Monday, March 12, 2012

D.C. bishops deny Jesus

...just in time for Lent.

I do try not to get into politics on my blog. But then again, I have no qualms with talking about religion. So when politics is trying to take over my religion...from the inside...maybe that's a good time to make an exception. It's just one little blog, after all.

You may already have heard of the furor surrounding Fr. Marcel Guarnizo. If not, you can read the epilogue here. A more complete explanation of the facts is available here, and here. As it happens, I know Fr. Marcel personally. He's an uncompromising sort - he tells the truth bluntly and he may be genetically incapable of sugar-coating anything. That doesn't mean he's incapable of kindness - just that with him, it doesn't take the form of diplomacy. Like a lot of people of that temperament, he doesn't mind the same plain-spokenness directed at him - I know this from experience.

So here's what actually happened - the short version. Barbara Johnson was apparently raised Catholic, but at some point left the Church and now professes to be a Buddhist. Her late mother was a parishioner where Fr. Marcel was assigned in Gaithersburg, Maryland. Ms. Johnson had the responsibility of offering a eulogy at her mother's funeral. For this reason, she was engaged in discussions with Fr. Marcel (the celebrant for the funeral Mass) in the sacristy. She took that opportunity to introduce him to another woman, whom she introduced as her "lover." During the funeral Mass, she entered the line for communion, and presented herself to receive the Eucharist from Fr. Marcel. He refused her communion (so quietly that the lay Eucharistic minister standing next to him did not notice). She then got in the other line and received communion from that person (who did not know what was going on, obviously).

She then went on a press junket about Father's refusal to give her communion (citing in addition the fact that he left the funeral Mass, apparently because he was sick, and arranged for another priest to accompany the mourners to the grave site). The liberal media took it up immediately as an indication of the Church's hatred of homosexuals. So far, so humdrum (well, minus the part about a non-Catholic professedly living in a state of mortal sin presenting herself twice for communion and actually receiving it).

As soon as the story hit the press (the Huffington Post - before it even got into the Washington Post, I believe), a DC auxiliary bishop issued an apology to Ms. Johnson. The bishop never contacted Fr. Marcel to ask what had happened. Fr. Marcel is assigned in the Archdiocese of Washington; they know where he works, and they know where he lives, because he works for them. It's not that they forgot he works for them, of course - no sooner had they issued an apology without demonstrating any interest in the facts, than they ordered him (under obedience, because he is a priest and must obey the bishop) not to speak publicly about what happened. In other words, they didn't innocently assume that they knew all the facts. The Archdiocese of Washington actively and deliberately tried to suppress the facts of this story because its officials wanted to appear as pro-homosexual as possible. Then, they removed him from service in the archdiocese (saying Mass and hearing confessions) - without even admitting that the furor over Ms. Johnson was their motivation. The bishops wanted Fr. Marcel to be tarred as a homophobe, and themselves to be lauded as progressive and enlightened.

Now, you may ask, does not Christian charity require Catholics to treat homosexuals with love and respect? Of course it does. Of course it does. ALL persons deserve love and respect. Our obligation to love people and respect them isn't changed by who they are, what they believe, or the fact that they are sinners - all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.

So why did Fr. Marcel deny this woman communion?

This is the central question here - to a believing Catholic, the only question that matters. The answer is simple. The belief of the Catholic Church is that the Eucharist - the bread and wine - REALLY, ACTUALLY, and LITERALLY is the body and blood of Jesus Christ. Not a symbol, a reenactment, or a metaphor - the actual body and blood of Christ. This topic was actually addressed by the archdiocese - very, very quietly, compared to its outspoken actions attacking the priest who defended the Sacrament - fairly accurately here.

That sounds insane, right?

It's totally insane. It got Christians in the early centuries persecuted by pagan Rome for cannibalism. It's an out-there belief. We believe a lot of out-there things - and as times change, and we don't (I hope), some of them start to seem more out-there than they were before. Others become commonplace. Which is fine - we don't believe them because they're popular so we don't change them when they're not. We believe that they're true.

