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Priest in lesbian communion controversy no longer works with DC archdiocese

Barbara Johnson called for a Catholic priest's removal from the ministry after he denied her communion at her mother's funeral and then left before finishing the service. Johnson told her story to msnbc's Tamron Hall.

A priest who denied communion to a lesbian at her mother's funeral is no longer in ministry with the Archdiocese of Washington, a spokeswoman for the archdiocese said Monday.

Rev. Marcel Guarnizo, who served at St. John Neumann parish in Gaithersburg, Md., was placed on leave in mid-March for engaging in intimidating behavior, NBCWashington.com reported at the time, and now he is leaving for good.

“Fr. Marcel Guarnizo is a priest of the Archdiocese of Moscow, Russia, who was given a temporary assignment at St. John Neumann parish,” Chieko Noguchi Scheve, director of media and public relations at the Archdiocese of Washington, wrote in an email to msnbc.com. “That assignment period has ended and Father Guarnizo is no longer in ministry in the Archdiocese of Washington.”

When reached by telephone, Scheve declined further comment on the matter.

Barbara Johnson, the woman who was refused communion, had been asking the archdiocese to remove the priest. A Washington Post reporter first noted on Twitter that Guarnizo’s assignment was over.

Johnson, a 51-year-old founding director of a small art center, attended her mom's funeral with her partner of nearly 20 years at St. John Neumann on Feb. 25. When it came time for communion, Guarnizo “issued a strong admonition that only Catholics in a state of grace can receive communion,” Johnson told msnbc.com.

“I went up. I was standing next to my mother’s casket and he covered the bowl, and said, ‘I cannot give you communion because you are with a woman, and in the eyes of the church, that is a sin.’ I stood there with my mouth open in a state of shock for -- I don’t know how long,” she said.

Guarnizo also didn’t attend her mother’s burial, Johnson said. She told msnbc.com on Monday that she was relieved by the archdiocese's move, although she thought it might have more to do with the alleged “intimidating” behavior than how she was treated at her mother’s funeral.

“It gives me great comfort to see that the Archdiocese of Washington acted swiftly initially not only to point out that his behavior was wrong and not in accordance with their policy but then to suspend him. And this final message from them says to me that, unfortunately, this was not a person that was meant to be in the ministry in this region,” she said. “Knowing that he will not be able to visit such pain on another family in the Washington archdiocese gives me and my family a lot of comfort.”

One positive aspect of what happened to her was that “it showed the very human face of the issue regarding the church and the church’s teachings, and behavior towards the LGBT community within the church,” she said. “I just wish that there was a more global and more positive church response to the LGBT community” on issues such as marriage equality and communion.

Priest who denied communion to lesbian suspended
Woman: Priest denied me Communion at mom's funeral because I'm gay

The Archdiocese of Washington had sent Johnson a letter of apology within days of the funeral, saying Guarnizo's behavior wasn't correct.

“When questions arise about whether or not an individual should present themselves for communion, it is not the policy of the Archdiocese of Washington to publicly reprimand the person,” the letter said. “Any issues regarding the suitability of an individual to receive communion should be addressed by the priest with that person in a private, pastoral setting.”

Guarnizo, in a statement to the Catholic News Agency on March 14 after his initial leave, defended his actions.

“I understand and agree it is the policy of the Archdiocese to assume good faith when a Catholic presents himself for communion; like most priests I am not at all eager to withhold communion. But the ideal cannot always be achieved in life,” he wrote, noting that he “quietly” withheld communion and did not reprimand Johnson or give her a “small lecture.”

“I did not and would not refuse to accompany Barbara Johnson and her mother to the cemetery because she is gay or lives with a woman,” he said. “I would never intentionally want or seek to embarrass anyone publicly or increase anyone’s emotional distress during such a difficult time. I did not seek or contrive these circumstances. But I am going to defend my conduct in these instances, because what happened I believe contains a warning to the church.”

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