Mar 122012

There has been plenty of reactions concerning Fr. Marcel Guarnizo being placed on “administrative leave” and having his faculties removed by Archbishop Wuerl. For the few people that might not be familiar with the story, it first made news when Fr. Marcel Guarnizo denied Communion to a women at the funeral of her mother. Apparently prior to the Mass the priest learned that this women was a lesbian and he had requested that she not present herself for Communion, which she subsequently did.

Now this story has plenty of red meat for us Catholic bloggers, but it is also the kind of story that prompts a firestorm without actually providing much light on the subject.

It is quite easy to immediately see Fr. Guarnizo as a sort of hero for his actions. As a general rule faithful Catholics have been very upset concerning all the examples of public Catholics whose actions are contrary to the faith and yet present themselves for Communion. People who know little about Canon Law know about Canon 915 and its application in regards to denying Communion to those “who persist in manifest grave sin” or have for example been formally excommunicated. The fact that this Canon is hardly upheld in even the most scandalous of cases (read Rep. Nancy Pelosi) has in itself caused scandal.

The problem is people have been too quick to apply the Canon in this situation. My own untrained opinion is that the application of this Canon in this situation was incorrect. Expert opinions such as the one from Canonist Ed Peters confirm this. As Ed Peters writes Canon 915 relates to pubic consequences for public behavior and the definition of public as understood by Canon Law.

  • The fact that it was later revealed that the women in question is a Buddhist does not change this.  Even if the priest knew she was a Buddhist before hand.
  • Even if her motives were to set the priest up it does not change this. Whatever her motives were they affect her personal culpability, but not the priest’s decision on this.
  • Just knowing that the person is in objectively grave sin, whatever that sin may be, is not enough to deny the Communion except in the more narrow case that Canon 915 covers.  If somebody is in objectively grave sin where possible this person should be informed that they should not present themselves for Communion as a spiritual act of mercy  as prudence concerning the situation would dictate – but not during Mass itself.

So what we have concerning public information is that the priest made a mistake in the application of this Canon.

The reactions to this story imply many things that are not in evidence.  Many people seem to assume that the diocese is unfairly persecuting Fr. Marcel Guarnizo and reacting out of a form of political correctness.  I know this has been the initial knee-jerk reactions I have had myself as the story has progressed.  It is quite easy from the confines of my computer chair to make all sorts of pronouncements regarding motives despite not having any evidence for them.  This is one reason I have not commented on this story prior to now.  It is quite easy as a blogger to just let a post fly as a reaction, but I am posting now due to a reader request.   That somehow those of us who have followed the story mostly via 3rd party reporting know more of the details than Archbishop Wuerl and assume bad faith on his part.

There has also been allegations of “intimidating behavior” by Fr. Guarnizo, but this also falls in the area as something not in evidence or mentioned in the letter from the Archdiocese. This same letters also mentions the hope for his return.

In cases such as this it is better to stick to general principles and when you start diving into motives you have dived off the wrong board.

What I will comment on is that I don’t think the Archdiocese of Washington D.C. has handled this very well. Some attempt at catechesis on the subject has been attempted by the diocese, but it has been not as clear as it could be when it comes to when Canon 915 could correctly be applied.  I can certainly understand why the diocese issued a letter of apology to the women and this was appropriate.  I would have liked to have seen some mention of the fact that she should not have presented herself for Communion, but stating this is a prudential matter.

Related posts worth reading from Ed Peters:

Bp. Knestout’s March 9 letter on Fr. Guarnizo

Remarks on the ‘Catholic Standard’ editorial on the lesbian/Communion controvery

A thought exercise occasioned by the lesbian/Communion controversy

Note on the lesbian Communion case

  20 Responses to “Fr. Marcel Guarnizo and the various reactions”

  1. The ADW would have more goodwill assumed in this matter if Cardinal Wuerl did not have such a bad history with conservative Catholics. That needs to be stated to give your analysis the proper context.

  2. I’m absolutely disgusted how Wuerl and Knestout threw this priest under the bus almost instantly, without even having the time to investigate what really happened.

    Shame on them.

