So there’s a story that’s been making the rounds about a woman who was denied communion during a Catholic funeral mass for her mother. According to the story, Barbara Johnson, who is a lesbian and in a committed relationship, went up to receive communion and the priest covered the hosts with his hand and explained, “I cannot give you communion because you live with a woman and that is a sin in the eyes of the church.”
The story goes on to state that the priest, Rev. Marcel Guarnizo, walked off the altar during the eulogy and didn’t attend the service at the burial site. Barbara is naturally upset about the priest’s conduct and has demanded not only an apology, but that he be removed from his pastoral duties.
As a former Catholic, I can honestly say Rev. Guarnizo acted in accordance with canon law regarding the distribution of the Eucharist.
Can. 916 Anyone who is conscious of grave sin may not celebrate Mass or receive the Body of the Lord without previously having been to sacramental confession, unless there is a grave reason and there is no opportunity to confess; in this case the person is to remember the obligation to make an act of perfect contrition, which includes the resolve to go to confession as soon as possible.
Could the priest have handled the situation in a more dignified manner, ie, taking Barbara aside privately and explaining why she would be unable to receive communion? Of course. But Barbara, who is reported to have been raised Catholic, should also know the church’s policy on what it considers mortal sin and how it affects one’s fitness to receive the holy Eucharist. And while I think an apology was probably in order for the manner in which the situation was handled, it’s out of line to ask for the priest to be removed from his job.
Many of the comments I’ve read on sites regarding this story excoriate the church for its insensitivity, and most are woefully uneducated about the Catholic Church’s rules and what one must accept in order to be Catholic. Many commenters quote mine the bible for verses of Jesus showing compassion to sinners or extolling Jesus’ love for everyone, but they’re missing the point entirely.
The point is, I don’t care what Jesus would do. I don’t care that God is love. I don’t care that we’re all sinners so no one has the right to judge. The Catholic Church is an organization that has very specific beliefs and dogmas Catholics are expected to adhere to in order to be a member of the church. If you don’t believe that the Eucharist is the actual body and blood of Jesus, then you’re not Catholic. If you don’t believe that contraception is a mortal sin, then you’re not a Catholic. If you don’t accept the Trinity, then you’re not a Catholic. If you don’t accept Mary’s perpetual virginity, you guessed it, you’re not a Catholic. Sure you may still go through the motions and call yourself a Catholic, but in the eyes of the church, you’re not one of them. It’s like joining the KKK, but still believing that minorities are pretty good people too.
I can definitely sympathize with people who were raised in a tradition — a tradition with which they probably have some deep emotional/spiritual connection — who suddenly find themselves at odds with that tradition. I also understand that many people find comfort and beauty in traditions like the Mass, or other religious services. But if you’re going to be a member of their club, then you’re going to have to play by their rules or find a new club. Or better yet, leave the club altogether.
Personally, I don’t want the church (or religion in general) to change to accommodate everyone’s particular beliefs because that would imply that religion still has worth and relevance in today’s world. In my opinion, it doesn’t. I’d rather that people throw of the shackles of religion and superstition and embrace truly secular society.
This reminds me of an episode of M*A*S*H titled, Preventative Medicine. In the episode, Hawkeye is confronted by Colonel Lacy, a man who is reckless with his troops and his actions cause numerous casualties. Colonel Lacy plans to try and take a hill, which will surely mean many more wounded GIs headed to the 4077th. Hawkeye slips Lacy a drug that causes symptoms of appendicitis, and against the protestations of BJ, Hawkeye operates on Lacy thus putting him out of commission. After the operation, Hawkeye is greeted with the news that more wounded are on the way, to which BJ says something like, “You’ve removed the symptom, but the disease remains.”
Which is exactly what will happen if the priest is removed from his job. The symptom may be gone, but the disease will still be with us.
So I’m sorry, Barbara, I sympathize with your situation, but I do not support your effort here. If you’re unhappy with your current club, I would suggest joining ours. We’ve got a wonderful membership that’s growing every day. We don’t ask you to tithe. We don’t ask you to get up early on Sunday. And we don’t ask you to change. We’re fine with you just the way you are.