Priest at center of Communion denial placed on leave

Fr Marcel Guarnizo Credit  M R Stefanik Conservative Institute CNA US Catholic News 3 12 12 Fr. Marcel Guarnizo. | M. R. Stefanik Conservative Institute.

A Maryland priest who recently denied Communion to a woman because of her lesbian relationship has been “placed on administrative leave with his priestly faculties removed” amid investigations of “intimidating behavior.”

A March 9 letter to priests of the Archdiocese of Washington, D.C. said that the decision was the result of “credible allegations” that Father Marcel Guarnizo had “engaged in intimidating behavior toward parish staff and others that is incompatible with proper priestly ministry.”

The letter did not mention Fr. Guarnizo’s Feb. 25 denial of Communion to a lesbian woman at her mother’s funeral.

The incident – which gained national attention – occurred at St. John Neumann Catholic Church in Gaithersburg, Md., which falls within the Archdiocese of Washington, D.C.

Barbara Johnson, 51, said that Fr. Guarnizo covered the host and told her that her lesbian relationship was sinful in the eyes of the Church. She had previously introduced her lesbian partner to the priest before Mass.

However, Johnson has identified herself as a Buddhist in an online academic paper as well as on the website of the art school that she founded. This led to speculation that rather than truly wishing to receive the Catholic sacrament, she was attempting to attract attention to the Church’s opposition to “gay marriage,” which was recently legalized in the state of Maryland.

After the incident, Johnson wrote a letter to Fr. Guarnizo, warning him that he would “pay dearly” for his actions. She has said that she is seeking to have him removed from parish ministry. 

However, a letter read at parish Masses over the weekend of March 10-11 did not mention Fr. Guarnizo’s interactions with Johnson, but instead referenced other recent allegations of intimidating behavior.

The letter, which was signed by Monsignor Knestout, Vicar General and Moderator of the Curia for the Archdiocese of Washington, D.C., said that due to the grave nature of allegations, as well as the confusion and concerns of the parishioners, Fr. Guarnizo has been prohibited from exercising priestly ministry in the archdiocese until matters can be resolved.

Expressing “hope” that Fr. Guarnizo “might return to priestly ministry,” Msgr. Knestout explained that the priest’s assignment at St. John Neumann Parish has been withdrawn while an inquiry into the accusations is completed.

A native of Columbia, Fr. Guarnizo was raised in the Washington, D.C. area and has spent numerous years working to rebuild the Church in post-Communist Europe by promoting ideas of political and cultural freedom. He has served as parochial vicar at St. John Neumann parish since March 2011.

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