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One letter will kill you

March 23, 2012

My well known Latin professor in Rome, Fr. Reginald Foster, would tell his students often, “In Latin, one letter, one letter! will kill you.” And he’s right. Precision is necessary in Latin, or it all falls apart. The same is true in canon law. As I opined in my post of yesterday, public discussion helps clarify issues. Two points were brought up in the comments to my posts which gave me pause: the reference to the letter of Scriptor posted on Rorate Caeli and the tidbit of information that Ms. Johnson allegedly had revealed herself publicly as a homosexual by mentioning her partner in the obituary announcing her mother’s death. That second point could have been a game-changer for me!

If Ms. Johnson had indeed revealed herself as having a gay partner in the obituary, it would be almostinconceivable that Fr. Guarnizo, indeed the public at large, did not know the fact of her homosexuality. Technically it’s possible, but I can’t imagine a priest, being one myself,not reading the obituary before performing funeral rites, precisely because he wants to know the names of the immediate family. Therefore, the publication of the fact of Ms. Johnson’s homosexuality, coupled with Father’s prior knowledge, would constitute grounds for denying Communion. I was ready to concede the point. Until… Until I read the obituary for myself. It does NOT reveal that Ms. Johnson had a partner. The children of the deceased woman (Lord, please do give her rest for she was probably never so famous in life!) are simply listed according to their cities of residence. The name of the woman from the same city as Ms. Johnson could be her married sister!

beloved and adored mother of Larry Johnson of Bluemont, VA, Nita Johnson of Rockville, MD, Michael and Robyn Johnson of Laytonsville, MD, Beverly Johnson of Gaithersburg, MD, Barbara Johnson and Ruth Gresser of Silver Spring, MD and Rose Fikak of Arlington, VA

Only one sibling is named with his spouse. Other female siblings are listed with their married names and no mention of the spouse. There is no reason to suspect that Ruth is a gay partner. There is no way to tell that she is her gay partner. Precision. Precision. Precision.

So much of the discussion of this unfortunate incident is assuming facts that were known only after the controversy exploded. That’s not on. That’s not precise. Were it any one of us in trouble, we would demand the same sort of dispassionate, precise analysis that some of us are trying to provide. Matters of the law need reason, not passion. But what about that letter of Scriptor?

I must admit, it gives me pause. It is well reasoned, well documented and raises some good points which need further discussion. I can’t address them all. One thing the letter did do was force me to re-read the decree of the Pontifical Council for Legislative Texts on Communion to the divorced and re-married. Once again precision is necessary (not that Scriptor is not precise but readers and blog commentators need to pay attention.) The decree states in no. 3 that the person responsible for discerning cases in which a person must be denied Communion is the priest who has care of the community, and further states that precise instructions are to be given to deacons or extraordinary ministers (and parochial vicars!) regarding the mode of acting in concrete situations. The decree is neither requiring nor supporting on-the-spot decisions. It is not up to the minister of Communion, extraordinary or otherwise, to make the determination. The concrete situation must be known beforehand so that a decision can be made by the pastor, (normally it is the pastor who has charge of a community.) Now I can imagine that people are immediately going to start claiming that canon 915 is based on divine law, which it is, and that a priest must act in accord with his conscience, which he must, but that does NOT mean that the Church is unable to say that, objectively, he did something wrong. The person who acts by conscience will be judged by God, but, until that time, he must bravely endure the human consequences of disobeying the law. The authority in the Church will be judged by God, but in the meantime, it must act in accord with the law. “In conscience, I cannot use the new translation of the Mass in my parish,” a priest may say. He must follow his conscience, but that does not mean that the bishop must leave him in the office of pastor. That’s not how the ‘conscience clause’ works. So Fr. Guarnizo may have acted according to his conscience, mistakenly formed or otherwise; however, he must accept the consequences of that. And now, back to the point that I have been trying to make all along…

There is no canonical way to argue that the Vicar General was unjust in removing Fr. Guarnizo’s appointment as parochial vicar (even if it is unconnected to the Communion incident.) We might think it harsh, and I’m willing to say that it is; however, it is not uncanonical, because it falls within the discretionary power of the Ordinary which I discussed. What IS uncanonical is his removal from ministry, his being placed on ‘administrative leave.’  That’s something that needs to be discussed.

Ultimately, I don’t think we can reach a conclusion on whether or not Fr. Guarnizo ought to have been instructed by the pastor to deny Communion. We don’t know all the facts from this distance. And it might equally mean that well-informed people are free to disagree on this case — not every concrete situation can necessarily be categorized as 100% right or wrong (that’s why we have lawyers and canonists who argue the law.) Even then, if the Vicar General and Fr. Guarnizo disagree on the correct course of action that should have been taken, Fr. Guarnizo, in virtue of his promise of obedience, must endure every discretionary act of administrative power, like his removal from office. What he does not have to endure, although he may choose to do so by ‘offering it up’, are uncanonical actions taken against him, like his complete removal from ministry.

