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: