The Archdiocese of Washington issued a statement distancing itself from Rev. Marcel Guarnizo, a priest who serves at a Gaithersburg MD parish, for reportedly denying the Eucharist to a woman described in the media as a lesbian. Barbara Johnson (51), who sells art in Washington DC, was the first in line on Feburary 25 to receive what the Catholic faith regards as the Body and Blood of Jesus at her mother’s funeral at St John Neumann Catholic parish. It was then that Rev. Guarnizo, she says, "...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,'"
The Diocese of Washington subsequently released a statement that Rev. Guarnizo’s actions were against diocesan “policy” and it was regarded as a personnel issue. “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,” the statement said. “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 outraged Johnson has now sought Rev. Guarnizo’s removal from the parish. "You brought your politics, not your God into that Church yesterday, and you will pay dearly on the day of judgment for judging me," she wrote in a letter to Guarnizo. "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."
Critics of the Catholic Church’s stance towards homosexual practices were also quick to act. Allen Rose, President of Dignity/Washington, DC, the largest Chapter of DignityUSA – which advocates for same-sex marriage - said that the archdiocesan statement “totally inadequate.” Allen said that Rev. Guarnizo apparently holds “the mistaken belief that a priest’s judgment about LGBT people can lead to a denial of the Catholic sacraments, and that this judgment should take priority over compassion that is the problem”. Marianne Duddy-Burke of DignityUSA reportedly 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”.
The New Civil Rights website identified Rev. Guarnizo as an “anti-choice” advocate and featured a video of a homily he delivered on the sin of abortion and likened abortion clinics to death camps.
Archbishop Donald Wuerl was once in a whirl of controversy during the 2004 presidential campaign when some Catholics questioned whether candidate Sen. John Kerry’s pro-abortion stance made him ineligible to approach Holy Communion. In 2008, Archbishop Wuerl wrote a column in the diocesan newspaper in which he received to himself the authority to deny or grant Holy Communion to prominent Catholics.
According to the Washington Post, Barbara Johnson’s parents were not politicians but lifelong Catholics who sent their children to Catholic schools in the Washington DC metro area. Johnson once taught art at St. Elizabeth Seton High School in Blandensburg MD. She is an alumna of that school.
Some Catholics have accused the Archdiocese of throwing Rev. Guarnizo under the bus in the wake of the controversy. Mary Ann Kreitzer, a prominent Catholic blogger and writer, asked for prayers for the embattled priest. “I want to publicly thank Fr. Marcel Guarnizo for his courage. We have all seen the hateful retaliation and "jamming" (viciously attacking) against anyone who disagrees with the homosexual agenda. (I have personally experienced it often in blog comments with the writers hoping I die a miserable death because of my "hate.") Fr. Guarnizo is in the crosshairs at present”.