For those who like things to be 100%, it is worth remembering that canon 916, which, in virtue of divine law, forbids a person conscious of grave sin from receiving Communion, is not absolute! The over-riding precept is that a sinner is not required to manifest his conscience. Therefore, as the canon states, when there is no possibility to confess, and for a grave reason, he may receive Communion remembering to make an act of perfect contrition which includes the resolve to go to confession as soon as possible. Note well, that’s an act of ‘perfect contrition’, not a ‘perfect’ act of contrition. Note well, that’s ‘resolve’, not ‘obligation’. Even much more importantly, and Scriptor might want to think about this carefully in relation to some very good points she makes in her letter, the decree of the Pontifical Council for Legislative Texts specifically provides for an exception to his argument: those who are divorced and remarried, and who, because of children cannot separate, but who live as brother and sister, may receive Communion remoto scandalo (no. 2). The reason, as the declaration states, is that they, despite their condition as divorced and remarried being manifest, are not to be considered within the situation of serious habitual sin (no 2). If such a couple were known to Father, and he delicately informed them they couldn’t receive Communion to which they replied that they were living as brother and sister, could he refuse them Communion? Of course not. Therefore, remoto scandalo refers to the faithful in that community, not merely to Father. The couple cannot receive Communion in a parish where the objective fact of their divorce and remarriage is widely known, or likely to become widely known, but they CAN receive Communion. Fr. Guarnizo, I don’t think, could have made the proper judgment merely from his brief conversation in the sacristy. He could not assume that the family and friends knew, even if chances were likely. Canon 912 says a baptized personmust be admitted to Communion unless prohibited by law. There was no way that Fr. Guarnizo could ascertain, with the needed precision (in a case where rights are involved), whether or not Ms. Johnson was barred by law.

Perhaps this furor will help to clarify the important canonical issues involved so that those responsible will be able to give proper instructions to ministers of Communion. We must not be afraid of arguing the law, not for the sake of arguing or of being ‘positivistic’, but for the sake of safeguarding the dignity of the faithful and of the sacraments, in the way which the Church, whose duty it is, decides to do.  salvo meliore iudicio.

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21 Comments
  1. Interesting what you said about the obit, and it being almost inconceivable that the priest did not read it beforehand. In this case, however, Guarnizo admits, does he not?, that he knew nothing about the family until 10 minutes before the funeral. It seems he had not read an obit (even if it had a relevant public statement in it, which as you note, it did not).

    Many folks are touting the 2000 PCLT declaration (which has been posted on my 915 page for years) as if it somehow contradicted my interpretation of this case. They fail to note that, among other things, the whole context of the 2000 PCLT doc itself is civilly divorced and civilly remarried people, iow, people who have made multiple de iure declarations of their irregular status. Of course it’s easier to show “manifest in fact” when one has made a number of “manifest in law” acts.

    I re-suggest that you re-think your conclusions about admin leave being unjust. It might well have been, but not without one’s assuming a number of facts simply not in evidence here. Avoid the term ‘admim leave’ if one wants (it’s not canonical, as we have said), but if a priest can be deprived of faculties without a showing of crime or mental instability—and I think one can be (esp. of confession, preaching, with Mass being more debatable)—then ecclesiastical authority gets the benefit of the doubt that it acted within the law until solid evidence to the contrary emerges. And that has not happened here yet.

  2. Dr. Peters,
    Thank you for your continued interest in this little blog. I think, however, that you are not understanding my point about ‘administrative leave.’ And you are being imprecise in your caricature of irregularities as encompassing only mental instability. Mental instability is only one, of many, irregularities. ALL irregularities deprive a cleric of his faculties. In fact, they do more. They deprive him of his right to exercise his Orders. That is a far different thing.

    I equate removal from ministry/ administrative leave as prohibiting the exercise of Orders which I believe is the common perception of it. You seem to equate removal from ministry as removal of faculties.

    You also seem to be assuming that a priest has to have faculties to do anything qua priest. You would need to demonstrate that canonically — and I don’t think you can. I showed that a priest does not need faculties to baptise or to say Mass. Irregularities prohibit a cleric from performing those actions (although, perhaps not baptism as one does not need to be a cleric to administer baptism.) Merely removing faculties does not prohibit them. I am sure that the Vicar General is not expecting that Fr. Guarnizo is going around to parishes baptising and saying Mass (sans preaching.) i would be willing to bet a lot of money that he thinks Fr. Guarnizo is restricted to private Mass only.