  3. And shame on the pope who appointed them.

  4. According to the above reasoning, only someone like Hitler should be denied Communion. Sheesh, mortal sin is mortal sin. The woman told Fr. Guarnizo that she was a committed Buddhist lesbian. Human respect should never trump respect for the Sacred Body and Blood of Our Savior. Sorry, Curt, you’re alone on this one. Did this woman set the priest up? Her remarks that she wanted to see him “pay” for what he did, sure doesn’t sound like she is a forgiving Buddhist. Let’s call it like it is; the bishops are pandering to the political correctness of the day. Sad.

  5. In the comments section of one of Fr Z’s posts, the good doctor noted that the fact it was a family funeral, and that she had been living with her lover for 15 years, and that she was the one who brought it up in the sacristy before mass where she was warned not to present herself for communion, meets the criteria of obstinate and public and would therefore fall under canon 915.

  6. I, of course, will defer to the bishop, as well as your and Ed’s particular knowledge here. But that would be easier if it didn’t always seem like dissenters require years of discussion and education and pastoral counselling, while the faithful servants of the Church (who can make mistakes, too) are called quickly onto the carpet.

  7. The comment section of Father Z’s blog? That would be hearsay – we should be careful here….

  8. Having read all this, and with my nearly nonexistent understanding of canon law, the thing seems to hing on 1917 CIC 855

    “§ 1. All those publicly unworthy are to be barred from the Eucharist, such as excommunicates, those interdicted, and those manifestly infamous, unless their penitence and emendation are shown and they have satisfied beforehand the public scandal [they caused] § 2. But occult sinners, if they ask secretly and the minister knows they are unrepentant, should be refused; but not, however, if they ask publicly and they cannot be passed over without scandal.”

    Without access to the full context of the development of this canon, I don’t see the problem. By all accounts the priest spoke with her before the mass. This was not the case of an “occult sinner” but the case of one whom the priest knew was in a state of mortal sin and unrepentant.

    Yes, I know, I am ignorant, but nobody explaining this to me has yet to show how the canon was misapplied.

  9. I sure hope the Lord will not be so quick in His judgment of me as many people are, of everyone, in this case.
    We only have partial and contradictory reports of what actually happened, but we are sure enough to condemn the priest or the bishop and even the Pope!
    Can’t we wait until more is known? Forgive us our trespasses …

  10. […] Archd. of Washington Hasn’t Handled This Very Well – Jeffrey Miller, The Curt Jester […]

  11. Well, contra Dr. Peters, and using his own standard of what is public (that is, that those persons in attendance at that Mass would likely know why she was being refused communion), I would have to say Fr. Guarnizo was within his discretion to deny communion. It is reasonable for Fr. G to infer that, because this was a funeral Mass for the communicant’s mother, and therefore presumably many family members and friends who were aware of her tendency and lifestyle were present, they would or reasonably should know why she was being denied communion. If this was just a regularly scheduled Sunday Mass, perhaps Dr. Peters would have a stronger point.

  12. Of course, having said that, it is also likely within the Bishop’s discretion on how to treat these kinds of situations – i.e., a somewhat non-public Mass, an unrepentant sinner with perhaps not much time to prpoerly reflect before presenting, etc. In any case, the Bishop should have been more clear w/ the priests in his diocese on how he would want them to handle these situations.

  13. […] Fr. Marcel Guarnizo and the Various Reactions __________________ Your socks stink. To view links or images in signatures your post count must be 10 or greater. You currently have 0 posts. Sometimes when I'm angry I have the right to be angry, but that doesn't give me the right to be cruel. ~Author Unknown Become a CF Site Supporter Today and Make These Ads Go Away! googletag.cmd.push(function() { googletag.display('div-gpt-ad-1322318033491-2'); }); googletag.cmd.push(function() { googletag.display('div-gpt-ad-1322318033491-3'); }); […]

  14. The canon from CCL 1917 is abrogated by the CCL 1983. though it is useful for context and appreciation of history, it cannot be applied. Frankly, I don’t see too much different in CCL 1917 and 1983 on this question. The Church, when imposing a canonical penalty must be very careful indeed to not break the bruised reed. If lighter penalties are imposed, perhaps conversion can take place. But if we go to the 1000 pound wrecking ball, we may squash any goodwill and desire (and ability, for that matter) for the one receiving the remedy of excommunication to return to the good practice of the faith.
    BTW, Jeff, spell check didn’t catch a few word choice errors in this entry. “If somebody is in objectively grace(?) sin “, for example.

