Priest denies communion to lesbian at mother’s funeral


A Catholic priest has denied Communion to a lesbian attending her mother’s funeral Mass.

On Feb. 28, the Catholic Archdiocese of Washington responded to criticism of the priest’s actions with a brief statement that indicated the priest might have been right in withholding Communion but perhaps wrong in being so public.

The statement, first reported by the Washington Post, read, “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 funeral took place on Feb. 25 at St. John Neumann Catholic Church in Gaithersburg, Md.

Barbara Johnson attended her mother’s service with her lesbian partner. When Johnson went for Communion, the Rev. Marcel Guarnizo refused her.

She told the Post, “He put his hand over the body of Christ and looked at me and said, ‘I can’t give you Communion because you live with a woman, and in the eyes of the Church, that is a sin.’”

When Johnson read a eulogy for her mother, the priest left the altar, and he failed to appear for the burial.

In a letter to Guarnizo, Johnson wrote, “You brought your politics, not your God into that Church yesterday, and you will pay dearly on the day of judgment for judging me. I will pray for your soul, but first I will do everything in my power to see that you are removed from parish life so that you will not be permitted to harm any more families.”

Dignity USA, a group of LGBT Catholics, defended Johnson and criticized the priest.

Executive director Marianne Duddy-Burke said, “What happened to Barbara Johnson is one of the most heinous denials of pastoral care imaginable. In reality, what occurred was a denial of Jesus’ ministry, which so often showed an embrace of those on the margins and which regularly set aside the laws of ritual purity in order to attend to people’s needs. Most Catholics will be appalled by this priest’s actions. Members of our Church know the profound comfort that the Eucharist can be at times of grief, and how important our Church’s rituals can be in bringing families together. Tragically, this incident only added to the family’s pain.”

Download a PDF of the current issue of Wisconsin Gazette and join our Facebook community.