Lesbian denied communion addresses Catholic symposium

Barbara Johnson, who was denied communion at her mother's funeral, and her partner Ruth attend New Ways Ministry conference in Baltimore, Md. Photo credit: Chuck Colbert

Barbara Johnson (blue), who was denied communion at her mother's funeral, and her partner Ruth attend New Ways Ministry conference in Baltimore, Md. Photo credit: Chuck Colbert

By: Chuck Colbert/TRT Reporter–

BALTIMORE — A Catholic symposium dealing with gay and lesbian relationships in the Church concluded on an affective note here when the woman who was denied communion at her mother’s funeral spoke poignantly about the experience.

“It’s my mother’s love and compassion, and willingness to stand up for what is right that you see standing before you today,” Barbara Johnson told conference attendees.

“And not ‘Barbara Johnson, lesbian denied communion’ or ‘Barbara Johnson, Buddhist Catholic,’” she added.

Denied communion for being a sinner

During the funeral Mass on Saturday, Feb. 25, in Gaithersburg, Md., Rev. Marcel Guarnizo refused the Eucharist to Johnson, telling her, “I cannot give you communion because you live with a woman, and in the eyes of the church that is a sin.”

The communion incident caused a media stir and dismayed Catholics nationwide and around the world.

Discrediting Johnson

In the several weeks since, detractors have attempted to discredit Johnson, a 51-year-old artist, labeling her an activist, Buddhist, communist, and even atheist.

But Johnson would have none of it on St. Patrick’s Day.

A lifelong Catholic and former Catholic schoolteacher, Johnson lives in Washington, D.C., with her partner of many years.

“What I want to share with you today is the story of a daughter, a lesbian daughter, who felt her mother’s love and acceptance deeply,” Johnson told several hundred people during the closing session of New Ways Ministry’s Seventh National Symposium on Catholicism and Homosexuality (March 15 – 17).

A Catholic’s mother’s love and acceptance

“I remember when I first came out, and my mom was not happy,” said Johnson. “Each year at the Gay Pride parade, I would stand and applaud those P-FLAG moms and dads for their courage and their compassion. And I would pray that one day mom and dad would walk beside me in that contingent.”

“As I got older, I stopped needing parades,” Johnson continued. “And what I got was even better. I got a life where my mother and father adored my life partner. I got a life where my parents walked me down the aisle at our (not so legal) wedding. I got a life where, on our last happy time together, I thanked my mom for accepting and embracing me and for loving my partner so much. Her response was to pat Ruth on the leg as she looked her in the eye with the most beautiful smile and said, ‘I wouldn’t have it any other way — right?’”

No longer alive

As Johnson spoke, any number of symposium attendees fought back tears.

“You see Midge and Dick Johnson’s youngest daughter who is deeply heartbroken her parents are no longer here on this earth with her and her family,” said Johnson.

“You see this daughter who wound up in a whirlwind of media spectacle,” she continued. “You see this daughter who was placed in a state of grace by none other than her beloved mother.”

“For there is no more amazing state of grace than the one I was honored to receive as my mother allowed me to witness her passing from this life and into the dancing arms of my dad.”

Other Catholic priests apologize to Johnson

Afterwards, Johnson said several priests approached her, apologizing on behalf of the church for the painful incident and the priest’s pastoral insensitivity.

For his part, Father Guarnizo insists, “I did the only thing a faithful Catholic priest could do,” in refusing communion to Johnson, he said, according to a written statement that he issued on March 14 and was first published by Catholic News Service.

On March 9, the Archdiocese of Washington, D.C. removed Guarnizo from ministry and placed him on administrative leave pending an investigation of allegations of “intimidating behavior.”

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7 Comments on "Lesbian denied communion addresses Catholic symposium"

  1. Ralph Hythloday | March 21, 2012 at 4:56 pm |

    The only issue here is whether Barbara Johnson was conscious of mortal sin when she presented herself for communion. If she was, then the priest was correct to deny communion; if she wasn’t, then the priest was wrong. Barbara Johnson herself publicly admits that she is in a sexual relationship outside of marriage (marriage as recognized by the Church). The church says that this is a sin: it is a sin if it is two men, two woman or a man and a woman. You may believe the Church is wrong, but if you want to receive the Church’s sacraments, you must follow the Church’s rules.

  2. Church Watch | March 21, 2012 at 9:43 pm |

    Ralph, Interesting comment. By your logic, then men who have masturbated should not go for communion. Heterosexuals who live together (and presumably) have sex should stay away. Men and women who use artificial contraception should avoid the Eucharist. And same goes for all those who are divorced, not annulled, remarried and having sex. Is that your thinking? If so, I wonder how many among the laity would seek the receive the body of Christ. There are plenty of what you might call illicit sexual relationships both inside and outside of marriage — and they are all over the Kinsey spectrum. There is such a thing as primacy of conscience. Why not leave the matter between Barbara and God. This priest seems to lack any sense of pastoral sensitivity. He could easily have dealt with the matter in private later on.

    • Ralph Hythloday | March 22, 2012 at 11:19 am |

      Church Watch: “By your logic, then men who have masturbated should not go for communion. Heterosexuals who live together (and presumably) have sex should stay away. Men and women who use artificial contraception should avoid the Eucharist. And same goes for all those who are divorced, not annulled, remarried and having sex. Is that your thinking?”