    Therefore, nomenclature aside, I don’t think we need to know any facts before saying that complete removal from ministry, as an act of administrative power, is uncanonical. The only way, envisioned by the law, to remove a cleric completely from ministry is by penalty or by irregularity. Removal from ministry by administrative means is unjust because it does not exist in canon law.

    Even if you are suggesting that the mere removal of Fr. Guarnizo’s faculties is just, I think you need to demonstrate that canonically. There must be a reason for the removal of a faculty. But in order for that removal to be anything but arbitrary, but licit stricte dictu, the reason must be connected to the faculty itself. I remove the faculty for confession because you had a fight with the parish secretary? Licit? perhaps in the narrowest sense. Just? No way. If I am persistent in my obnoxious behaviour, then the rule of the salvation of souls would dictate that I be removed from office (and put, maybe, in a parish where I could get along with the secretary) or given some other remedy (but we’re getting close to penal law here) rather than deprive the faithful of a priest who can hear confessions validy, a fortiori when no one is disputing my confessional practice.

    • Okay, well, I have some time here, before my next assignment.

      “And you are being imprecise in your caricature of irregularities as encompassing only mental instability. Mental instability is only one, of many, irregularities.” EP: One thing you’ll learn quickly about blogging is that one cannot repeat every point one has made earlier in each later post about a topic, and that it’s unfair to expect folks posting comments on comments to do so. In an earlier post here, I expressly said that c. 1044 includes many grounds, but that only one was even remotely possible here, namely, mental instability. Since neither of us is arguing c. 1044 (I certainly think it has nothing to do with this case), it’s unfair to describe my view of c. 1044 as a ‘caricature’.

      Fr.MacD: okay, but you used penalty generically, but a specific irregularity. i thinks that’s easy to misinterpret. my point about administrative leave, prescinding from any of the particulars of this case, is that the prohibition to exercise Ordes is achieved either through penalties or irregularties.

      “You also seem to be assuming that a priest has to have faculties to do anything qua priest. You would need to demonstrate that canonically — and I don’t think you can. I showed that a priest does not need faculties to baptise or to say Mass.” EP: Well, a priest does not baptize in virtue of his priesthood in the first place, and under certain circumstances, his baptism can be valid but illicit, no? Nor does a priest need even to be in full Communion to say Mass, and doing so against a lawful directive contrary makes his Mass illicit, no?

      Fr. MacD: a priest, qua ordinary minister (c. 861), certainly administers baptism in virtue of his Orders. but no faculty (pace c. 862) is required. by which administrative mechanism could he prohibited from baptising? Further, a priest does not need a faculty to bring viaticum to the dying. by which mechanism is that prohibited?

      “Irregularities prohibit a cleric from performing those actions (although, perhaps not baptism as one does not need to be a cleric to administer baptism.)” EP: Well, then, why raise it, if it does not support the point you wish to make? I think maybe you are writing too quickly.

      “Merely removing faculties does not prohibit them.” EP: I’m not sure what this means, but it does not sound right to me.

      “I am sure that the Vicar General is not expecting that Fr. Guarnizo is going around to parishes baptising and saying Mass (sans preaching.) i would be willing to bet a lot of money that he thinks Fr. Guarnizo is restricted to private Mass only.” EP: I would think exactly that is the expectation of a VG in regard to a priest on ‘admin leave’.

      “Therefore, nomenclature aside, I don’t think we need to know any facts before saying that complete removal from ministry, as an act of administrative power, is uncanonical.” EP: Okay, we do disagree (assuming we mean basically the same things by each term, and noting that private Mass is a special case).

      Fr. MacD: yes, we do disagree. that’s clear now. and that’s okay 🙂 but since you are asking me to re-consider my opinion, the justification of which I have been trying to provide, wouldn’t it be useful for you to provide your arguments? Without referring to faculties (because that’s not what we disagree on), are you able to explain how a priest can be prohibited from exercising the other aspects (ie. those not requiring faculties) of his priesthood?

      “There must be a reason for the removal of a faculty.” EP: Of course there must be a reason, because the faculties are granted by law, but the reason for removal need not be “grave” or made public. Because you don’t see the reasons for the removal of faculties here, or because you think the ones alleged so far are insufficient, you think the removal of G from ministry is necessarily unjust. I can’t reach that conclusion because I do give ecclesiastical leadership the presumption of legality (so, no, I don’t have to prove the VG right, his critics need to prove him wrong), and because I don’t guess at facts not in evidence.

