of shock for – I don’t know how long.”

So far, we only have one side of this story. The priest hasn’t spoken yet about what happened. Ms. Johnson is now pressing to have the priest removed from parish ministry.

36 Responses to Lesbian Is Denied Communion at Mother’s Funeral

  1. John March 1, 2012 at 10:39 am #

    Thank God for a priest with a backbone!

  2. Dillon March 1, 2012 at 10:45 am #

    I don’t disagree with what the Priest did. I actually think it’s pretty secondary to the media showing their agenda once again.

    I’ve always wondered though – Why, in their apparent disdain for men, do lesbians try to emulate them?

  3. Andrew March 1, 2012 at 11:03 am #

    I, for one, am pleased that a Priest exercised discipline and restraint. Well done, Padre.

  4. Reg Schofield March 1, 2012 at 11:29 am #

    I may not agree with the Catholic understanding of communion and the wafer and wine , but I give him his due for standing by his convictions. Just a thought , this woman and her partner would also not be allowed to partake in the Lord’s supper at a Protestant Church who are truly Evangelical because she is in a state of open defiant sin.

    • Derek March 1, 2012 at 12:20 pm #

      How many evangelical churches would realistically deny communion in this situation? This is a good question to ponder. I’m not convinced that most Protestant churches would deny communion here.

      • Mark March 1, 2012 at 4:52 pm #

        I believe that you are right in saying that most Protestant churches wouldn’t deny communion, though they should. I know in my own church we do not have “communion police” who stand nearby and take note of who is living in sin and taking communion (we pass the plate rather than receive communion up front). That being said, though, more churches should take a stand and call out sin in the lives of people. And if needed, deny fellowship (not just communion) with people who are openly and proudly living in sin. What would the church look like in America is this Biblical response was used more often?

  5. Brent Hobbs March 1, 2012 at 11:32 am #

    The way this article is framed should remind us a lot about the trend of culture and that we are not far from being completely outcast from our society. Communion is seen as a right for this woman and how dare (!) this priest deprive her of being able to do as she wanted. That communion is a sacrament/ordinance of the church is completely beside the point, in the view of many.

    Kudos to the priest for taking a clear stand.

  6. Gary March 1, 2012 at 11:57 am #

    There’s a lot more to this story than meets the eye. Please see the following link to the National Catholic Reporter. I’d be very interested in hearing the priests side of the story. However on the face of it, it appears that this whole matter could have been handled with a lot more compassion. It appears that the end result has been that many people were driven away from the Church at a time in their grief when they came to God for comfort.

    http://ncronline.org/news/people/communion-denied-grieving-deprived-woman-spurned-funeral-mass

    • Patrick March 1, 2012 at 1:26 pm #

      Gary,

      I would like to hear the priest’s side of the story, as well. But the most prudent and compassionate thing for the Church to do might be to deal with the matter only privately. My understanding of the rule is that a priest should deny Communion if and only if he is aware that a person is persisting in grave sin after being admonished not to do so. I understand this to be Canon 915.

      The perspective of the National Catholic Reporter column appears to be that she was not in grave sin. If the woman is what she claims to be, it seems clear she is persisting in grave sin. What is not so clear is whether she has been effectively counseled and admonished about this and whether the priest knew about this. He may not have known enough to properly refuse her Communion. He also may not have handled this in the best way. But we should at least ackowledge that there are circumstances where it is proper for a priest to withhold Communion and there is a reasonably good chance that this was one of them. (As you discuss, we do not have enough information to know).

      This illustrates a bunch of problems the Church has in dealing with modern culture. We would all like to tell the truth, but do so in charity. As they say, the devil is in the details of trying to do this.

      • Derek March 1, 2012 at 3:14 pm #

        Nicely said, Patrick.

  7. Nathan March 1, 2012 at 1:07 pm #

    The priest was within his rights to deny communion wherever he sees fit. Also, it is within Barbara’s rights to go to the press about this priest’s action. Hooray for American freedoms!

    I wonder if Denny and those commenting here think the priest is sinning when presenting communion as a sacrament — an instrument of God’s grace. Would you accept communion from this priest?

    It seems like most here really like it when gay people are denied something. It’s like you’d think it would be righteous for a drug dealer to deny selling cocaine to a gay person…

    • Nathan March 1, 2012 at 2:08 pm #

      Gimme a break, fellas… Gimme a break.

      According to Denny’s beliefs (and many of his readership), the priest is sinning by participating in the rituals of the catholic church and teaching that they are administering God’s grace in some way. But somehow it is good of the priest to exclude a gay person and not a heterosexual person from the sinful ritual.

      That rationale is bigotry against gay people.