Because we believe that the Eucharist is actually the body and blood of Christ, no person may receive the Eucharist at Mass unless (1) he is a Catholic; (2) he is in a "state of grace," meaning that if he has committed any grave sin, he must go to confession before receiving Communion; and (3) he has fasted for an hour before receiving. (Some limited exceptions are available.) The reasons for this are pretty obvious, right? If we believe that we are actually consuming the body and blood of Christ - insane in itself - we ought to be pretty careful about doing so, and make sure that everyone else is, too. The Eucharist isn't birthday cake. We don't hand it out to indicate who we think is "cool." The Church distributes the Eucharist because she was commanded to do so by Christ (at the Last Supper), and does so in a very careful way.

The Church's strict rules on the receipt of communion don't only bar those engaging in homosexual acts (persons of homosexual orientation who are chaste are as free to receive the Eucharist as any other person who is living a life of virtue). On the contrary. Assuming you haven't been to confession, you aren't permitted to receive communion if you've had sex or engaged in other sexually impure behavior with your boyfriend or girlfriend (regardless of your sexual orientation); cheated on your spouse; deliberately missed Mass on a Sunday; willingly entertained sexually impure thoughts; used contraception to avoid pregnancy; deliberately harmed an innocent person physically (including killing an innocent person, which includes abortion); masturbated; consumed pornography; stolen something of significant value; lied about someone with the intent of doing him harm; become seriously and immoderately angry; broken an oath or a vow...the list goes on.

It's a long list, right? We take this stuff VERY seriously. These aren't rules that most people live by - they don't believe what we believe. By the same token, they don't present themselves to receive our sacraments. Why would they? If they don't believe it's the body and blood of Christ as we do, why would they want to receive it? Just to be offensive to Catholics? What kind of a person would do that?

I don't believe that Allah is God or that Mohammed is his prophet, and consequently I don't pray five times a day to Mecca, and I wouldn't insert myself into worship in a mosque. I don't believe in Vishnu and wouldn't participate in Hindu ceremonies. I'm not Jewish and I don't attend synagogue. If I were invited by a practitioner of another faith to attend worship with him, and doing so didn't run contrary to my religion, then I would do so. But I would not violate the traditions and etiquette - to say nothing of religious requirements - of that faith. I wouldn't enter a mosque with my head uncovered. I wouldn't insist on sitting on the men's side in an orthodox temple. I wouldn't bring a hamburger to India to eat in a crowd of Hindus. I don't need to go to those places and harass those people. The fact that I believe something different doesn't require me to insult what they hold sacred - particularly as a guest.

And it doesn't matter whether their religious beliefs happen to run afoul of my political beliefs. I'm a woman, but I don't have to flaunt my notions of gender equity (whatever those may be) at the expense of respecting others' religious traditions while I'm in their church. If their religious beliefs are absolutely objectionable to me, I have an excellent option - don't attend their worship.

Ms. Johnson chose "none of the above." She may well have known what Catholics believe about the Eucharist. She chose to present herself to receive it even though she knew she was engaging in behavior the Church defines to be a sin. (That part she certainly knew - she made a point of making an issue of it to the priest.) If she was somehow unaware of Catholics' beliefs regarding the sacredness of the Eucharist, she was told by a priest and she certainly knew it then.

Can you IMAGINE going to someone else's church (even if for a family funeral, wedding, whatever), presenting yourself to receive communion or participate in some other ceremony, being told discreetly by a minister that you were not permitted to, and going around to another line so you could do so anyway? Can you IMAGINE? I can't. I blush just thinking of such brazen, offensive behavior. It's shocking. And that's just assuming that I would be intruding on someone else's tradition - not committing a sacrilege against God.

Ms. Johnson wasn't ashamed of her behavior. She had a press tour set up for the minute she walked out of the church. Her mother's funeral was probably the first opportunity she found to paint herself as a sympathetic victim while committing a sacrilege against someone else's faith. She wants this story to be about how the Church denies communion to homosexuals. I have news for Ms. Johnson: the Church refuses communion to anyone who is known to be involved in an extramarital sexual relationship. That's a rather large slice of the population. You're not as special as you think you are.

But that's not where the real problem comes in. The real problem comes in when the cardinal and auxiliary bishops of the Archdiocese of Washington soft-pedal the body and blood of Christ because defending it would anger the homosexual lobby and the liberal media. The problem comes in when they use embarrassingly transparent grounds to remove a priest - just as Barbara Johnson demanded they do! - for fulfilling his priestly vocation by defending Jesus Christ, really present in the Eucharist. So they don't have to hear a Washington Post reporter assault their delicate episcopal ears with the word "bigot." Can we think of anyone else who refused to acknowledge that he knew Our Lord when he perceived that asserting friendship with Him would mean being reviled?

When priests are punished, not for neglecting the sacraments and the prerogatives of God, but for honoring them, Satan is in charge of the Church. At least, this archdiocese - but I very much doubt it stops here.

You're not going to cover up the identity of you true master forever, Cardinal Wuerl. And you're not going to live forever, either. Is it worth it?


  1. I read the story earlier today, it is so sad they are treating this priest this way. I was happy to hear your accounts of what happened.

  2. Except you can be right and still be wrong - or at least not within your rights to behave as you see fit.

  3. Great post.

    I'm not Catholic, but I am a Christian, and it deeply concerns me to see the Catholic church under fire lately. I appreciate your explanation of the Eucharist, since for us, communion is a remembrance and - while important - doesn't carry the same weight.

    The way Fr. Marcel was treated is shameful. And the laughable result is that now NO one is applauding the church - not its members (obviously) and not the world. I saw a headline yesterday saying something to the effect of, "Priest who denied communion to lesbian suspended, but the church still says it's a sin to be gay" - obviously angry that the church has even taken a stand on such a tender issue. There's no way to satisfy a culture that despises the very Core of what we believe in, Christ. The church should have stood by Fr. Marcel - I agree with you completely.

  4. That is disgusting! Fr. Marcel should be praised for his courage and the bishops need to go back to CCD!

  5. I hadn't heard of this...but thank you for posting. This is an excellent, excellent post, and as always, you are spot-on with all of this...I could not agree more.

  6. Current events! I love it. I did actually read about this story first in the Huffington Post, then caught it in the Washington Post. I tend never to fully believe anything published in the media and obviously with "gay rights" issues, the "victim" might want to slant the story to give them an edge with popular opinion.

    It's great to hear your perspective as you know Fr. Marcel personally. I agree with your point about the absurdity of the Bishop's actions. Keep speaking the truth and I wonder if the Washington Post was referring to you when they said "Some local Catholic bloggers have reacted angrily, calling for a boycott of donations to the archdiocese." :)

  7. Amen, when will our bishops chose Christ?

  8. "Can we think of anyone else who refused to acknowledge that he knew Our Lord when he perceived that asserting friendship with Him would mean being reviled?"

    I can, I can!!!

    This makes me so angry, sad, frustrated... all kinds of fun emotions :(

    You said exactly what I feel here:
    "Can you IMAGINE going to someone else's church (even if for a family funeral, wedding, whatever), presenting yourself to receive communion or participate in some other ceremony, being told discreetly by a minister that you were not permitted to, and going around to another line so you could do so anyway? Can you IMAGINE? I can't. I blush just thinking of such brazen, offensive behavior. It's shocking. And that's just assuming that I would be intruding on someone else's tradition - not committing a sacrilege against God."

    Amen. But that's just it. We are the ones being persecuted. Not homosexuals. Not couples having premarital sex. Not thieves, killers, or child molesters. We are.

