Rorate Caeli

A canonical contribution on the Washington Eucharistic Affair

When Church matters are filled with the marks of injustice and persecution of Priests and lay faithful who merely wish to do what they are and have always been called to do (for instance, taking the greatest of cares for the Most Blessed Sacrament), it is quite understandable that people remain moved to speak up.

That was the case with George Neumayr and his superb article for The American Spectator.

It was also the case of a reader, Scriptor, who has sent us this letter on the several canonical aspects involved in the Washington Eucharistic Affair as a follow-up to his shorter post on the same matter posted in The New Theological Movement.

Greetings in Christ,

In light of Fr. Guarnizo’s recent letter and Dr. Peters’ recent posts in response to that letter, I would like to continue discussion and reflection on the application of c. 915 vis-à-vis the Guarnizo-Johnson controversy.  I continue to find myself disagreeing with Dr. Peters’ interpretation of c. 915 in this case.  For the sake of argument, permit me to consider the situation in abstraction from Fr. Guarnizo’s own self-understanding of what he was doing when he refused communion to Ms. Johnson.  I want to focus on c. 915 and in particular on its use of the word “manifest”.     

An Insuperable Burden?
In one of Dr. Peters’ recent posts (“Canonical observations…”, March 15th) he cites a number of canons to show that, in light of its having the effect of restricting the rights of the faithful, we need to interpret c. 915 “as narrowly as reasonably possible”.  He then goes on to cite a number of traditional commentators to the effect that before a minister refuses the sacraments to someone, he must have no reasonable doubts about whether the person is publically unworthy in the technical sense.  Both these points are well taken.  I will argue though, that when analyzing Guarnizo-Johnson case, Peters does interpret c. 915 in an unreasonably narrow fashion.  I will also argue that a priest in Fr. Guarnizo’s shoes could reasonably have been free of doubts as to whether c. 915 applied to Ms. Johnson.  Peters writes, “…the burden is, without question, on the minister of holy Communion to verify that all of the conditions listed in canon 915 are satisfied before he withholds holy Communion from a member of the faithful who approaches for it publicly.”  In the Guarnizo-Johnson case, I don’t think this is an insuperable burden. 

Peters writes, “To justify withholding the Eucharist under Canon 915 according to its plain terms, the conduct in which a communicant perseveres must be obstinate, manifest, grave, and sinful.”  First off, I think he is rhetorically loading the deck in his favor by highlighting five distinct words.  The PCILT document that I often cited in my post on The New Theological Movement breaks c. 915 down into just three distinct concepts (see the post for March 12th on the New Theological Movement, “Guest Letter Challenging Dr. Peters…”).  There is no question of withholding communion in the case of venial sins and so the only sort of sin we are considering here is serious or gave sin.  That’s one notion.  I think we can know that a woman who introduces to us her “lover” is engaged in serious sin.  The second condition of c. 915 as interpreted by the PCILT document is “obstinate perseverance”.  I dealt with this in the New Theological Movement post.  We can reasonably know that this condition too would obtain for Ms. Johnson.  So the third and last condition is “manifest”.  This is the crux of the matter.     

Towards A More True-To-Life Adjudication of When Obstinate Grave Sin Is “Manifest”
Dr. Peters’ approach to “manifest” in c. 915 remains two-dimensional and unrealistic.  He reduces the public knowledge of a person’s obstinate grave sin to what is already actually known by the particular witnesses who are present when the sinner in question presents himself for communion.  For example, in one of his recent posts (“A brief thought…”, March 17th), he writes, “However sinful it might be, conduct that is not already widely known in the community is not manifest as canon law understands that term in this context.” [Emphasis mine]  A little later on, he writes, “Some folks…think the Church is being too lenient in dealing with grave-but-as-yet-private sin.  They’re free to make that case, though I think the Church’s wisdom is more than canon-law deep here.  Anyway, though they disagree with the law, they understand it, so my job is done in their regard.”  Apart from bringing notice to what I consider an unfair conflation of his readers differing with him in his interpretation of the Church’s law with his readers having differences with the Church, I would like to underscore his phrase “grave-but-as-yet-private sin.”  Is “as-yet-private-sin” never “manifest” in the technical canonical sense?   

