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Gay Catholics Condemn Priest’s Denial of Communion to Lesbian during Mother's Funeral

February 28, 2012.A Gaithersburg, MD priest’s decision to deny Communion to a woman during her mother’s funeral because he heard she lived with another woman is being strongly condemned by DignityUSA, the nation’s largest organization of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender Catholics. Father Marcel Guarnizo reportedly refused to give Barbara Johnson Communion and told her, in the Communion line, the reason for his decision. He also left the altar during Ms. Johnson's tribute to her mother and refused to attend the graveside service and deliver the final prayers.

DignityUSA Executive Director Marianne Duddy-Burke said, “What happened to Barbara Johnson is one of the most heinous denials of pastoral care imaginable. In reality, what occurred was a denial of Jesus' ministry, which so often showed an embrace of those on the margins and which regularly set aside the laws of ritual purity in order to attend to people's needs. Most Catholics will be appalled by this priest’s actions. Members of our Church know the profound comfort that the Eucharist can be at times of grief, and how important our Church’s rituals can be in bringing families together. Tragically, this incident only added to the family’s pain.”

The Archdiocese of Washington has issued a written statement saying the priest acted incorrectly. The Archdiocese said he should have taken the woman aside and addressed the issue in private.

Allen Rose, President of Dignity/Washington, DC, the largest Chapter of DignityUSA, called the statement about the incident issued by Archdiocese of Washington, DC “totally inadequate.” He said, “Tragically, the statement misses the point. It's not the timing that is the problem; it's the fact that any priest could even dream this was an appropriate way to minister to a grieving family. It is the mistaken belief that a priest’s judgment about LGBT people can lead to a denial of the Catholic sacraments, and that this judgment should take priority over compassion that is the problem.  We extend our deepest sympathy to Ms. Johnson and her family.”

“DignityUSA has called on the US Conference of Catholic Bishops to establish an advisory committee to discuss how church officials deal with issues of importance to lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender Catholics and our families,” said Duddy-Burke. “This incident is just one more illustration of the need for a better understanding of our community’s pastoral care needs. We want to prevent any other families from experiencing this kind of pain at such a critical time.”

DignityUSA is the nation’s largest organization of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Catholics and their allies. It has members and Chapters across the United States. Dignity/Washington, DC, founded in 1972, is the organization’s largest Chapter.

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