      • Patrick March 1, 2012 at 2:53 pm #

        Nathan,

        I don’t know what Denny believes about the sinfulness of participating in Catholic Communion. I presume he believes the Catholic Church is in error about some important things; otherwise, he would probably become Catholic. But that certainly should not keep him from commenting on the Church’s practices and beliefs. I do not know how one could have a meaningful blog on theology, culture and politics without commenting on Catholic practices and beliefs.

        The Catholic Church has always taught that any sex outside marriage, including homosexual conduct, is sinful and can be gravely sinful. It has further taught that,one who has not confessed grave sin should not receive Communion and that a priest should withhold Communion under certain circumstances that may have been present here.

        It seems appropriate to me that Denny and others outside the Catholic Church can agree with the teaching on homosexual conduct, understand the rules on Communion, and admire the courage of clergy who try to adhere to those teachings and rules. That is the way I read Denny’s comments and the comments of many of his readers.

        I would also add that I am Catholic and a regular reader of Denny’s blog. I have found him to be charitable to all, including Catholics.

      • Andrea Francine March 1, 2012 at 11:59 pm #

        Nathan, you sound unfamiliar with the concept of Closed Communion. Have you never read a church bulletin at any given Mass or Divine Liturgy or Worship Service? There is almost always a printed (and often verbal) reminder that those who are not in full communion or a member of the church, and/or who are in grave unconfessed/unrepentant sin are asked to refrain from taking the Sacrament. I suppose it is difficult to fathom such a request, made out of love, in an entitlement-minded, self-obsessed culture that views any inability to bestow sanction on every whim, desire, want or demand to be evidence of hate and bigotry.

        Also, Closed Communion is not new. It was not some recently invented loophole to further hurt and alienate gays from the Church. Indeed, had Barbara Johnson presented herself as a Baptist convert instead of a lesbian in an on-going relationship, she would have just as surely been denied the Eucharist.

        Granted the priest could have handled the situation with more care, but even in her grief and pain, Ms. Johnson is wrong to accuse him of bringing politics into his administration of his duties. He brought the doctrines and teachings of the RCC; her unwillingness or inability to accept them are exactly why she should have abstained with dignity. Now she is out for vengeance. She said that she will not be satisfied until the priest is removed from the parish. Well, here again may she be denied. And may God’s love and mercy be upon her.

  8. Dillon March 1, 2012 at 1:38 pm #

    ” Would you accept communion from this priest? ”

    I’m not catholic so I as far as I know I wouldn’t receive communion either. Nor would I in many Churches.

    I’ll be holding a press conference at 1300 If anyone would like to attend.

  9. Larry Geiger March 1, 2012 at 1:50 pm #

    ” Would you accept communion from this priest? ”

    I’m not catholic so I as far as I know I wouldn’t receive communion either. Nor would I in many Churches.

    I’ll be holding a press conference at 1310 (right after Dillon) If anyone would like to attend.

  10. Chris W March 1, 2012 at 3:07 pm #

    I was more bothered by a quote from the brother found in another article (from ABC).

    “And he wondered if the priest has any right to determine who is able to receive communion “without any discussion, insight or spiritual awareness” of the person presenting themselves before him.”

    I think this is the prevailing thought in America. No religion can deny me anything that I want to do. If the religion does this, the religion is wrong to judge me.

    I think it absolutely could have been handled better. But the priest may have failed in assuming that the woman would have not wanted to participate in communion anyway, thinking she would have rejected an organization who was on record for stating that she was living in sin. I would not take communion in a Catholic church because we are not in agreement on what is taking place during communion and what communion means. I would expect them to reject me for the same reasons.

  11. Paul March 1, 2012 at 3:45 pm #

    Someone above said that the whole situation could have been handled with more compassion. I completely agree with that sentiment.

    This priest wasn’t compassionate. Instead, he was stupid. What could have been a non-incident (he gives a grieving daughter communion) or even a conversion experience (grieving daughter who is clearly living in sin sees the compassion of Christ and is compelled to change her ways) turns into an amazingly awful PR situation for the church. Which was only compounded by the really awful decision to leave during the eulogy and the even more awful decision to stay away from the blessing once the mother was in the ground.

    Didn’t David eating the consecrated food or Jesus healing on the sabbath teach us anything about realizing that the rules shouldn’t always be the rules?

    • Paul March 1, 2012 at 5:32 pm #

      why is THIS comment being modded?

