Md. Priest Who Denied Lesbian Communion Leaves Archdiocese

by Jason St. Amand

National News Editor

Wednesday July 11, 2012

A Roman Catholic priest who refused to give communion to a lesbian at her mother's funeral in February is no longer with the Archdiocese of Washington, reported.

Reverend Marcel Guarnizo of St. John Neumann Catholic Church in Gaithersburg, Md., denied communion to Barbara Johnson, a lesbian, at her mother's funeral service. According to Johnson, Guarnizo told her, "I cannot give you communion because you live with a woman and that is a sin according to the church."

Since the incident, Johnson, a 51-year-old D.C. artist, has been asking the archdiocese to remove the priest and in March, Guarnizo was put on administrative leave from the ministry. A letter from Bishop Barry Kenstout, a top administrator in the archdiocese, which covers Washington and the Maryland suburbs, said the reverend was put on leave because he was "engaging in intimidating behavior toward parish staff and others that is incompatible with proper priestly ministry."

But now a spokeswoman for of the Archdiocese of Washington announced that Guarnizo is no longer with the ministry.

"Fr. Marcel Guarnizo is a priest of the Archdiocese of Moscow, Russia, who was given a temporary assignment at St. John Neumann parish," Chieko Noguchi Scheve, director of media and public relations at the Archdiocese of Washington, wrote in an email to "That assignment period has ended and Father Guarnizo is no longer in ministry in the Archdiocese of Washington."

Johnson told the website that when she went to receive communion, Guarnizo "issued a strong admonition that only Catholics in a state of grace can receive communion."

"I went up. I was standing next to my mother's casket and he covered the bowl, and said, 'I cannot give you communion because you are with a woman, and in the eyes of the church, that is a sin.' I stood there with my mouth open in a state of shock for -- I don't know how long," Johnson said. She also added that the priest did not attend her mother's burial.

But Guarnizo did not apologize to Johnson for his actions. Instead, the priest defended himself and issued a statement to the Catholic News Agency on March 14 after he was put on leave.

"I did not and would not refuse to accompany Barbara Johnson and her mother to the cemetery because she is gay or lives with a woman," he said. "I would never intentionally want or seek to embarrass anyone publicly or increase anyone's emotional distress during such a difficult time. I did not seek or contrive these circumstances. But I am going to defend my conduct in these instances, because what happened I believe contains a warning to the church."

Johnson told that she is relieved about the outcome and that Guarnizo is no longer with the archdiocese.

"It gives me great comfort to see that the Archdiocese of Washington acted swiftly initially not only to point out that his behavior was wrong and not in accordance with their policy but then to suspend him. And this final message from them says to me that, unfortunately, this was not a person that was meant to be in the ministry in this region," she said. "Knowing that he will not be able to visit such pain on another family in the Washington archdiocese gives me and my family a lot of comfort."

She went on to say that the incident "showed the very human face of the issue regarding the Church and the Church's teachings, and behavior towards the LGBT community within the Church."