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.
I tend to believe him. He will be blessed for the sacrifices/humiliation he has received along with the rest of the Church as he offers it up, as I am sure he is doing. If what he is saying is true, he is being persecuted for a very mild protection of the Eucharist, something which thousands have given their lives to protect from falling into the wrong hands. However, we there also seems to be a long tradition of Holy priests being thrown under the bus by their superiors….
What are your thoughts?
Letters mean more than emails. Consider sending him a letter of your support:
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Contact us at – firstname.lastname@example.org or
Here is an example letter posted at The Eye Witness:
His Excellency Carlo Maria Vigano
3339 Massachusetts Avenue, NW
Washington, D.C. 20008
Your Excellency is undoubtedly aware of a recent unbelievably scandalous situation that has surfaced in the past several days in the Diocese of His Eminence Cardinal Wuerl. I am referring, of course, to the denying of Holy Communion to a woman living proudly in a state of mortal sin by a priest during the funeral mass of this person’s mother. Incredibly, the Diocese has apologized to the mortal sinner, a woman engaged in the unnatural vice of lesbianism.
Your Excellency, enough is enough.
We suffering Catholics, hanging on to the Faith by a thread, are sick and tired of our Bishops knifing us in the back whenever they are confronted by a hostile media or the homosexual mafia. We are sick and tired of their cowardice, their weakness, their refusal to speak the truth boldly. Things have come to such a sorry pass in America, things have sunk so low that we are now confronted by the spectacle of a Bishop apologizing to a practicing homosexual and what’s worse, reprimanding a dutiful priest for doing his job. This, Your Excellency, is the legacy of Americanism, condemned by Pope Leo XIII in Testem Benevolentiae. But now the time has come to end this attitude.
As more facts about this case surface it is now clear that this wretched woman paraded her perversion to the priest prior to the Mass, whereupon he politely informed her privately to refrain from approaching the Sacrament. When she did anyway, he did what a priest should do. And for that he is humiliated by his own Chancery. The Chancery has just handed the Church’s enemies another club with which to beat us.
Our Bishops are now rightly concerned with the evils coming from Washington (at long last) but if they are going to be obsequious to homosexuals of all people then their chances of turning public opinion around in their favor will be nil. If these Bishops continue (like His Eminence Cardinal Dolan, sadly) to tolerate homosexuals by not shutting down these atrocious “gay masses” in their respective dioceses they will not have a leg to stand on when militant, arrogant homosexuals start getting really aggressive.
Your Excellency, this must stop now. I am asking you to instruct His Eminence the Cardinal and the Bishop who wrote the letter of apology to this lesbian harridan to publicly and unequivocally re-state the Catholic position on the heinousness of the mortal sin that homosexuality is. We want no more weasel words like “sexual orientation” used to cloud the issue; we want clear, undiluted teaching.
I further put this next point as a demand, that Your Excellency demand that the Chancery apologize to the priest in question, and to protect him from the viciousness of these drooling homosexual jackals who are calling for his head.
Enough is enough, Your Excellency. The Church’s policy, dating back to at least Pius XII, of taking the kindly, “pastoral” approach has not worked. It is a failed policy. This policy of being “nice”, of not confronting our non-Catholic friends with the truths of the Faith, of gentle persuasion, indeed of Americanism, has been an unqualified disaster. This policy has produced two generations of Mass-going Protestants. It has paved the way for easy divorce, contraception, abortion and now acceptance of homosexuality. It is long past time that Rome abandons this policy and begins to govern with a gentle but firm hand. And here now is a case presented to the Church to institute this better kind of policy.
The world is watching to see what the Church will do now, Your Excellency. Let the world see justice, strength, courage and holiness – not vacillating and weakness. I urge Your Excellency not to let this matter grind through the usual slow Roman channels. Swift action is now required. Souls are at stake. How are souls at stake? Your Excellency knows well that the Chancery’s apology to an avowed lesbian will harden her in her disordered lifestyle and should she die in such a tragic state, she will suffer the torments of Hell.
I urge Your Excellency to deal with this matter without further delay.
With every good wish,
Sep 18, 2014 0