Update: Priest Who Walked Out On Funeral Placed On Administrative Leave

In an update on a story first reported on Addicting Info, Father Marcel Guarnizo has been placed on administrative leave from the ministry in the Washington Archdiocese. Fr. Guarnizo is the priest who denied communion to a gay woman at her mother’s funeral and then compounded the problem by refusing to accompany the deceased to the cemetery to deliver the final blessing.

Details about why Guarnizo was placed on ministerial leave, which is a severe penalty, were not available. In a letter from Bishop Barry Knestout, a top administrator for the archdiocese covering Washington D.C. and the Maryland suburbs, it states the penalty was for “engaging in intimidating behavior toward parish staff and others that is incompatible with proper priestly ministry.” The letter, dated March 9, was read at all masses celebrated this weekend at St. John Neumann, the church where the incident took place. However, it was noted in the letter that Guarnizo’s removal was not due to the Communion standoff, but “pertains to actions over the past week or two.”

The incident created a firestorm of controversy, with bloggers on both sides of the issue weighing in. There have been anonymous witnesses who claim that Barbara Johnson, the woman at the center of the controversy, inaccurately described the events at the funeral. Father Guarnizo has refused to make a comment.

Barbara Johnson issued this 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.”

In the days following the funeral, the archdiocese issued an apology to Johnson and sent a letter stating that the refusal of Communion to her was against the policy of Archbishop Donald Wuerl. However, in a public statement published in the Washington Post, the archdiocese intimated that the fault was on both sides:

“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. 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.”

Johnson reports the homily delivered this past Sunday by St. John Neumann’s pastor, Rev. Thomas LeHood, reiterated that the suspension was unrelated to her case. Some local Catholic bloggers remain upset over the incident and have reacted by calling for a boycott of donations to the archdiocese.

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