  9. expatbarrenness - I assume that by "you" you mean Fr. Marcel, and that he was not within his rights to refuse her communion on the basis that she had professed herself to be in a state of mortal sin. While I'm not a canon lawyer, it seems to me obstinacy is clearly demonstrated on the facts (Ms. Johnson announced her lesbian activities, then left the sacristy, while her "lover" blocked Fr. Marcel's path so that he could not discuss the matter with her further). Notoriety I'm not as sure about. But I don't see why Canon 915 is the basis here. Canon 915 says, "Those who have been excommunicated or interdicted after the imposition or declaration of the penalty and others obstinately persevering in manifest grave sin are not to be admitted to holy communion." According to Dr. Peters's other post (and I respect him, by the way, and have no reason to doubt his expertise here), that Canon can be used to deny a person communion throughout the diocese until further notice (justified by repentance). But Fr. Marcel didn't issue an edict that Ms. Johnson might NEVER receive communion, anywhere (until she repented). He denied it to her on that occasion, on the basis that she was then in a state of grave sin. Canon 843, section 1, says, "Sacred ministers cannot deny the sacraments to those who seek them at appropriate times, are properly disposed, and are not prohibited by law from receiving them." There is no credible assertion to be made that Ms. Johnson was "properly disposed" (she would have to have been in a state of grace, which she was not, by her own admission). She also is not a Catholic. The priest had no obligation to give her communion, and indeed, in view of the evident sacrilege (and probably INTENTION of committing sacrilege), I can't see how he could have done. I've heard of priests telling whole groups of people that they need to go to confession before receiving. Dr. Peters, as far as I can tell, was only interpreting Canon 915, not whether there is any canonical basis to have denied her communion. Perhaps I've misunderstood him, but this seems to be what he's saying.

    Moreover, even if there were two ways to see whether she could be given communion (and I remain convinced she should not have been - why are we always being told that we must be in a state of grace to receive if the rule is meaningless where an obstinate NON-CATHOLIC is concerned?), Cardinal Wuerl's response was absolutely ridiculous. If you follow my link above, you see that a priest in the chancery published an item in the Washington Post setting forth the requirements to receive communion and essentially agreeing with Fr. Marcel (without exonerating him by name). After being silenced by the archdiocese, Fr. Marcel finally hired a canon lawyer. He asked those present for the relevant events whether they would memorialize their version of events. He was then suspended by his pastor for "harassing" parishioners - for asking them to tell the truth about what happened so the ACTUAL right of the matter could be determined by a competent Church authority (and not a PR-whore like Wuerl). So the archdiocese can take action on the basis of a lie and suppress the truth - and when the only party interested in the sacrality of the Eucharist attempts to shed the light of day on the matter, he's punished.

    The bottom line, for me, was and is that Cardinal Wuerl needs to be removed, and the faithful in the Archdiocese of Washington need to be provided by Rome with a shepherd who cares about the truth, and the Truth.

  10. My stomach was turning as I read this - why are our Bishops spending all of this energy fighting the HHS mandate if they are going to throw a priest like Fr. Marcel under the bus? It's no wonder we have "Cafeteria Catholics" in the pews - we have them shepherding us too! :(

    On another note, your description of the Eucharist and all surrounding Who it is, why it is important, and who can receive is beautiful. Thank-you.

  11. Great post. I loved reading your thoughts on it. I first saw story this on our local news and it was, of course, very biased. I'm praying for that priest.

  12. Thank you for replying so thoughfully. I am not going to dig too much into it, because it's way above my paygrade - and I am not using that as a blow-off answer like you know who did. I could bury hours in trying to understand the intricasies and it wouldn't make any difference in the long run.
    I was just surprised to see Dr. Peter's opinion, and wanted to point out that there are orthodox voices saying that Fr. Guarnizo made a (well-intentioned) mistake. (There are cases where we may not physically intervene to keep someone from sinning. Might not this be such a case?)

  13. Wow. Wow.
    WHY would they reprimand the priest? WHY??????? Its insane.
    Perhaps he is offering up his suffering for Jesus. That's the only redeemable thing about this situation.
    You have hit the nail on the head in so many ways about this situation. Like you, I'd never even THINK of trying to get in the communion line AGAIN after being refused once. I'll be praying for the priest.