Priest Who Denied Mourning Lesbian Communion Gets Suspended

The Catholic priest who denied a lesbian communion at her mother’s funeral in Maryland has been suspended, but church officials say the disciplinary measure is unrelated to that action. Father Marcel Guarnizo, the vicar of St. John Neumann Catholic Church in Gaithersburg, has been placed on administrative leave from ministry for “engaging in intimidating behavior toward parish staff and others that is incompatible with proper priestly ministry."
By: Trudy Ring
March 12 2012 4:22 PM

The Catholic priest who denied a lesbian communion at her mother’s funeral in Maryland has been suspended, but church officials say the disciplinary measure is unrelated to that action.

Father Marcel Guarnizo, the vicar of St. John Neumann Catholic Church in Gaithersburg, has been placed on administrative leave from ministry for “engaging in intimidating behavior toward parish staff and others that is incompatible with proper priestly ministry,” according to a letter from Bishop Barry Knestout, an administrator in the archdiocese of Washington, D.C., which encompasses Washington and the Maryland suburbs, The Washington Post reports. The letter was read at all masses at St. John Neumann this weekend.

At the funeral for Loetta Schoenholz Johnson in February, when her daughter Barbara Johnson came forward to receive communion, Guarnizo reportedly told her, in front of others in attendance, “I cannot give you communion because you live with a woman and that is a sin according to the church.” He also left the altar when Johnson delivered a eulogy for her mother and did not attend the burial. Johnson received apologies from the archdiocese and from the Reverend Thomas LaHood, who is the church’s pastor and Guarnizo’s immediate supervisor, but she and her family have said they want to see Guarnizo fired.

Regarding Knestout’s letter, Johnson declined to comment to the press, but the family released a statement reading in part, “While we understand this letter does not pertain to the events that occurred at our mother’s funeral, we are hopeful that Bishop Knestout’s decision will ensure that no others will have to undergo the traumatic experiences brought upon our family.” LaHood said Sunday that as the disciplinary process continues, Guarnizo will have the opportunity to present his side of the story.

The Post notes that there are differing opinions within Catholicism as to whether being in a same-sex relationship disqualifies a person from receiving communion, but archdiocesan officials have said any issues of eligibility should be handled privately. Meanwhile, some Catholic bloggers have denounced Johnson and defended Guarnizo. Thomas Peters, writing at CatholicVote.org, called the situation “a blatantly political attempt by Johnson to generate sympathy and support for gay marriage and to foment public judgement against the Church.”

In any case, it is clear that Guarnizo and LaHood, despite the latter’s apology to Johnson, adhere to the church’s stance against homosexuality. In the February 12 edition of his weekly letter to parishioners, LaHood went so far as to find similarities between same-sex marriage and slavery, saying that each “uses other people as objects to fulfill someone else’s needs.”

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