“Lesbian Woman Publicly Denied Communion at her Mother’s Funeral”
That’s how the headlines are reading. And it’s true, apparently every word of it. Barbara Johnson was attending the Funeral Mass for her mother where she was denied receiving Holy Communion by the pastor, Rev. Marcel Guarnizo. She was first in line to receive the Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of our Lord, Jesus Christ in Holy Communion – and was denied.
He covered the bowl with the Eucharist with his hand and looked at me, and said, “I cannot give you communion because you live with a woman and that is a sin in the eyes of the church,”
For this, Ms. Johnson received a formal apology from the Archdiocese of Washington, but still insisted on a formal apology from Fr. Marcel, and “his removal from Parish life” (a.k.a. fired and banished to some remote monastery).
Apparently his head on a platter was unavailable.
I do not mean to downplay the very real hurt that she must have felt. I do not deny that LGBT persons, including personal friends, have been mistreated on the basis of their orientation, which is absolutely wrong and against Church teaching. However, the Catholic Church has not been shy about her stance on Same-Sex-Attraction or the receiving of Holy Communion. If Barbara Johnson had grown up Catholic, the issue most likely came up at least several dozen times whether it was in a loving, Christ-like manner or sadly otherwise. One of the things that makes the Catholic Church visible and distinct is her teaching. The all-male and celibate (in the Latin Rite) priesthood, prohibition of contraception and abortion, and opposition to same-sex relations are all issues the Church is constantly being criticized for. In fact, most non-Catholics know the Church only by these controversial issues!
Let us say, however, just for the sake of argument, that the issue had never come up. Let us argue that Barbara never owned a physical copy of or read the Catechism of the Catholic Church online (the Church’s official teaching on, well, everything). Let us argue, also, that she was unfamiliar with her parish Missal and also failed to open it and read the instructions inside, specifically, those pertaining to who may and may not receive Holy Communion. Let us assume that she was completely unaware that homosexual relations are considered a mortal sin, and/or she was unaware that it is graviora delicta (read: big “no-no”). This assumes a lot. It assumes that she missed being properly taught in the Church, that she neglected to discover Church teaching on her own, whether through reading or personal experience, throughout her entire life.
I am quite new to the Catholic Church, but I have discovered that this sort of thing happens far more than it ought.
This is exactly the reason why Fr. Marcel should have done exactly what he did. This is exactly the reason why he is bound by Canon Law to do so. His job is to pastor, to teach, to lead, and to guide his flock by speaking the truth in love (Eph 4:15). Could he possibly have done that better? Yes, but I’ll get to that in a moment.
First, I realize that some readers are now flipping out that I just argued how Fr. Marcel showed Barbara the “truth in love”. I realize that some readers are rather angry that I would do anything other than join the Media in condemning Fr. Marcel before hearing his interpretation of the events, because his view must be irrelevant. I mean, he is a priest, right?
ABC News attempted to put a fig leaf over their bias when they reported that “public reaction is mixed”. They apparently interviewed a half-dozen people in a strip mall parking lot. Their expert reactions ranged from, “I don’t think they should deny anybody Communion!” to, “Well, he has his personal beliefs and she has hers, so I can understand both sides of that.” The sentiment of our inclusive, democratic, American culture feels the Church should be an inclusive, democratic, American Catholic Church. American culture does not well understand or tolerate Tradition. It does not see Tradition as being the haggard and tested winner against the attacks of billions of critics from countless civilizations over millenia, but hard to understand and, well…so intolerant.
In fairness, Catholic teaching is not easy to understand. Holy Mother Church has never been known for bumper-sticker sized beliefs. The Code of Canon Law, for example, is around 3,000 pages and the Catechism another 1,000. It is this law that Priests are supposed to know and live. It is this law, amongst other things, that the Priest is charged with passing on to the faithful, a faith Barbara Johnson claims to belong to. It is the intricacies of these laws that most people, including life-long Catholics, have a hard time understanding. The Guidelines for the Order of Christian Funerals, for example is not exactly coffee table reading. Perhaps this is why ABC failed to report that eulogies have long been prohibited at Mass and instead only reported,
Johnson…composed herself enough to give her mother’s eulogy, but then he was shocked at what happened next. The priest left the altar, Johnson said, and didn’t return until his sister was nearly finished speaking.
Most people are unaware that becoming a Priest can take as long as it does to become a medical doctor. And the pay is…well, modest in comparison – especially if you’ve taken a Vow of Poverty. On the other hand, the respect you get as a Priest is…oh, wait…never mind.
The Catholic Church predates our country by nearly 1,800 years and as such has never been in anything remotely resembling lock-step with American culture. This is often annoying to many Americans, but it in no way should be a surprise. One might expect that such an ancient and venerable institution would receive at least an attempt to be understood. No media source, however, has contacted Fr. Marcel or displayed the full text of the letter from the Archdiocese. Our modern and presumably well-informed viewpoint sees only a bigoted priest denying a faithful Caholic her “right” to Holy Communion because she’s gay, then in his intolerance, leaves the altar during the eulogy.
If nobody ever reports why that charge is highly likely to be preposterous then that viewpoint is exactly what will prevail.
Could Fr. Marcel have approched Barbara Johnson before the funeral to let her know that she was not eligible to receive Communion? Yes, he could have and should have if he knew her situation at that time. According to one report from someone in a meeting with Fr. Marcel, he did exactly that, and Barbara Johnson isn’t telling the whole story.
Regardless of what Fr. Marcel’s take is, the Media has and continues to blunder ignorantly into intolerance against Catholic and other Christians (can you name any other Baptist churches besides Westboro “Baptist”?). I am writing this in hopes that true Tolerance will prevail. I am writing this in hopes that the meaning of the words “tolerance” and “open-minded” do not apply only to a leftist, liberal, anti-religious viewpoint. I write this in hopes that the Media’s shocking intolerance and ignorance in these matters will someday be realized and addressed. I write this to announce my coming out of the closet – the prayer closet – in hopes that discussion can begin on how there is misunderstanding and hurt all over the place. There was a certain phrase that got results in terms of tolerance for a group of people. I’d like to steal it:
We’ve been here. We’re Catholic. Get used to it.
It turns out that Barbara Johnson hasn’t even considered herself Catholic for, oh, 25 years! This might be because she has a particular distaste for the Church and Her teachings.
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