      Fr. MacD: While the reasons do not need to be grave, they do, unless you can show me otherwise, need to be connected in some way to the faculty being removed. But the Ordinary made reasons public (even if there are other reasons which have not been made public) and he was not required to do that. he only had to make them known to Fr. G. By going public, the VG has called into question Fr. G’s suitability for ministry which would be licit (c. 220) if the stated reasons justified the removal. But my contention is that the stated reasons justify neither the admin leave nor mere removal of faculties. Fr. G’s reputation is therefore being harmed illicitly. this is not a matter of denying presumption of legality. the facts, as made public by ecclesiastical authority, do not justify canonically the harm being done to Fr. G’s reputation, and his rights to exercise Orders. If I am incorrect in that assertion, then I would be grateful if someone could show me where I have erred.

      “But in order for that removal to be anything but arbitrary, but licit stricte dictu, the reason must be connected to the faculty itself.” EP: Okay, that’s arguable. I view priestly ministry as a synthesis of skills/mission, and a notable deficiency in one area can (need not, but can) suggest notable deficiencies in others, but, as it’s mostly fact issue, I can’t argue one way or another here.

      “[To] remove the faculty for confession because you had a fight with the parish secretary? Licit? perhaps in the narrowest sense. Just? No way.” EP: I invite to reflect on the notions of “licit” and “just”, but I decline to opine on the “justice” of the VG’s actions with only the facts at hand.

      “If I am persistent in my obnoxious behaviour, then the rule of the salvation of souls would dictate that I be removed from office (and put, maybe, in a parish where I could get along with the secretary) or given some other remedy (but we’re getting close to penal law here) rather than deprive the faithful of a priest who can hear confessions validy, a fortiori when no one is disputing my confessional practice.” EP: I see something like a half-dozen real points in this assertion worth tending to; that’s too many to respond to, and maybe even to follow. Again, you might be writing too quickly. Happens to me too, sometimes.

      Fr. MacD: yes, perhaps writing quickly, because, yes, I do have to attend to other things. But still glad you’re keeping watch on the blog and still ready to learn.

      Have a good weekend, Pater. Fr. MacD: ditto!

      P.S. not sure if this is good blogging etiquette to insert comments in someone else’s comments, but I figured it was the clearest way of responding to points. And brevity has never been one of my strengths! sorry. will try to work on that. if only I could be so verbose when I sit to write my thesis!

  3. Dr. Peters,
    btw, I use the word ‘seem’ because I do not wish to put words in your mouth. But your ideas are not clear to me with respect to this point.

  4. “Barbara Johnson and Ruth Gresser of Silver Spring, MD”

    I think this phrase raises an interesting point about the role of custom and social norm in the law. Traditionally, the etiquette of Writing People’s Names requires that the names of two people be joined by “and” only when they are married to each other. (With the exception, I suppose, of the last two people in a long list, which demonstrates the usefulness of Oxford commas.) So pursuant to the traditional norm, the phrasing used in the obituary actually does suggest that Miss Johnson and Miss Gresser are, shall we say, “together.”

    But at the same time, who knows the traditional norm anymore? And who should decide when a custom falls into sufficient desuetude that it no longer provides any insight into the application of the law?

  5. RE: Reading the obituary and hence knowing who is who.
    Not every priest who is to officiate at a funeral has read or is required to read the published obituary.So if it was clear in the obit that the woman had a female ‘spouse’ it would not mean that father should refuse her communion.He may not have read the obit.In the case in question it is not clear if father had been approached to officiate at the last minute or if he even knew the family.In some cases it is just befofe the funeral that the priest gets the needed info about the family to express sympathy,etc.

  6. If what Fr. G says it true that the lady introduced her partner as her “lover”, which would seem to be public, make any difference to the idea the sin must be public to justify his actions to protect the Most Blessed Sacrament?

  7. A very interesting conversation! And thank you for partially addressing my questions, Father MacDonald. If I understand the points:

    (1) The issue is not whether Fr. G did a morally good or morally bad thing in refusing communion, but the issue being discussed is only whether hegave due consideration to the rights accorded the faithful in canon law. He might have followed divine law according to his conscience well while still doing a canonically dubious, or erronious action.

    (2) It seems to be argued that, as in the case of divorced and remarried people where the duty of making the determination belongs to the pastor, so, by extension, the the pastor has a primary duty in these cases. Canon Law does not seem to foresee spur of the moment decisions.

    (3) Something that is not public in fact can still be regarded as due cause for denying communion if it is likely to become public.

    (4) You are not denying that some things are public intrinsically (it appears to me, at least), but are arguing that it would require more than varify whether this should be considered public, either because it actually is notorious, or because is the sort of action that is either likely to become nortorious in a particular or is a matter of public record.

