A Gaithersburg priest who was put on administrative leave from his parish after a controversial funeral Mass at which he denied Communion to a lesbian said in a statement Wednesday that he "did the only thing a faithful Catholic priest could do" and suggested that archdiocesan leaders and the woman were lying.
The Rev. Marcel Guarnizo had declined to comment publicly since the Feb. 25 Mass at St. John Neumann Catholic Church, where Barbara Johnson was mourning her mother. Having learned just before the Mass that Johnson, a 51-year-old D.C. artist, was a lesbian living with her partner, Guarnizo refused to let her receive Communion. The story exploded on the Internet, triggering an emotional debate among Catholics and others about the church's views on homosexuality and the priest's role in determining who is fit to partake of the sacrament.
Guarnizo's statement, distributed on the conservative news site CNSnews.com, contradicts the account given by Johnson and her family about how the tensions that day unfolded.
He also said his parish priest and the Archdiocese of Washington were being dishonest when they told parishioners this past weekend that Guarnizo was being removed for intimidating behavior unrelated to the Communion standoff.
Guarnizo said he was removed as a result of two conversations he had with people from whom he was trying to obtain written comment about what happened at the funeral Mass: the funeral director and a parish staff member present at the funeral.
In announcing his removal, the archdiocese said it had "received credible allegations that Father Guarnizo had engaged in intimidating behavior toward parish staff and others that is incompatible with proper priestly ministry."
In his statement Guarnizo takes his superiors to task, saying he was essentially being removed because he denied Johnson Communion.
"And indeed contrary to the statement read on Sunday, March 11th during all Masses at St. John Neumann, both instances have everything to do with the Eucharistic incident. There is no hidden other sin or 'intimidation' allegations that they are working on, outside of these two meetings," he said.
"The meetings in question, occurred in our effort to document from people at the funeral Mass in written form a few facts about the nature of the incident. We have collected more than a few testimonies and affidavits, testifying to what really took place during the funeral liturgy.
"My personal conversation with both parties in question were in my view civil, professional and in no way hostile. I respect both individuals in question and really do not know the nature of their grievance."
Officials at DeVol Funeral Home have declined to comment, as have parishioners, who were told to refer questions to the archdiocese.
The Catholic blogosphere has been ablaze with debate about the incident, in part because of the silence of Guarnizo and the St. John Neumann community.
Previously, the only other details about the incident came from anonymous sources on conservative Catholic blogs who said Johnson had outed herself to the priest for no reason, forcing his hand.