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Resurrecting the flogged horse: Fr. Guarnizo’s administrative leave

March 25, 2012

Okay, I really thought I had flogged the horse completely dead, but then I woke up at 2 a.m. with what I think is a brilliant insight.  Of course, it could show how stupid I am.  In all the discussion I have been having about administrative leave being uncanonical, I, me, myself, (can’t say for others) have never twigged to the fact Fr. Guarnizo is NOT on administrative leave in any other diocese in the world, other than Washington D.C. (and I’ll grant, just for argument in this post, that he is on admin leave in DC).  The law itself grants Fr. G the faculty to preach unless it has been removed by an Ordinary (c. 764).  So Fr. G has had his faculty to preach in DC removed by one of the Ordinaries of DC. Since Fr. G is incardinated in Moscow, he receives his faculties to hear confessions from the Archbishop of Moscow. Those faculties can be exercised anywhere unless a particular local Ordinary/bishop removes them specifically from Fr. G (which is what has happened in DC) (cc. 967.2 and 975) (now we canonists get technical so I have to add the caveat that it is possible that Fr. G had his faculties for confession granted by the Archbishop of DC and not by the Archbishop of Moscow — but that would be very unusual — and therefore, he cannot hear confessions anywhere in the world until a new local  Ordinary grants them, or he receives an office, like pastor, which grants them by the law itself). So, the point is that Fr. G can certainly celebrate Mass, preach, (probably hear confessions — we don’t know the exact details to make that determination) and all that other priestly stuff, immediately once he steps outside the territory of the Archdiocese of Washington.  If it had been his Bishop in Moscow who placed him on admin leave, he wouldn’t be able to do that. As it is, the Archbishop of Washington can only affect Fr. G’s ministry within the territory of the Archdiocese of DC.  Why is that important, apart from the fact, that I never thought of it until I was asleep? Well, because it makes the whole affair of administrative leave a very slippery slope, a very messy affair.  I still maintain that it doesn’t exist as most canonists envision it, or that it is a good way of covering a gap which some canonists perceive to exist.  salvo meliore iudicio.


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  1. Karen LH permalink

    Fr. Guarnizo was one of the speakers at the Stand Up for Religious Freedom rally in DC. I was wondering about that, given his being on administrative leave?

    • Being on admin leave does not mean that Fr. G ceases to be a human being, or one of the Christian Faithful. Priests are not chattel. The fact that he is on admin leave does not take away his right to free speech, to give a talk (as long as he wasn’t speaking in an official capacity as a representative of the Church, or maybe he was but with permission.)

      • Karen LH permalink

        OK. He gave a good talk. I just wasn’t sure what the rules were.

  2. Good of you to make this point (tho I don’t know of any canonist who claimed otherwise) and your point about admin leave not impacting speech per se (as opposed to preaching) is likewise well made.

    What this does bring to the surface is the not-quite-a-loophole in the law re incardination: ordination of a man whom the bishop knows has no intention of serving in that diocese. It’s not illegal, it’s not immoral, and it’s not necessarily even a pastoral problem, but it is, well, anomalous.

  3. Dcn Luis Doriocourt permalink

    A question about the faculty to hear confessions; I am a child of the 50s and 60s and was educated in Catholic schools through high school, I was taught that the Sacrament of Penance was reserved to the Bishop (Ordinary) and that a visiting priest was obliged to seek permission except in the case of emergencies.

    So was that ever correct – perhaps in the earlier code? Or was that never the case? Thanks

    • don’t have the time to check the old code right now but in relation to Fr. G, he is not a visiting priest, in the sense of a passerby in the diocese. he was legitimately working in the diocese with a pastoral appointment. that’s different.
      Fr. MacD

    • The relevant canons of the CIC/17 are as follows:

      c. 872 – Beyond power of orders, one must have jurisdiction, either ordinary or delegated, to validly absolve.
      c. 873, §1 – The pope and cardinals have universal jurisdiction to hear confessions; bishops in their diocese, and pastors in their parish, have it by the law itself.
      c. 874, §1 – The ordinary of a place is the one who delegates jurisdiction to hear confession.
      c. 881, §1 – Priest having jurisdiction, either ordinary or delegated, can validly and licetly hear confessions of transients and pilgrims from other dioceses and parishes when approached.
      c. 881, §2 – A priest who has ordinary jurisdiction to hear confessions can hear them from his subjects anywhere in the world.
      c. 882 – in danger of death any priest can, absolve even those not having jurisdiction.

      So, that sounds more or less correct, Dcn. Doriocourt.

  4. The point you raise seems to me to be a good reason why canonists should not adopt the phrase “leave of absence” as such to cover the gap outlined by Dr. Peters. While this gap is seemingly a rather localized one—for lack of a better word—because of the differences in how the CIC/83 deals with faculties as opposed to the CIC/17, I think it would, nonetheless, sound very peculiar to say that a priest is on a leave of absence here (i.e. he’s prohibited from exercising his faculties here) but not on a leave of absence there (i.e. he’s not prohibited from exercising his faculties there). It’s further wrinkled by the effects that a “leave of absence” has on a priest’s faculty to hear confessions elsewhere when the leave is imposed by the ordinary of the place where he’s incardinated.

  5. Paula permalink

    Father, you’ll be interested to note the following article posted on

    “As a priest and canon lawyer, I’d like in canonical terms, to revisit the controversial events surrounding the denial of Holy Communion to Barbara Johnson by Father Marcel Guarnizo. First of all, while I agree with many of the points by the very well-respected canonist Dr. Ed Peters, I believe that even with the rather limited information currently available, Father Guarnizo very possibly and correctly satisfied the conditions of canon 915 in denying Holy Communion to Barbara Johnson. Secondly, I would like to comment on Father Guarnizo’s unjust “administrative leave” in light of the Code of Canon Law.” The rest is here.

  6. Michael V. permalink

    Greetings, Fr. MacD:

    There is another learned commentary on the Fr. Guarnizo case published March 27, 2012 by an “anonymous priest” on the PewSitter website.

    It’s entitled “A Canonical Defense of Father Guarnizo,” and it provides a most learned response/challenge to Dr. Peters’ interpretations and conclusions (and though not specifically named, your basic findings as well). As I and others suspected, there appears to be another possible interpretation of canon law in the Father Guarnizo case, though Dr. Peters’ and your interpretations may still prevail in the final analysis.

    Best of God’s Blessings!

    Michael V.

  7. Fr. MacDonad please have a look at the following article, I would like to hear you insight on it. Thanks.

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