    I still feel confused how it can be so clear cut in the mind of canon laywers. The more we learn, the more it becomes clear that Fr. G. did not appear to have done much investigation. It was a decision in haste. Nevertheless, given the circumstances, it seems like he could have done a quick investigation, if he had had time, and learned without too much trouble that this woman was living in a public structure of sin, and making no attempt to hide it.

    (a) What more would he have had to have to satisfy the law? Or, for that matter, (b) could he satisfy the law as a parochial vicar? Does (c) the pastor have a similar role in a case like this as he apparently does in divorce and marriage? (d) To who has the primary responsibility for canon 915? the minister, the pastor, or both?

    One more point, if I may, Father (I know this has become very long). It seems like the central issue of this is the haste, which prevented full knowledge of the facts. Is anyone stating that even if Fr. G. had had time to conduct an investigation, he might not have been able to establish the facts, and the consequent danger to souls? If I imagine myself called to the dignity of the altar, I feel a certain nervousness that there might be ambiguity in either the moral or the canonical law, and that, in trying to show due honor to the Eucharist, due care for the Church, and due sollicitude for souls, I might run afoul of the law. So, the question is, is there anything a priest can do to protect himself, canonically speaking, such as conducting an “investigation” prior to making a determination?

    • Realizing that Fr. MacDonald is very busy in parish ministry and that he might appreciate having his load lightened… at least on this blog… I thought I’d attempt answers for some of the simpler questions. While I don’t formally hold a JCL or JCD, I have worked and studied under them them, so I don’t think I’m too off base with anything I’ll say here. Of course, I submit to Fr. MacDonald’s learning and experience, and apologize in advance if I’ve overstepped my competence in any matter.

      (c) Does the pastor have a similar role in a case like this as he apparently does in divorce and marriage?Yes, he does. The second paragraph under no. 3 of the above-mentioned decree from the Pont. Council for Legislative Texts states it in a general fashion that the responsibility to apply the law of can. 915 to particular circumstances lies foremostly with the pastor of a parish (and, ultimately, with the diocesan bishop, see can. 515, §1). This means applying the law of can. 915 not just to those divorced and remarried couples in his parish, but equally to anyone else in his parish who for some reason or another may be prohibited from receiving communion.

      (d) To who has the primary responsibility for canon 915? the minister, the pastor, or both?It primarily lies with the pastor (parochus), in whom—quoting can. 515, §1—“the pastoral care [of the parish] is entrusted… as its proper shepherd (pastor)…” The PCLT’s decree echos this in no. 3. This is particularly evident in the last sentence of the second paragraph, which states, “[Pastors] are to give precise instructions to the deacon or to any extraordinary minister regarding the mode of acting in concrete situations.” Recall that deacons are ordinary ministers of Holy Communion (cf. can. 910, §1), so the fact that the PCLT directly states that deacons are to be instructed how to act in particular cases, certainly puts the emphasis on the parish pastor. Parochial vicars as coworkers of the parish pastor and sharers in his mission, may well also have role in this, but it is without doubt done under the pastor’s authority (can. 545, §1).

      …I feel a certain nervousness that there might be ambiguity in either the moral or the canonical law, and that, in trying to show due honor to the Eucharist, due care for the Church, and due sollicitude for souls, I might run afoul of the law.While this is not a question, it felt needed a small comment. I may be reading this incorrectly, but it seems like you’ve inadvertently placed canon law in some sort of opposition to honoring the Eucharist, caring for the Church, and the salvation of souls. The truth is that canon law grows out of the Church, her Sacraments, and her care for souls. There’s a line in Bl. John Paul II’s apostolic constitution Sacrae disciplinae leges (which promulgated the CIC/83) that I like very much:

      “[T]he Code is in no way intended as a substitute for faith, grace, charisms, and especially charity in the life of the Church and of the faithful. On the contrary, its purpose is rather to create such an order in the ecclesial society that, while assigning the primacy to love, grace and charisms, it at the same time renders their organic development easier in the life of both the ecclesial society and the individual persons who belong to it.”

      In simpler terms, canon law is in place to foster faith and charity. By respecting the law, we thereby are caring for the Church and creating an environment in which the Church’s mission of saving souls can take place more easily. We may not always like what the law says, but there is a wisdom behind it. At the same time, like any human project, it isn’t perfect; there are grey areas and there are holes in the law. So sometimes, after due diligence, we just have to do the best we can and trust that by God will take care of the rest.

  8. Fr. Macdonald,

    This is a side question, but I wonder, if and when same-sex “marriages” will be recognized by law, if this will make them public de iure in the same way that traditional marriages are. In such case, wouldn’t the application of c. 915 be a lot easier for a priest?