      Yes. Even a superficial reading of the Catechism shows that to be true. As far as “primacy of conscience,” if such a thing exists, it assumes an informed conscience. Per the Catechism:

      A human being must always obey the certain judgment of his conscience. If he were deliberately to act against it, he would condemn himself. Yet it can happen that moral conscience remains in ignorance and makes erroneous judgments about acts to be performed or already committed.

      This ignorance can often be imputed to personal responsibility. This is the case when a man “takes little trouble to find out what is true and good, or when conscience is by degrees almost blinded through the habit of committing sin.” In such cases, the person is culpable for the evil he commits.

      Read the Catechism (the official teaching of the Church), and one will quickly see the error of ones ways. If you think that the Church is wrong, fine, but then don’t claim to be a Catholic.

      • Ralph Hythloday | March 22, 2012 at 11:52 am |

        Let me make myself clear: First of all, I believe that all people are welcome in the Church. All of us are sinners. However, if you are living in grave sin (no matter your sexual preference) you should not go up to receive communion. However, even in mortal sin, we should continue to attend Church and pray that we undergo a conversion of heart.

        Second, If the Church clearly teaches that something is a sin, as in adultery or homosexuality or masturbation or artificial contraception, don’t claim to be a Catholic and argue that the Church is wrong. The Church has been teaching these things for 1000s of years. You are wrong, show some humility.

        Third, the issue of conscience doesn’t come up in deciding whether the Church is right or wrong (we are required to know and follow the teaching of the Church), the issue of conscience comes up when we are confronted with a situation and we have to apply the teaching of the Church. In acting on conscience, it is assumed that we correctly understand the teaching of the Church. We can’t invoke conscience in order to act contrary to the clear teaching of the Church. That is manifest error. However, we can use our conscience in deciding how to act in gray areas. For example, murder is a sin. I can’t invoke conscience and say killing is not a sin. However, say a man is coming at me with a gun: I know that killing is normally a sin, but I can use my conscience to decide whether am I allowed to kill in this situation in order to save myself.

        To sum it up, the Church clearly teaches that homosexuality, as well as other sexual acts outside of marriage is sinful. No one has a basis to argue otherwise. If you are committing this sin, go to Church and pray with the rest of us sinners. But until you reconcile with God for your sinful acts, do not receive communion. And please do not say that Church teaches something it does not.

        • Ralph, thank you for stating it so clearly. Father Guarnizo was correct in withholding Holy Communion and should not be reprimanded. The others who apologized for his stance were not helping Miss Johnson. They would do better to explain why it was necessary, as you have done so well in your comments. How can she find her way back to Truth and avoid sin, if our Priests don’t properly lead?

  3. Church Watch | March 22, 2012 at 6:15 pm |


    You are well-versed in Church documents and the like. If one’s conscience is to be formed into submission to the Vatican, then what good is having a brain? Why bother thinking?

    Are you saying the faithful ought to defer to Rome all the time? What if someone thinks the Pope is wrong? There is a role and tradition of dissent in the Church.

    Or what if folks think what you call “teaching” is malnourished? It’s not as if Rome has been right all the time.

    One pope was against trains, but that opposition to railroads has long passed by the wayside, along with the idea that sun revolved around planet earth.

    On the matter of gay folks. Yes, they do have the right to speak up and say what the Vatican says about them in untrue and in fact slanderous. And Rome has the duty to listen to their stories. Even according to natural law, people’s real life experience has to be taken into consideration.

    And more than a few Catholics — gay or straight — have said what the Vatican says about human sexuality does not right true to their experiences.

    There are a hell of a lot of Catholics in hell by your judgmental attitude.

    • 1 Cor. 5, 6, and Matthew 18, WE ARE TO JUDGE INSIDE THE CHURCH, NOT OUTSIDE. While I am a Protestant, Scripture is quite clear:
      I wrote to you in my letter not to mix together with sexually immoral people— not at all meaning the sexually immoral people of this world or the greedy or swindlers or idolaters, for then you would have to exit the world. But now I am writing to you not to mix together with anyone who is being called a brother if he is sexually immoral or greedy or an idolater or a slanderer or a drunkard or a swindler—not even to eat with such a fellow. For what business do I have judging outsiders? Don’t you judge those who are inside? But those who are outside, God judges. Put away the wicked fellow from among yourselves. (Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians 5:9-13 TLV)
      Yeshua’s words in Revelation are clear too:
      Then He said to me, “It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End. To the thirsty I will freely give from the spring of the water of life. The one who overcomes shall inherit these things, and I will be his God and he shall be My son. But for the cowardly and faithless and detestable and murderers and sexually immoral and sorcerers and idolaters and all liars—their lot is in the lake that burns with fire and brimstone, which is the second death.” (The Revelation to John 21:6-8 TLV)
      “I am the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End. How fortunate are those who wash their robes, so that they may have the right to the Tree of Life and may enter through the gates into the city. Outside are the dogs and the sorcerers and the sexually immoral and the murderers and the idolaters, and everyone who loves and practices falsehood. I, Yeshua, have sent My angel to testify these things to you for My communities. I am the Root and the Offspring of David, the Bright and Morning Star.” (The Revelation to John 22:13-16 TLV)
      Scripture is quite clear:
      Or don’t you know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Don’t be deceived! The sexually immoral, idolaters, adulterers, those who practice homosexuality, thieves, the greedy, drunkards, slanderers, swindlers—none of these will inherit the kingdom of God. That is what some of you were—but you were washed, you were made holy, you were set right in the name of the Lord Yeshua the Messiah and by the Ruach of our God. (Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians 6:9-11 TLV)
      So I can actually agree with Pagan Rome on this!

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