Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Oh, What a Tangled Web We Weave--More on Father Guarnizo

Let’s take a break today from the struggle between the bad guys in the Vatican and the good Sisters and the Leadership Conference of Women Religious and go back to the saga of Father Marcel Guarnizo—the priest who refused communion to Barbara Johnson, a woman who is a partner in a same-sex relationship, at her mother’s funeral.  I have been intrigued by Guarnizo because he seems to have such extraordinary talent and connections that I couldn’t  figure out why he was working as a parochial vicar (associate pastor) at a parish in Gaithersburg Maryland.  Guarnizo was born in Columbia, raised in Northern Virginia, educated in Rome, and ordained for the Archdiocese of Moscow.  Why was he in Gaithersburg? 
     In doing some background work on Father Guarnizo, I found this December 2009 article:  

Father Marcel Guarnizo is founder and chairman of the Vienna-based organization Educational Initiative for Central and Eastern Europe (EICEE), which hosted a conference earlier this month to mark the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, and to reflect on lessons learned from the rise and fall of communism.
EICEE hosted its conference in Zagreb, Croatia, and featured speakers included Robin Harris, former advisor to Margaret Thatcher, and John O'Sullivan, executive editor of Radio Free Europe in Prague.
The keynote speaker was Noble Peace Prize Laureate Lech Walesa, former leader of the Polish Solidarity Movement and former president of Poland. Walesa's address was titled "1989-2009: Lessons Learned from the Fall of Communism."
ZENIT recently caught up with Father Guarnizo at the foundation's headquarters in the Castle Neuwaldegg in Vienna, to talk about the conference, the role of the Church in the demise of communism in Europe, as well as the biggest challenges facing EICEE in its efforts to rebuild the nations of Central and Eastern Europe, which were shackled under communist regimes only one generation ago.

     Vienna based organization.  Castle Neuwaldegg.  Conference in Zagreb.  Radio Free Europe.  Former Advisor to Margaret Thatcher.  Keynote speaker Lech Walesa. Efforts to rebuild the nations of Central and Eastern Europe. wow!
      Further investigation shows that Guarnizo is linked to AID TO THE CHURCH IN RUSSIA.  This organization is responsible, according to its website, for numerous projects helping rebuild the Catholic Church in the former Soviet Union.  Its work is endorsed by a 2001 letter from the then Archbishop of Moscow, Tadeusz Kondrusiewicz.  And this Guarnizo isn’t in the Vatican Diplomatic Corps but associate pastor in one of Gaithersburg Maryland’s three Catholic parishes? As my Yiddish grandmother used to say: Go figure!   
       I’m a historian, not a private detective but…well, historians are always doing detective work though usually about dead people.  I made a few phone calls, several of which weren’t returned.  I did some web searches.  I spoke with a few people “in the know.  I spent some time with a research librarian.  Well, as near as I can make out, EICEE isn’t based in Castle Neuwaldegg in Vienna but in a rather mundane office building on North Fairfax Drive in Arlington VA.  Educational Initiative for the Countries of Central and Eastern Europe seems to be—and I can only say seems to be—an autonomous organization that is one of a network of independent institutes and organizations that includes the prestigious Neuwaldegg Institute of Vienna.  While the Neuwaldegg Institute does sponsor a number of impressive programs, I can’t find anything equivalent for its American counterpart, Guarnizo’s EICEE.  EICEE does have an impressive “Board of Advisors” including Damian von Stauffenberg, a German financier who comes from one of the most aristocratic of  European Catholic families.  While von Staufenberg is supposedly “President” of EICEE’s board of Advisors, I can’t find anything on any other website than EICEE’s that links him to this organization.  Another advisor is (or was) Vaclav Havel, former president of the Czech Republic and distinguished Czech poet.  Mr. Havel died last December but according to the EICEE website he is still listed on the “Board of Advisors.”  Frank Shakespeare, former US ambassador to Portugal and to the Holy See is also listed on the “Board of Advisors.”  Presumably he is able to give more advice than the Late President Havel, but I am curious about such a distinguished board for an organization that seems little more than an empty office and telephone machine in Arlington VA.  According to the EICEE website, wire transfers, checks, and PayPal all enable you to support the “work” of EICEE.  Of course, but precisely what work?   
       Aid to the Church in Russia is even a bit more, hmmm, shall we say “shadowy?”  It is located in the same office as EICEE and when you call Aid to the Church in Russia, the EICEE machine picks up the call.  Its website shows no activity for about seven years now, but still assures you that that the more you contribute the higher percentage of your contribution goes to the actual work of the organization rather than to administration. In addition to various programs for planned giving ( I am avoiding the word “schemes” lest it give the wrong connotation) such as annuities, charitable remainder trusts, real estate, life insurance and bequests, Aid to the Church in Russia is prepared to accept cash gifts, depreciated property, securities, stocks, tangible personal property, and land.  And again—the more you give, the more goes to charity and the less to “administrative costs.”  Hmm. Sounds somewhat fishy, n’est pas?  I would say something is rotten in the State of Denmark but I think it is actually in the State of Virginia. 
         I suspect that Father Guarnizo isn’t all that he is cracked up to be—or perhaps more than he admits to being.  Now, don’t get me wrong, this could all be legitimate and at least he doesn’t seem to be involved in the Colombian Drug Traffic, but this might explain his being placed on administrative leave more than his refusal to give Ms. Johnson communion. 
      Now I know the various DC area websites—Renew DC Catholicism, Les Femmes, An Archdiocese of DC Catholic—all have been defending Guarnizo’s actions and going after that mean ol’ Cardinal Wuerl and his evil lackey, Bishop Knestout for the unfair way they have treated this loyal and obedient priest.  But suddenly it makes sense.  Administrative leave is exactly the sort of discipline you use to put some distance between the organization and a person who may—or may not—be involved in something that is how shall we say it, “criminal?”  Ouch, that’s harsh.  Let’s just say “not by the books.”  A cop is put on “administrative leave” after he shoots someone until the investigation assures us that he acted appropriately.  A teacher who is accused of misconduct is placed on administrative leave until the investigation determines whether he did something wrong.  Perhaps Father Guarnizo has acted legitimately in these organizations of his, or negligently at the worst.  There is nothing wrong with putting him on administrative leave until you check it out and make sure that he isn’t going to bring down more negative attention on the Church. 
      This is somewhat like the “Father Haley” case.  James Haley is a priest from the diocese of Arlington whom, according to his defenders, has been unjustly defrocked and excommunicated. Guarnizo’s defenders are telling you one side of the story as have Haley’s.  Perhaps that is all they know.  In the Haley case the Bishop of Arlington isn’t telling the rest of the story any more than the Archdiocese of Washington is telling you their reasons for treating Father Guarnizo as they have.  I know it is hard to believe that priests who are as pious as Father Guarnizo or ex-Father Haley could be up to something wrong, but history shows us that men go right from the altar to the most shocking of crimes just as others go from the most vile of sins to great acts of charity.  In the end we are all inextricable mixtures of sin and grace.  As Blessed John Henry Newman once said: none of us are as bad as we could be or as good as we should be." That’s why I believe in original sin.  I can recognize it in others because I know it in myself. And I supposed the reason that God doesn’t need a television is that he can get enough drama watching us.

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