Parishioners at St. John Neumann parish in Gaithersburg, Maryland were informed at Mass this weekend that Father Marcel Guarnizo, who denied Communion to a lesbian Buddhist, has been suspended from ministry.
The Washington Post is reporting that the Archdiocese of Washington sent a letter to the parish on March 9 stating that Father Guarnizo had been removed from ministry for “engaging in intimidating behavior toward parish staff and others that is incompatible with proper priestly ministry.”
St. John Neumann pastor, Father Thomas LaHood, addressed the situation at the Masses, repeatedly stating that Guarnizo was not removed for the Communion incident but that his suspension pertains to “actions over the past week or two.”
Guarnizo made national headlines a few weeks ago for his handling of Barbara Johnson, a 51 year-old lesbian who was living with a partner, who was denied communion at her mother’s funeral Mass. Johnson, who was later discovered to be a Buddhist, called for the priest’s removal.
However, LaHood did address the disagreement that unfolded in the parish because of the Johnson incident.
“As we know there’s been disagreement within the parish over how and to whom Communion is distributed. From my perspective this disagreement and related emotions flow from love. Love for Christ, really and truly present in the Eucharist. However, how we live out this love is important. The Scriptures tell us that we are known above all by how we love,” he said.
After reading the letter, he added: “I realize this letter is hard to hear. Please keep mind that this is a first personnel issue, dealing with issues of ministry in the church. Father Guarnizo will have every opportunity to present his position.”
After hearing about Guarnizo’s suspension, Johnson issued the following statement: “The Johnson family continues to pray for the Archdiocese of Washington, Father Guarnizo, and all Catholics during this time of upheaval. 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. We urge all Catholics to put aside political points of view, and pray that our Church will remain in Christ’s love.”
The archdiocese is refusing to clarify whether or not Guarnizo was suspended because of the Johnson incident or for other reasons. However, immediately after Guarnizo refused communion to Johnson, the archdiocese issued an apology to her which indicated that both sides were at fault.
“We believe that to receive Communion, a person should be in the state of grace, which means that they are not conscious of having committed a sin serious enough that it ruptures their relationship with God. As with any relationship, it is not just a one-sided judgment that determines what hurts the relationship with God. This determination is based on what the Church teaches objectively from sacred Scripture and tradition of Christian experience,” the archdiocese wrote.
“If a person is conscious of having committed a grave sin, he or she may not receive Communion until they have received absolution in the Sacrament of Reconciliation. A person who is conscious of grave sin but has no opportunity to go to Confession may receive Communion for a serious reason, but first that person must pray to Christ expressing their sorrow, also known as a perfect act of contrition, and have the intention of going to Confession as soon as possible.”
The suspension has caused yet another uproar in the Catholic community with many local Catholic bloggers calling for a boycott of donations to the archdiocese.
“From the public relations front, this is a disaster,” writes A Washington DC Blogger. “They may be trying to shield themselves from their own mistakes, but I think that this only makes things worse. The gay and lesbian community will call this a victory.”
The author goes on to speculate: “Were there large numbers of contributors to the Archdiocese who told the Cardinal to either get rid of Fr. Marcel or we will cut our donations to you? I don’t know but I suspect that some of that took place and he could not afford a drop in $$$.”
After asking for prayer for Fr. Guarnizo, the blogger goes on to suggest that diocesan faithful hold their donations to the Cardinal’s appeal and to “be prepared to reduce or eliminate your weekly offering to your parish. This one is the hardest, as we are all members of a parish and want our parish to continue to survive. I am ready to cut my donation in half, if needed. But I will wait at this moment for that.”
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