  15. Father Guarnizo finally speaks. Wuerl, Knestout and their canon lawyer attack dog come out smelling like faeces.

  16. So, it comes out that Father Guarnizo has no clue what the “intimidating behavior” is so he can justify or accuse himself. Typical of liberals to accuse a strong priest of being “intimidating.” So was Our Lord and, for that matter, so was Saint John the Baptist. Peters is right to stand up for the law, but the law is on Father Guarnizo’s side. When he tried to confront the lesbian he was blocked at the sacristy door by her “lover” which enabled her to get away from him. The woman was known publicly as a LGTB advocate. She’d been an activist for 25 years. Her website has links to LGTB sites. And the site criticizes the pro-life cause. She is, therefore, a pro abort. Given that Father Guarnizo did not know her history and abortion views, he knew enough from her little confrontational act in the sacristy to deny her Communion. In fact he had to, to avoid a sin of his own. Nothing secret about this woman. Her arrogance was demonic. “Cast not your pearls before swine.” “Give not what is holy to dogs.” Wake up Mr. Peters. You should be demonstrating how the bishop defied canon law, especially the last canon, the supreme canon, salus animarum. Wuerl should be on trial here, as he should be for defying the wishes of the pope when it comes to denying pro-abortion politicians Communion. Wuerl says he will NOT deny these politicians Communion. Are they not PUBLIC and obstinant sinners of the worst kind. They vote to use tax money to pay mothers and doctors to kill babies. And who is on trial here? Father Guarnizo. Woe to you hypocrites!

  17. I wonder if Padre Pio would have given her Communion.

  18. Dr. Peters Pontificates Against Father Guarnizo Once Again!

    But is his interpretation that favors human sensibilities over protection of the sacred host necessarily the only one possible as he claims it to be? If it is, should the Canon law be changed? Would Dr. Peters favor Canon law that coincides more with Father Guarnizo’s actions?
    Some Things to Think About Concerning Dr. Peters’ 3/15/12 Blog Post Entitled:
    “Canonical Observations on Fr. Guarnizo’s statement of March 14”
    1. Dr. Peters writes: “I offer here canonical commentary, and that, only for those who are interested in the operation of canon law in the Church and are aware of (or willing to take direction on) how this venerable legal system serves the Christian community.”

    Comment: Note two things here. One is the arrogant “willing to take direction on,” which means taking what Dr. Peters has to offer as direction. Real nice. If you don’t accept his teaching, forget about the commentary. It’s almost like denying others the opportunity to enjoy a different kind of communion with Dr. Peters. Seems a bit selfish and judgmental. 🙂

    Next is the use of the term “Christian community.” No big deal, perhaps, but when you move from “canon law in the Church” to “Christian community,” something could be amiss. Does canon law serve the Christian community in a broad sense or narrow sense? I wonder what canon law has to say on this. 🙂

    2. Dr. Peters writes: “Guarnizo admits that he only met Johnson a few minutes before her mother’s funeral Mass, admits that he had no knowledge whatsoever about the Johnson family, and offers no indication that he knew anything about the congregation gathered for Mass that day.”

    Comment: Whoa, Nellie! Dr. Peters’ statements bear the marks of classic red herrings in that the essence of the matter is not based on knowledge of the family or the congregation, so this is a gratuitous attack on Fr. Guarnizo, and it is largely off point. Even if Fr. Guarnizo did have some knowledge, what would constitute sufficient knowledge to satisfy the bogus standard that Dr. Peters is hinting at via the red herring information? Moreover, Fr. Guarnizo’s statement reveals that he was scheduled for confessions from 9:30 to 10:20. Did he hear any? If he did, even with the seal of confession that prevents him from making known anything heard, he MAY HAVE NEVERTHELESS LEARNED QUITE A BIT…PERHAPS EVEN ABOUT SOMEONE ELSE, but we don’t know. We do know that if he did hear confessions, it is obvious that he would have learned something about some people in the congregation if that is important even in the least, which doesn’t seem likely except perhaps from a humanistic approach to things.