    • I tend think so, but I am aware that some canonical “push-back” is at hand there, namely, that such “marriages” don’t have what canonistics refers to as the “figure” of marriage. Now, imho, that notion in turn is used “too conveniently” but it’s out there. fwiw. Pater?

      • I see what you mean. But I would agree with you. It seems to me that whether or not same-sex marriage has the ‘figure’ of marriage, it is, nonetheless, a de iure declaration of an immoral lifestyle which, therefore, would bind the Communion minister in virtue of c. 915.. is it fair to say, even in the case of a heterosexual divorced and re-married couple, the prohibition to communion is not in se the invalid marriage but the immoral lifestyle which has become de iure public by the fact of a civil marriage? Does that make sense, what I’m trying to say? In other words, it is any act which is verifiably/legally public, ie. a legal declaration, which makes it fall under c. 915.

        a similar situation was recently posed which I have been thinking about. what if a gay couple seeks registration in a parish, qua gay coulple? I agree with the prevailing opinion that of course anyone can register in a parish because it has no canonical import — a person belongs to a parish by quasi/domicile. it’s not necessary to ‘register’; administratively helpful as that might be to the pastor and staff. But would such a declaration to the parish, constitue a public act which, therefore, would mean that they must be denied communion? [what if they each took a separate envelope number? 😉 just kidding on that one…]

  9. ” If such a couple (divorce and remarried) were known to Father, and he delicately informed them they couldn’t receive Communion to which they replied that they were living as brother and sister, could he refuse them Communion? Of course not. ” But it seems the Declaration is saying exactly the opposite here!

    In fact, despite their spiritual disposition to receive Communion, the Declaration is saying that Communion must be denied unless the possibility for scandal is removed: “Given that the fact that these faithful are not living more uxorio is per se occult, while their condition as persons who are divorced and remarried is per se manifest, they will be able to receive Eucharistic Communion only remoto scandalo.”

    This example vividly demonstrates the preference for avoiding scandal.

    It seems that preference for avoiding scandal is being ignored in the face of the facts here. The woman announced her lifestyle to the priest for no apparent reason. And despite what you may think, Ruth is her partner (just google), and the death notice listed them in the format commonly used to indicate a married couple in the obituary. Whether the priest read the death notice can be irrelevant, though, and I mention it only as evidence that the woman in question was quite open about her lifestyle. In evaluating the event, one should ask whether the priest might reasonably have concluded that the sin was manifest— whether he reasonably could conclude that others in the congregation know about her lesbian partner. One would have to be willingly ignorant to assume that Johnson was hiding her lifestyle. I really don’t see how anyone could conclude that the opportunity for scandal was removed.

  10. Richard W Comerford permalink

    Fr. Stuart MacDonald:

    You and others have been very public in condemning Father Guarnizo for allegedly violating Canon 915. However neither the pastor nor the Archbishop who he served in the Washington Archdiocese has made the same condemnation. This raises questions as to what information you might have that the Archdiocese of Washington does not have..

    Did you, for instance, interview and take statements from the principal parties, the witnesses, the pastor, the Archbishop or his representative? Or are you merely relying on published accounts in the secular press and hearsay?

    If you are merely relying on published accounts in the secular press and hearsay then why in the world did you publicly bring up the matter of Canon 915 when the Archdiocese of Washington did not mention it?

    Father Guarnizo’s good name and reputation is being destroyed in many venues. If it turns out that there is more here than what is presented in the secular press, the blogs and as hearsay; and you are wrong, how are you going to restore Father Guarnizo’s good name to him?

    God bless

    Richard W Comerford

    • Mr Comerford
      Please be careful. I have not condemned Fr. Guarnizo. If you read my posts, I stated that, in my opinion, he erred in his judgment on refusing Communion in a well publicised case. After that I have been defending him strenuously against what I consider an unjust treatment of him (trusting the reasons given by the Vicar General in a public letter).

      Remember, this is a commentary on things canonical. There have been headlines all over the place about a priest denying communion, being suspended. As a canon lawyer, I and others, take those news items and try to make them complete from a canon law perspective for those who are interested. Furthermore, we do that by prescinding from a discussion of the particulars (other than to use them as a jumping board) to talk about the theory. So, from ‘priest suspended’ a blog moves to ‘this is not a penalty, it is not suspension.’ From “priest denies Communion” in the headlines, a blog moves to, ‘well, what are the canons which apply when a priest thinks he needs to deny someone communion.” The operative canons, among others, are cc. 915 and 916. That’s why they get brought up. To say that a person did not apply those canons correctly is not to condemn him. In fact, if you read my post carefully, I state that I perfectly understand how he could have come to the judgment he did. But I still believe the judgment was wrong.