      • Derek March 1, 2012 at 6:24 pm #

        Probably modded because you used the word “stupid” in your post. Might want to use less harshness in your comments and you won’t get auto-modded as much. I bet this gets modded too because I put your word into my post. (sent at 4:24 PM Central)

  12. donsands March 1, 2012 at 4:43 pm #

    “Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty concerning the body and blood of the Lord. Let a person examine himself, then, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment on himself. That is why many of you are weak and ill, and some have died. But if we judged ourselves truly, we would not be judged. But when we are judged by the Lord, we are disciplined so that we may not be condemned along with the world.”-Paul the Apsotle

    This lesbian needs to read this portion of the truth and deal with it: -We all do. Homosexual behavior is sin, and if she is not trying to repent of her sin, then she may do well to seek the truth of God’s Word. She needs to hear the Gospel of Christ, and come to faith in the truth of what Jesus did on the Cross, and how we are to bear fruit for His glory.

    • Andy March 1, 2012 at 5:03 pm #

      From a cursory look at the Scriptures, including the one you mention Don, I don’t see where the person giving the sacrament is held accountable for who receives it. The passage you quoted especially says,

      “Let a person examine himself, then, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment on himself.”

      To me that demonstrates the onus being on the receiver, not the giver, which to me makes sense considering the fact that we are not in possession of the information that tells us exactly where a person is at with the Lord. Only the Lord and the person know that. We may think we have everything we need to make the call, but in the end I think that falls more into the category of hubris.

      Let me be the first to say that I haven’t thought this out all the way through. There are two things at play here. 1) we don’t want to be wantonly careless with how we handle the Lord’s Supper, as receiver or giver. But on the other hand, 2) the Bible says a person is to examine themselves, not for the giver to make the final decision.

      I don’t know. there’s not enough information. If the priest had a conversation with the lady and was given clear indication beforehand, then perhaps there is room for his actions. But otherwise, it seems to me another example of how we as fallen people take delight in interjecting ourselves into what is the business of God and the individual.

  13. yankeegospelgirl March 1, 2012 at 5:10 pm #

    I hope the priest doesn’t budge an inch. Don’t apologize! Don’t do it!

    I want to zero in on something the black lady said (didn’t catch her name). She said that “things like this” are one of the main reasons why young people are turned off from religion. Now pay attention—who else will spout this line? Liberal Christians. They go on incessantly about “the gay-hating Republican Jesus” that people see when they look at conservative Christians and say “See? You’re turning people away from Jesus by giving them a false idea of who he is. Hey guys, over here! We won’t judge you! In fact, we’ll apologize and make ourselves really pathetic so that you’ll like us. Please, won’t you like us, please?”

    • Derek March 1, 2012 at 5:28 pm #

      Indeed, YGG. Perfect example of the difference between the start difference between the fear of God and the fear of man. Reminds me of the remarkable confrontation between Jeremiah and the false prophet Hananiah in Jeremiah 28. Religious people who pander to popular opinions are dominated by a concern for what people think, not what God thinks.

    • Paul March 1, 2012 at 5:31 pm #

      You’re right, he shouldn’t apologize. At this point, it would just make the church look weak, make him look weak and it would give certain quarters the right to think that if you push hard enough on the church – on anything – that they’ll eventually cave.

      But, as I said above in a perfectly rational comment still awaiting moderation, there are times when you shrug your shoulders and deal with the situation at hand. This was, more than a lesbian, a grieving daughter at that moment. And, let’s say that not allowing the woman to take communion was the right move – and I’m not arguing that – was it the right move to leave during the eulogy? Was it right to not bless the grave, if that’s the priest’s job in such instances? No on both counts. If I’m the local bishop, I wouldn’t chastise him for denying the woman communion, but I’d definitely be looking further into how he interacts with parishioners and members in the larger community.

  14. donsands March 1, 2012 at 6:04 pm #

    ‘Only the Lord and the person know that.”-Andy

    Not in this case. Seems this woman is quite firm in her stance on being a rebel.
    If she came to the pastor and asked him to help her turn from her practicing her homosexual life, then I think she would actually not want to receive the Lord’s Supper, until she was made right with our Lord and Savior.

    • Andy March 1, 2012 at 7:59 pm #

      Fair enough Don. I admit I haven’t read as much on the item as I should have. However, I’m still left with an uneasy feeling about using the Scripture you used when it says nothing about the giver of the sacrament, but rather seems to leave the onus on the receiver.

      I don’t think the situation is as black and white as some would like to make it appear, but I will also say that: 1) based on what we seem to know of her, she shouldn’t have taken communion, but by doing so placed the priest in a difficult spot, and 2) the Priest followed his conscience which was a difficult thing to do, and I commend him for it.

      It seems he had little time to explain his actions, actions she essentially forced upon him. It could be argued, at the very least, that he may not have been trying to discriminate against her (as some would make it seem), but rather that he may have acted to protect her from, “eating and drinking judgement upon herself.”