    In any case, Dr. Peters’ assertion is false and should be retracted. Let’s just say I am simply correcting Dr. Peters, because he needs to be corrected. 🙂

    3. Dr. Peters writes: “Guarnizo says that, a few minutes before Mass started, Johnson appeared in the sacristy and introduced another woman as her ‘“lover”’; further conversation was prevented by the ‘“lover”’ standing in a doorway. There was apparently no mention of Johnson’s possible lesbian activism, her cohabitation status (if any), her degree of ‘alienation’ from the Church, or her possible involvement in Buddhism.”

    Response: It’s red herring time again, and Dr. Peters is adding information that is designed to make Fr. Guarnizo look bad, but it is not fairly stated, nor is it relevant to what Fr. Guarnizo actually wrote. Take a look at the actual statement of Fr. Guarnizo:

    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.
    (Fr. Guarnizo Statement: 3/14/12)

    Once again, we need more information, but we should not jump to the faulty conclusions that Dr. Peters does, all the while accusing Fr. Guarnizo of jumping to a false conclusion, and others of doing the same thing in his defense.

    For instance, we do not know if anything was stated by Fr. Guarnizo in response to the announcement made by B. Johnson. If he did make even one statement about communion reception, that would be helpful, and if he did not, this does indeed weaken his case in terms of advising B. Johnson what she should or should not do. However, it does not devastate Fr. Guarnizo’s case as Dr. Peters and his “he’s the expert so he must be right” clan proudly proclaim.

    Now for the red herrings that Dr. Peters threw in to try to make Fr. Guarnizo’s judgment appear to be more unjustified according to Dr. Peters. In Dr. Peters’ own words once again:

    “There was apparently no mention of Johnson’s possible lesbian activism, her cohabitation status (if any), her degree of ‘alienation’ from the Church, or her possible involvement in Buddhism.”

    Response: Somewhat clever but most unworthy of Dr. Peters. There is no need to have a discussion about such possibilities as lesbian activism unless this is mandated by Canon law. There is no need to have a discussion about a possible cohabitation status unless this is mandated by Canon law. There is no need to have a discussion about what possible degree of alienation from the Church may be present unless this is mandated by Canon law, and there is certainly no need to discuss any possible involvement in Buddhism unless this is also mandated by Canon law. Imagine the silliness of fulfilling Dr. Peters’ imaginative requirements to make sure of certain things over X amount of time, and if you cannot, you simply do not have sufficient information to make a judgment to withhold Communion. A priest would have to ask and discuss things along the following lines to satisfy Dr. Peters’ red herrings:

    A. Are you involved in lesbian activism? If so, how involved are you? Are you a professional or amateur activist? Does your activism make you feel like you are no longer a good Catholic? Your feelings are the most important thing here, especially when considering receipt of Holy Communion.

    B. Are you cohabiting with your lover, or do you simply meet her on weekends at a local motel? Anyplace else? This is crucial information to establish your status as a notorious lesbian. You know, if you’re not a notorious lesbian as Dr. Ed Peters understands it, you could be a lesbian in good standing, at least insofar as receiving Holy Communion.

    C. Do you feel alienated from the Church? What degree of alienation do you suppose is involved? For instance, Fifth Degree Blackbelt Alienation is the highest form you could feel, or only First Degree Purple Belt Alienation as the lowest form you could feel?

    D. I have a sense that you might be involved in Buddhism. Is this so? Do you consider your involvement one that coincides with your Catholic faith, or do you consider it an important element in your growth as a human being? Remember that your feelings are paramount once again.

    🙂 🙂 🙂
    Moving forward.

    4. Dr. Peters writes: ‘“Canon 843 § 1 forbids ministers from withholding sacraments from those “who seek them at appropriate times, are properly disposed, and are not prohibited by law from receiving them,”…”’

    Okay. If a person enters a sacristy and makes an unsolicited announcement (which may also be construed as a statement in public if other parties are present) that an accompanying person is her “lover,” and then the person moves away while her announced lover acts to physically prevent a priest from seeking to further the brief meeting,…CAN THIS BE CONSTRUED AS SUFFICIENT EVIDENCE THAT THIS PERSON IS NOT PROPERLY DISPOSED TO RECEIVING HOLY COMMUNION, or must additional research or a silly survey as set forth above be conducted before making such a rational and prudent judgment?