      And if you read more carefully, I am the one who opined, in the comments section, that it is the Archdiocese who has publicly harmed Fr. Guarnizo’s good name by publicising the fact that he is on administrative leave. They were not required, canonically, to publish that fact. I, sir, have been working to restore his good name. And I don’t even know him. But everyone deserves his good name unless there is a licit reason for taking it away. Please read more carefully before you start making unfounded accusations thereby harming my good name.
      Fr. MacD

  11. Richard W Comerford permalink

    Fr. Stuart MacDonald:

    “I have not condemned Fr. Guarnizo.”

    These days most Christians in the USA do not know the Ten Commandments. Most American Catholics do not know their Catechism. However all Americans know the power of law and lawyers. For you, a very special kind of lawyer, to stand up and cite a law unknown to most Catholics, let alone most Americans, and to state very publicly that Fr. Guarnizo had violated this relatively unknown law is indeed, in the public mind, a condemnation.

    “After that I have been defending him strenuously against what I consider an unjust treatment of him”

    What will be remembered in the public mind is that you found him “guilty, guilty, guilty”.

    “this is a commentary on things canonical”

    Have either Fr. Guarnizo’s Moscow of Washington Clerical superiors accused him of any violation of Canon Law?

    “There have been headlines all over the place about a priest denying communion”

    But nothing, until the Canon Lawyers jumped in, about Fr. Guarnizo violating any type of law Church or secular.

    “I and others, take those news items and try to make them complete from a canon law perspective for those who are interested.”

    You trust what you read in the papers? The same media that promotes, among other things, artificial contraception, abortion, sexual immorality and euthanasia?

    “we do that by prescinding from a discussion of the particulars (other than to use them as a jumping board) to talk about the theory.”

    You do not know the particulars beyond speculations, hearsay and gossip – much of it quite possibly malicious.

    “To say that a person did not apply those canons correctly is not to condemn him.”

    Fine. In 12th Century England. But in 21st Century America. If Ms. Johnson and company moves to sue Fr. Guarnizo in civil Court how will your non-condemnation be viewed then?

    “I am the one who opined, in the comments section, that it is the Archdiocese who has publicly harmed Fr. Guarnizo’s good name by publicising the fact that he is on administrative leave.”

    Fine. And what does that have to do with Canon Law?

    ” I, sir, have been working to restore his good name”

    Your “working” has been cited as further proof of his guilt.

    “And I don’t even know him. ”

    He is a brother priest. You should be ready to doe for him.

    “But everyone deserves his good name unless there is a licit reason for taking it away.”

    Fr. Guarnizo’s good name has been forever destroyed.

    “Please read more carefully before you start making unfounded accusations thereby harming my good name.”

    Neither the Archdiocese (which I presume has far more information on this csae than you) nor any of the principal parties in this matter asked you to publicly comment on this matter as an expert in Canon Law. Indeed the Archdiocese has not accused Fr. Guarnizo of violation of Canon Law. And I belive that the Archdiocese has its own Canon Lawyers.

    Now how are you going to help restore Fr. Guarnizo’s good name?

    God bless

    Richard W Comerford

    • Mr. Comerford,
      I am going to allow this post; however, you will not be allowed to post further comments on my blog. Your post demonstrates an unwillingness to follow the argument, not an inability to do so. I don’t have to allow you to be uncharitable and venemous on my blog. It is not the type of civilized discussion that I am trying to promote. As Judge Judy says, “it’s my playpen, my rules.” God bless you.
      Fr. Stuart MacDonald

  12. cathyf permalink

    I am somewhat disturbed by the elevation of “avoiding scandal” as a general goal. Most of these “scandal in reception of the Eucharist” questions are about divorce/remarriage cases. I live in a small town, where everybody knows quite a lot about everybody else’s business. Speaking strictly as a practical matter, the most likely source of scandal when a divorced and remarried Catholic receives Communion in my parish is that there are lots of people who know that the person is divorced and remarried, but far fewer are aware that the previous marriage has been annulled. (In our parish we deal with this problem through the ancient and dishonorable tradition of gossip. “[tongue cluck] did you see Suzie go up to Communion bold as can be?!?” “Yes, I heard that her annulment came through last month. Isn’t that wonderful that she can participate with us fully again?” But despite gossip’s great power to spread itself all over town, somehow when it’s positive news it never makes it as far…) So is the next logical step to say that someone whose second marriage has been validated by the Church should continue to be denied Communion? What about someone whose first marriage was annulled before the second was ever entered into — should we deny that person Communion at his/her own wedding mass? What about widows and widowers who have remarried — do we have to protect the delicate sensibilities of the nosy parker who doesn’t realize that the first marriage ended in death and not divorce?

