Friday, March 2, 2012

The Unworthy Communicant and the Unrelenting Priest

Lord knows the circumstances were terrible.  A funeral with a deeply grieving woman burying her mother.  In the midst of it all this product of Catholic schools (both student and former teacher) she comes to receive the Sacrament and is told that she cannot be communed.  It would seem that the priest was being unbelievably insensitive.  But there is more to the story.  This woman is a lesbian living in an open relationship with her partner and disclosed this to the priest at some point before presenting herself to receive Holy Communion.  The Rev. Marcel Guarnizo had learned of their relationship just before the service and did not have a great deal of time to consider how to handle what had turned from a funeral Mass into a media circus.  He refused to commune her because her lifestyle was a state if sin.  In other words, she had no repentance for her past or her current lesbian lifestyle and living arrangements with her partner.  At this point it seems the priest left and the woman vowed to do all in her power to see that he was removed from the priesthood for his hurtful actions toward her.  Here is more on the story...

Can you think of a situation more fraught with problems and potential issues?  A priest, thinking this will be a somewhat routine funeral Mass, finds out that the grieving daughter has brought her politics into the Church to flaunt her dissent and disagreement.  The priest certainly did not handle this gracefully but he did adhere to the teachings of the Roman Catholic Church (while others continue to ignore them for whatever reason).  He was not the kindest or the most graceful under pressure but he was not completely wrong in the eyes of Roman Catholic doctrine and practice.  The woman, Barbara Johnson, should have known better; she was the product of Catholic schools and a former teacher in a Catholic school.  She should have known that if she dissented from Church teaching, she owed it to herself and to the Church either to refrain from communing or to find a church body in tune with her views (there is no shortage of them).

The problem here?  First of all, the priest did not fully know the circumstances nor explore them.  Did he admonish her and call her to repentance?  Had she been so admonished or called to repentance by the priest in her home parish?  Was she under Church discipline?  It seems to me that we can complain that the priest at that moment was improperly rushing to judgment.  He may have been well-meaning, but he was wrong to assume instead of making sure he knew the full story.  He was certainly zealous for the Lord and Holy Church’s doctrine, but acted in haste and without much discretion toward the woman or the circumstance.  The woman was not a public figure, so far as has been told, and so, unlike other public dissenters (think Pelosi here) this woman's situation and circumstance deserved a deeper review.  In addition, unlike public dissenters, communing her would not be the same kind of public offense to the faith as the communion of those public figures who flaunt their disagreement with Church teaching.

I find it hard to fully criticize the priest, however, since he took seriously his role at the rail, he sought to uphold the clear teaching of the Roman Catholic Church, and, he was was concerned about the state of grace of this woman.  His timing sucked.  He was no wimp but his bullishness meant he "hit the wall running and left a priest shaped hole, just like in the cartoons" (as one Catholic commenter put it).

Now the Archdiocese of Washington has issued an apology.  While Catholic teaching condemns homosexuality, and the church considers homosexual acts to be sinful, questions about a person's right to receive communion should be addressed privately and it was not policy to "publicly reprimand" worshipers.  So, even though there is some "right" in the Diocese' public statements, it still makes them look like whimps who say they believe one thing but who do something else. 

So there you have it... a mess with enough mud for all faces.  We have a woman who feels her mother's funeral was ruined (and it was) but she bears at least some of that responsibility.  We have a priest who seems ill suited to the parish ministry simply by temperament (though he was not entirely wrong).  We have a media circus which is pointing fingers at those terrible Christians who love to sit in judgment over others and who scandalize a grieving family to make a point.  We have an issue on which there ought to be clarity now muddled by poor timing, poor execution, and public figures who flaunt the teaching of the Church and get away with it.  Oh, well, now the woman's lifestyle is public and she should get a visit from her priest (and perhaps a letter from her bishop).

This story is so messed up I can hardly believe it did not happen in a Missouri Synod Church!  My point?  Close(d) communion is messy and it is best not handled off the cuff and with a great deal of pastoral wisdom, love, and, yes, some discretion.  The point is not to circle the righteous around the altar but to make sure that those who commune can receive the fullness of the benefits offered to them there (possessing faith, believing the creed, having examined their lives and consciences, and desiring to repent of their sinful ways and walk in the commandments of the Lord).

Looking with hindsight, I don't think I could disagree with priest who suggested the best path might have been to stop the funeral to give you enough time to counsel with the daughter, and, unless she was under discipline and had received counsel from the Church, perhaps commune her with an admonition to her and a call to her parish priest after the service or to ask her to please not present herself for communion until this circumstance is addressed...


Anonymous said...

It's not whether it was messy, because it is. The bottom line was that the priest was faithful. The woman is wrong. Being faithful is never easy, but God gives grace to the faithful stewards of the mysteries. Let us pray she is brought to saving faith and repentance in Christ. That's what matters most in this.

Anonymous said...

The gay agenda is to get publicity
and they do not care how it happens.
The priest was simply being faithful
to his calling and his Lord.

The secular media will make a big
deal out of this and not understand
the meaning of repentance and sin.

Anonymous said...

100% the fault of the woman.

She is clearly not repentant.

If that wasn't clear before, it certainly is now.

Her actions after the fact demonstrate that the priest was not in fact misunderstanding. His perception was 100% correct. She is unrepentant.


If it had turned out that the "partner" was a partner in her law firm or business, same word different meaning, then yeah, the priest would look a fool. As it is, the woman's own actions exonerate him by proving him correct in seeing her as unrepentant.

The church is not obligated to absolve the unrepentant. You can't compel God.

Matt said...

One can do the right thing yet do it in the wrong way.

Was the priest correct to withhold communion from an unrepentant sinner? Yes

But did he first attempt to call her to repentance and inform her of the consequences of unrepentance?

If the answer is No, then he did not do right.

Anonymous said...

I disagree that the priest is unsuited to parish ministry. How many young people are lead astray or into sin by these who pretend to be sheep but do not submit to God's authority. Sin is a burden on us all, but we must see ourselves and our sinful action as sins of which we must repent. If we can go on being told we need not repent, then, well, we won't.

Priest is faithful.

Anonymous said...

That woman can repent today, and receive communion from the same priest today.

Withholding communion should help her understand she needs to repent.

Anonymous said...

You don't have all the facts, so don't rag on the priest. If he knew she was unrepentant he acted in accordance with his training. Any Confessional Lutheran pastor does the same with unrepentant who come to the rail. Kudos for a priest with some guts.

Chris said...

My godfather is a priest. After his ordination, I asked him about some of the things that occurred behind the iconostasis which the rest of us faithful were not allowed to see. He told me that the Bishop put into his hands the prosforon that was to be consecrated as the Lamb. As the Bishop put this into his hands, the Bishop said something to the effect that he (the new priest) will have to make answer at the dread judgment for how and to whom he serves the Eucharist. Such an awesome and dread responsibility!

I'm not sure if there is something similar in the Latin Rite, but an instance like this just shows that the Eucharist is not merely some symbolic action. Those who regard the Eucharist as symbolism only are the ones who are throwing the biggest hissy fit.

This priest did right for his soul and for the soul of the woman.

Anonymous said...

What's the big deal? The priest was acting in accordance with his training and this lady was wrong. This is not news.

Carl Vehse said...

What you won't hear from the evening news clymers or others in the fifth column press is that the lesbian denied communion is also a Buddhist and leftist agitator, who, along with the MSM, turned her own mother's funeral into a perverted political statement of hate against Christianity.