- The Washington Times - Monday, March 12, 2012

A Catholic priest who denied a lesbian Holy Communion at her mother’s funeral Mass was put on administrative leave for engaging in “intimidating behavior,” officials from the Archdiocese of Washington said.

According to a statement from the archdiocese, the Rev. Marcel Guarnizo, a parochial vicar with Saint John Neumann Church in Gaithersburg, is suspended from celebrating Mass, performing weddings and funerals or other priestly duties within the archdiocese until an investigation is completed.

“This action was taken after Bishop Barry C. Knestout, vicar general and moderator of the Curia for the Archdiocese of Washington, received credible allegations that Father Guarnizo had engaged in intimidating behavior toward parish staff and others that is incompatible with proper priestly ministry,” the archdiocese said in the statement.

Father Guarnizo, originally from the Archdiocese of Moscow, has been with the local diocese for a year.

The decision comes about two weeks after he made headlines for the Feb. 25 incident involving D.C. resident Barbara Johnson during her mother’s funeral Mass when he denied Ms. Johnson Holy Communion because she was living with a woman.

Communion is the most important of the Catholic sacraments because when a believer ingests the Holy Eucharist, he or she believes they are literally receiving the body and blood of Christ.

Catholic teaching on homosexuality states that homosexuals should be loved and welcomed into the faith but that homosexual acts are considered a sin and not to be condoned.

Ms. Johnson was cited in news reports as asking for the removal of Father Guarnizo after the incident.

The statement from the archdiocese does not mention Ms. Johnson’s complaint, but spokeswoman Brie Hall said that in the wake of the incident, “some of his behavior was called into question.”

“After looking into it and hearing from parish staff, the bishop took this action,” she said.

In an essay published on the Catholic Standard website several days after the funeral, the Archdiocese of Washington stated that a priest “has an obligation to make sure that the sacraments are respected.”

“Since it is difficult to know what is in a person’s heart, it is also important that when doubt arises regarding whether a person is properly disposed to receive the Eucharist, it is handled in a pastoral and compassionate manner, privately between the priest and the communicant.”

Saint John Neumann parishioners were informed by the Rev. Thomas. G. LaHood, who read the archdiocese’s statement during Saturday Vigil and Sunday Masses this past weekend.

• Meredith Somers can be reached at msomers@washingtontimes.com.

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