    Our Lord is reported to have been pretty careless about scandal when he walked the earth. Shouldn’t we be a bit more quick to say, “shuddup it’s none of your business!” to the busybodies among us?

  13. First, yes, Fr Mac: it is your playpen. By all means, please moderate it.

    Second, I have enjoyed the discussion on Fr G, but have a question that I consider more common – or at least, more personal: My mother is soon to complete a stay at a hospital. As I am sure most readers know, staying in a hospital brings with it an irregular schedule: sleep times are not “normal,” meal times are not “normal.” Add to that the rounds of Eucharistic Ministers, which are not very predictable (understandably so).

    The first time a EM visited my mother, my mother had just eaten (w/n an hour). The EM denied her the Eucharist. Question: doesn’t being a patient in a hospital dispense with the hour restriction for receiving?

    Fr. MacD: yes, it does as it does also for those caring for them. See canon 919, par. 3

    The second time two EMs visited my mother, my wife, who is not baptized, was also given the Eucharist. Both my mother and my wife know my wife’s status, tho there is no way the EMs could have known.

    Fr. MacD: an unfortunate mistake, I’m sure.

    The third time a EM visited my mother, she informed him that she had eaten w/n an hour; he said it didn’t matter.

    Fr. MacD: that’s correct. but it must have been confusing to your mother.

    Three years ago, at my father’s funeral Mass, the Priest made no statement about who should or should not receive; several people I know very well received – Father could not have known, while many others would have known their status. Well after Mass, I asked Father about this. He said that since Jesus was merciful he felt he had to be. All the above EMs belong to the same parish as the Priest who officiated at my father’s funeral Mass.

    Fr. MacD: this is one of those difficult things. If I don’t know the family, or if they are not church goers, then I tend to make some sort of announcement about Communion. I tend not to do that when most people are known to me. You’re correct that most times, Father can’t know or doesn’t know who is approaching to receive Communion.

    As a baptized Catholic who is in the process of a convalidation (and therefore cannot receive the Eucharist – or any other Sacrament), I probably notice things like this more than Catholics in good standing. However, I am aware of the above “irregularities” (I am not a Canon lawyer, so I might be taking some liberties with the proper use of that word, mea culpa), and standing there at Mass, Sunday after Sunday (at the Church I belong to, we stand thru-out Communion, so I do, very much, stick out like a sore thumb) it gets harder and harder and harder….

    Fr. MacD: All I can say is that I admire your faith and love of God and of the Church. You are doing the correct thing and God will reward you abundantly. Wait with expectant joy for the day when your marriage can be convalidated and you can be re-admitted to the sacraments. You are still a member of the Church, God’s child, and your prayers are heard, too. Remember that for everyone who might be judging you, there are just as many who know what you are doing and respect your integrity. I will certainly pray for you.

    I will not mention cases that surely cannot be argued: very public figures who do receive Communion, like Pelosi, Belosconi, Sarkozy. Yet there I stand, because, for better or for worse, I have read the Code.

  14. Michael V. permalink

    Fr. MacD:

    To be sure, you have not condemned Fr. Guarnizo, but Mr. Comerford’s comments do raise an important issue concerning our obligations to avoid the sin of calumny or simply jumping to false conclusions on insufficient evidence.

    Some comments on the matter do seem to accept the facts as reported, and even with some qualifiers set forth in the comments, perhaps they should be more prominently displayed along the following lines:

    In bold letters set forth at the beginning of a commentary, and then restated in bold letters at the end of the commentary. Also, titles and sub-titles of commentaries should be more carefully worded, and not set forth that so and so is wrong or needs correction, etc. Such titles and sub-titles make any qualifiers almost moot.

    Even with prominently displayed qualifiers, something just doesn’t feel right, because the person whose actions are being criticized is going to suffer some harm to his reputation. It’s also kinda ironic, because one of the main bugaboos in the case that started all of this deals with the public in terms of scandal, reputations, and so on. Fr. Guarnizo apparently attempted to avoid any public displays (right or wrong), but now is thrust into the public eye. Ironic indeed.

    What do you think? I’m not sure prominently displayed qualifiers can help, but at least they would demonstrate more basic respect for the person whose actions are being criticized. It also keeps open the possibility that no matter how skilled or knowledgeable one is in Canon law (and Dr. Peters is certainly quite knowledgeable as are you), there may be possible applications based on facts that are not known.

    All too often we forget the wisdom of God providing us with 2 ears and only 1 mouth.

    May Solomonic Wisdom be yours in abundance.

    Michael V.

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