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Gay woman denied Communion at her mother’s funeral

The Archdiocese of Washington, DC, has apologized to a gay woman denied Communion at her mother’s funeral at Saint John Neumann Catholic Church in Gaithersburg, Md., on Saturday.
Communion 2012 02 29Enlarge
Parishoners are reflected in a Communion chalice during Sunday Mass at Saint Clare Catholic Church's temporary tent sanctuary in Waveland, Miss., on August 19, 2007. (Mario Tama/Getty Images)

The Archdiocese of Washington, DC, has apologized to a gay woman denied Communion at her mother’s funeral at Saint John Neumann Catholic Church in Gaithersburg, Md., on Saturday.

Father Marcel Guarnizo said the funeral mass for 85-year-old Loetta Johnson at the church she and her late husband had attended for years, MSNBC reported. During the service, Loetta’s daughter, Barbara Johnson, claims, he announced to attendees that only church members in a "state of grace" would be allowed to receive Communion, Reuters reported.

Johnson is gay and lives with her partner of 20 years, MSNBC reported. When she went up to receive Communion bread and wine, the priest “put his hand over the body of Christ and looked at me and said, ‘I can’t give you Communion because you live with a woman, and in the eyes of the church, that is a sin,’ ” she told the Washington Post.

After the mass was over, Guarnizo declined to attend her mother’s burial, Johnson told MSNBC. “When the funeral home director appears, he says, ‘Father Marcel has taken ill. He says he has a migraine and is unable to accompany your mother’s remains to the cemetery.’ This was, for me and my family, his most egregious act,” she said.

Rev. Barry Knestout of the Washington archdiocese sent Johnson a letter of apology on Tuesday, MSNBC reported. “In my years as a priest, I have encountered many pastoral situations and know that kindness to those experiencing personal loss is a necessary part of the Church’s call to charity,” he wrote. “The fact that you did not experience this is a cause of great concern and personal regret to me.”

Some Catholics believe Guarnizo did the right thing. “Fr. Marcel Guarnizo has been thrown under the bus for following Canon Law 915!” wrote one Catholic blogger in the archdiocese, the Washington Post reported. “The issue here is not the priest but Barbara Johnson.”

But the archdiocese issued a statement distancing itself from the priest’s actions. “When questions arise about whether or not an individual should present themselves for communion, it is not the policy of the Archdiocese of Washington to publicly reprimand the person,” the statement said, according to the Washington Post. “Any issues regarding the suitability of an individual to receive communion should be addressed by the priest with that person in a private, pastoral setting.”

Johnson and her family are calling on the church to remove Guarnizo of his pastoral duties, Reuters reported. "We're urging the church to make that decision, so that this doesn't happen to anyone else, to any other families," Johnson told Reuters.

Johnson, who was raised Catholic and continues to identify herself as Catholic, told MSNBC that has been dissuading people from boycotting the church as a gesture of support for her. “It’s very important for everyone to know that my mother loved the Catholic Church,” she said. “I have gotten email upon email saying, ‘I’m not going back,’ and I say, ‘Please go back, because that man does not represent the Catholic Church.’ My mother loved the Catholic Church, and if she loved it, it was good.”

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