    Bottom Line Time:
    1. B. Johnson made a definitive declaration that she was in a gravely sinful state by announcing that the person who accompanied her was (not used to be) her lover (in the present tense). What is the purpose of making such a statement in a sacristy only moments before a Mass? Are such statements common?

    Also, if good faith is to be presumed by a priest regarding typical Mass attendees who approach communion, then good faith should also be presumed by that priest when an attendee makes a definitive statement in the manner made by B. Johnson. In short, he must in good faith accept the fact that what she has proclaimed is true unless he is presented with evidence to the contrary, but what evidence did he actually receive except that which would corroborate the statement?

    2. B. Johnson made such a declaration, probably in public, again just prior to Mass. Why not sooner? Why not sooner? Why not sooner? What does this say about being properly disposed to receiving Holy Communion? Please apply some common sense here.

    3. B. Johnson’s accomplice exhibited some belligerence toward the priest by blocking him in his attempt to possibly provide more priestly/pastoral actions. What does this say about proper dispositions, obstinate perseverance in manifestly grave sin, etc. when you have an accomplice so interfere? What is the purpose of having someone block a priest after making an announcement concerning one’s status? Please apply some common sense here. Again, if B. Johnson was properly disposed to receiving communion, then why wait until the last minute to make such an announcement in a hit-and-run fashion, and then have your accomplice serve as a blockade of sorts? Why would B. Johnson demonstrate such obstinate behavior in having the possibility of catechesis prevented just prior to Mass?

    Who in their right minds would ever judge such a person to be properly disposed to receive communion?

    So perhaps Fr. Guarnizo has the support of Canon 843 as well as Canon 915 if this will also permit an interpretation not limited to Dr. Peters’ and others’ interpretation, even if it is the most prevalent interpretation favored by an overwhelming majority.
    5. One more for now. Dr. Peters cites examples about priests in doubt, and what they should do if in doubt. Where does Fr. Guarnizo express that he had any doubts about what he should do? His consternation over the pain and discomfort, etc., does not equate to having doubts in terms of his actions, and indeed, his own defense manifests no doubts whatsoever. Of course, Dr. Peters believes he should have doubts, and Dr. Peters would obviously have plenty of doubts because common sense and making quick judgments are not given much weight in his fundamentalist letter of the law approach to interpretation only as he deems it should be.

    Lastly, if the Canon law must be interpreted to only accept Dr. Peters’ interpretation, then perhaps it should be changed to prevent greater abuses of the sacrament. Perhaps even Dr. Peters would support such a change, but I wouldn’t bet the house on it. 🙂


  19. Ed Peters may have done a lot of good work on Canon 915 issues, but I think he’s really missing something on this matter. He has set the bar too high, and underestimated the Canon’s concern for preventing scandal.

    The Pontifical Council for the Interpretation of Legislative Texts issued a Declaration on June 24, 2000 which gives clear insight into Canon 915. It is not limited to “public behavior;” however, it does concern public awareness of grave sin— the scandal factor. It can apply to someone’s private, grave sin if that sin is publicly known.

    In clarifying Canon 915, the Vatican says the opportunity for scandal (due to manifest grave sin) must be “remoto scandolo.”

    The The Washington Post death notice identified the woman and her partner, “Ruth” as if they were a married couple. The woman proudly announced her relationship with another woman to the priest. It was MOST reasonable to determine that at least some in the funeral congregation were well aware of the gravely serious sin. Could one conclude that the opportunity for scandal was removed in this circumstance? No way.

    The concern for avoiding scandal is so great that the Declaration instructs a minister of Communion to withhold Communion even if there is no opportunity to give prior warning to the “communicant.”

    It certainly seems Fr. Guarnizo did exactly what he should have in this sad situation.

  20. Fine insights and a helpful reference, JT. I also believe that various canons could be involved, plus the interpretation of Canon 915 is somewhat open to a different interpretation than that proclaimed by Dr. Peters due in part to the different elements involved in this particular case as you set forth (also see my detailed critique of Dr. Peters’ comments above).

    Thanks and God Bless!


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