Monday, March 12, 2012

This Story Just Won't Go Away

Father Marcel Guarnizo
We are getting to watch an interesting chapter in the history of the Church in the United States unfold as the precise meaning of Canon 915 gets argued out, but frankly this particular story is getting old--and weird.  The communion battle triggered by a priest’s refusal of Holy Communion to a lesbian at her mother’s funeral rages on.  As mentioned in several previous posts, (February 28, March 1, 2) the Reverend Marcel Guarnizo, a priest of the Archdiocese of the Mother of God (Moscow, Russia) but who was raised in Northern Virginia and is currently serving in the Archdiocese of Washington DC refused communion on February 25th to Barbara Johnson at the funeral mass for Ms. Johnson’s mother at Saint John Neumann Catholic Church in Gaithersburg MD.  Over this weekend the Archdiocese of Washington withdrew Guarnizo from priestly ministry pending an investigation of charges that he has “intimidated” parish staff members these past two weeks as the story has unfolded.  Specific charges and names are lacking in the public account, but this is normal protocol to prevent those making the allegations and witnesses to the alleged acts from being intimidated.  Given the tone of several local bloggers, notably “An Archdiocese of Washington DC Catholic,”  “Restore DC Catholicism” and the ubiquitous Mary Ann Kreitzer of “Les Femmes: Women of Truth” this is a more than reasonable discretion.  Ms. Kreitzer, despite her claim to be a “woman of truth” has a local reputation for spreading calumny against anyone to whom she takes exception from her much beleaguered bishop (of whom she has spread the story that he was “living with a man”—his secretary, a religious brother, now deceased) to various priests, religious, and prominent laity for a variety of charges from witchcraft to heresy to ogling “altar babes” (one of her terms for girls who are permitted to serve at Mass.)  Any hope for sane conversation in this matter can be eliminated from the blogosphere and belongs in the appropriate canonical chambers where the investigation will be conducted. 
      Do I think Father Guarnizo will get a fair hearing?  Absolutely.  I trust the canonical procedures.  First of all, as Gaurnizo is not a priest of the Archdiocese of Washington, his being put on leave (which is not the same as being suspended a divinis) applies only to the jurisdiction of the Washington Archdiocese.  He is free to return to his own diocese and resume ministry.  Moreover, he is free to go to any other diocese in the country—or the world—and, with the permission of the local ordinary, assume ministry.  The Washington Archdiocese investigation will only determine whether or not he will work in that Archdiocese.  Of course, if the allegations are substantiated, his own bishop can act upon them though, frankly, it would be unlikely that allegations of intimidating people would be much of a problem in the Moscow Archdiocese.  Moreover, I doubt that his having refused communion to an individual whatever the circumstances would be a problem in the Moscow Archdiocese.  I would expect there to be a very different set of cultural expectations on the authority of a priest in Russia than in the United States.  This would have nothing to do with doctrine, much less an issue of the place of Gay people in the Church.  It would simply be a matter of priestly authority and how it is used.  In the United States we labor under the disadvantage of a democratic mentality; the Russians have never had this heresy.  They have long embraced autocracy. 
      As for the procedure itself I have seen enough of canonical inquiries to trust that the investigation will be scrupulously fair.   The Archdiocese will not want to give sufficient reason for this to go either to the civil courts or on appeal to the Holy See.  That being said, I don’t think the Archdiocese would take this step of an investigation unless they thought that the allegations were credible.  Given that Father Guarnizo is not a priest of the Archdiocese, no reason has to be given that his services “are no longer required, thank you very much.”  He could simply be told to leave and his assignment be withdrawn. 
      I mentioned in an earlier entry (March 2nd) that I found Father Guarnizo’s account of the events “fishy.”  The story was not stable.  It keeps evolving.  First Father Guarnizo encountered Ms. Johnson’s partner who told him of their relationship.  Then the story came out that Ms. Johnson herself confronted the priest in the sacristy informing him that this other woman was her “lover.”  Father supposedly then instructed her not to come to communion but she stormed out before he could have any “pastoral conversation” with her.  Since then stories have made the blogosphere that Barbara Johnson writes gay porn for a living and that she is an apostate who has forsaken the Church for Buddhism.  The story from Guarnizo supporters keeps growing.  How much is true?  Is any of it true?  Family members deny it; funeral home employees don’t support it.  I wasn’t there.  I don’t know.  Several priests have expressed their opinion that the stories don’t ring true—family members usually are met at the door of the Church when the body arrives, not in the sacristy before the Mass.  Priests usually have some encounter with the family before the morning of the funeral where “delicate” pastoral situations are made evident to the priest.  Funeral home personnel or parish bereavement team members warn the priest about “irregularities” they may need to know.  Frankly, I am left wondering if these charges of “intimidating” behavior by Guarnizo haven’t resulted from his attempts to force parish staff members to support his account of events against what they saw or heard that day.  I am only wondering, but until someone comes up with another explanation, I can’t think of a more plausible one. 
       Let’s give Father Guarnizo a pass for his judgment (bad or good) to refuse Ms. Johnson communion.  What if, after Bishop Knestout’s statement and reprimand, Guarnizo had simply swallowed his pride and said: “I made a poor judgment,” (not even “I was wrong”) “and I apologize to the Johnson Family (not even the individual refused communion) for any hurt my poor judgment caused.  I hope I can learn from this experience so that others are not put through this sort of pain in the future.”  There would not even be an admission of error here. (Again, I said poor judgment, not bad judgment.)  All it would take would be some humility.  Do you think this issue would have ballooned into this tragedy?  I don’t know a single priest (and I know many) who agree with Guarnizo’s judgment here.  No, I think there is much more to this story than we are getting from the anti-Wuerl bloggers and I am willing to give the Archdiocese the benefit of the doubt.        


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