  15. Christiane March 1, 2012 at 7:42 pm #

    In the panoply of what is ‘important’ in right-wing politics, some are led to think that Catholics are like fundamentalist conservative Christians.

    In many ways, they are not. The priest failed to care for a daughter of the Church with compassion in her grief. For fundamentalists, that is obviously from the comment stream applauded, but in the Catholic world, his behavior was not ‘Christ honoring’.

    Big differences between fundamentalist evangelical conservative religion and the Roman Catholic faith . . . important differences.

    • Derek March 2, 2012 at 8:55 am #

      Christiane,
      Is it normal to accept the eyewitness testimony of a single person and not want to hear from another person who saw and heard what the priest said and how he said it? Not to mention to hear the priest’s version of events? Not only that, but Johnson did not even suggest that his behavior itself was boorish.

      I also would not doubt if there is a backstory to all of this. There often is when you only hear one person’s side of a story.

      Christiane, you and many others seem perfectly willing to accept one person’s version without hearing both sides and that suggests to me that you might not be very objective here. Most Catholics I know would not jump to conclusions about a priest’s guilt or innocence on the basis of one person’s version.

      • yankeegospelgirl March 2, 2012 at 10:36 am #

        “that suggests to me that you might not be very objective here.”

        And the understatement of the year award goes to… Derek!

        • Christiane March 2, 2012 at 2:00 pm #

          YGG, read the link Denny posted . . . . your comment tells me that you did not read it.

      • Christiane March 2, 2012 at 1:59 pm #

        I’m stating my ‘opinion’? Actually, this priest was assigned to serve in an Arch Diocese that has condemned his public behavior towards this Catholic woman who was suffering from grief.

        Read the link that Denny posted.

        The Arch Diocese got it right, in accordance with Catholic teaching.

        :

  16. donsands March 1, 2012 at 9:37 pm #

    Excellent thoughts Andy. Thanks for sharing them.

    Bottom line is that the Lord’s Supper is a gracious privilege and yet a holy ordinance given to us by our Lord. We do need to be serious about this, and at the same time our seriousness can be full of joy with great benefits coming to us from our Lord God, the Omnipotent loving Father of all who love Christ.

    Paul said: “Grace be with all who love our Lord Jesus Christ with love incorruptible.” Eph. 6:24

  17. donsands March 2, 2012 at 7:27 am #

    “The priest failed to care for a daughter of the Church with compassion in her grief.”

    So this girl loves Christ, and walks in the truth? She is not a child of wrath? Ephesians 2 says:
    “And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience—among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved—and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” Verse 1-10

  18. yankeegospelgirl March 2, 2012 at 11:41 am #

    By the way, there is a “rest of the story” here. This woman walked up to the priest before the funeral and introduced herself and her “partner,” putting it right in his face. Now granted, one could say the priest should have taken the chance right there to warn her that he would have to withhold communion, but perhaps he assumed she would have the courtesy not to ask for it.

  19. Mitch March 5, 2012 at 6:34 pm #

    I didn’t see this in the comments above but I’m wondering if anyone has taken note of the fact that the Archdiocese of Washington has actually issued a formal apology for this:

    http://www.washingtonpost.com/r/2010-2019/WashingtonPost/2012/02/29/Local/Graphics/Letter%20to%20Barbara%20Johnson.%20BCK.%2002282012.pdf

    referring to the situation as representing a “lack of pastoral sensitivity.”

    Additionally, in a statement issued to CNN, the ADW said:

    “In matters of faith and morals, the Church has the responsibility of teaching and of bringing the light of the Gospel message to the circumstances of our day. 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. 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.

    The archdiocese is looking into the incident at a funeral Mass that was celebrated by Fr. Marcel Guarnizo and will handle this as a personnel issue.”

    See:
    http://religion.blogs.cnn.com/2012/03/02/lesbian-denied-communion-at-moms-funeral/

    To Yankee Gospel Girl, regarding your comment

    “Now, one could say the priest should have taken the chance right there to warn her that he would have to withhold communion…”

    Sounds like one could and one did say that. Sounds like the church said that.

    This is not about homosexuality but about a man who did a terrible and unnecessary thing to a grieving woman. To believe homosexuality is a sin is one thing but to support and cheer for this priest and the way he handled this situation is another thing entirely.

    Denny, with these statements, it appears that we have both sides of the story (or we have as much as we’re going to get). So, will you now comment on the ADW apology letter and statement to CNN? I am curious as to how you will counsel your flock, especially those above who seem to be taking such haughty and judgmental delight in this incident. I am curious to see how you will apply your often stated admonition to “speak the truth in love.”

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