In another one of his recent posts (“Three recent questions…”, March 13th), Dr. Peters touches briefly upon the principle, entertained as a legitimate opinion by canonists for many ages now, that the “notoriety” of a person’s sin can be present in one community while not being present in another.  Take the unlikely but possible scenario of a man whose unworthiness is known say in Sacramento California but completely unknown in Richmond Virginia.  Now say there was a priest of Richmond Virginia who knew of this man and his bad reputation in Sacramento.  If this man were to come into this priest’s parish in Richmond and present himself for communion, the priest might have poor grounds for considering this man’s unworthiness to be “notorious” or “public”.  It could be public in Sacramento while not being public in Richmond.  The priest should in this case give the man communion.  There is a flip side to this principle, though.  If the nature of the man’s obstinate grave sin is such that the knowledge of it is likely to spread from the first into the second community, then the priest who is administering the Eucharist to this man in the second local is justified in regarding this man’s sin as “manifest” even though to those in the second community it is “as-yet-private”.  Those who are witnessing the man present himself for communion may not be actually currently aware of the man’s sin, but the priest has good reason to believe they will soon be aware of it.  The point is that when making a decision as to whether an obstinate grave sin is manifest, the minister doesn’t simply take into account the actual but also the possible or likely knowledge of the witnesses.  To do this, he must take into account the nature of the community or communities in question and also the kind of sin that is being dealt with.

Here is a passage from a classic moral theology manual which takes into account the above mentioned factors: “The Sacraments are to be refused to a public sinner, whether he asks for them publicly or secretly…Such a one has no right to the Sacraments, with the exception of Penance. That sinner is called a public sinner, absolutely speaking, if he is notoriously so; he will be a notoriously public sinner, if he has been juridically condemned as such, or has admitted his sin, or if his sin cannot be concealed nor excused, or if his sin is noised abroad so that it can be easily known anywhere.” [Emphasis mine] (Moral and Pastoral Theology, by Henry Davis, S.J., vol. III, p. 35)  One of the conditions for the “notoriety” and thus technically “public” status of the sinner in question is whether or not his sin can be concealed or excused.  Notice how the kind of sin and its potential to become common knowledge to others are relevant considerations.  Now what happens when the sinner in question is not ashamed of his sin and doesn’t even try to conceal it in public?  What happens when the sinner in question has even adopted a personal m.o. of actively making known his sin to others even upon first introductions?  What happens when the sinner in question doesn’t just regularly make his sin known to others but wants and even expects others to accept and applaud his sin as normal and good?  What if such a sinner even thinks that he has a right—his habit of making his sin known in public notwithstanding—to the precious and immaculate body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ?  This, I suggest, is the case of the baptized Catholic who is also a practicing and open homosexual.  According to the standards of the above cited manual, such a person’s sin could not be concealed and would thus count as “notorious” or “public” or “manifest”.

To bring it home a little closer to the actual circumstances of the Guarnizo-Johnson case, the practicing and open homosexual in question showed up to the funeral with her lover and presented her to the priest as such.  I think it reasonable for a priest who had received such an introduction to conclude very quickly that this woman likely had already introduced herself and her lover as such to others at the funeral.  This priest might also justifiably conclude that, given the nature of this woman’s sin, if the people at the funeral don’t already know about it, they probably will by the time the funeral is done.  Two active and open homosexuals present at a funeral who have introduced themselves to the priest as such are going to be verbally making known to others their status as “partners”.  What’s more, the two homosexual lovers are likely going to be relating to each other physically and socially in a spousal manner.  This is not going to be just about hugs and hand holding but a total way of relating to each other that sends a multitude of subtle but clear signals to others as to who they are.  And the witnesses have plenty of opportunity to catch those verbal and non-verbal signals.  There is the funeral mass itself but also the burial and often also the reception after the burial.  There is also, in many cases, the wake the night before.  The sin of such a couple is of such a kind that it’s not going to remain secret for very long.  It’s the kind of sin that can’t be concealed.  This is what we are dealing with when it comes to this phenomenon of “out-of-the-closet” gays.  Let’s not ignore the obvious. 

There Is More Than Just One Conscience We Need To Respect
In the first of Dr. Peters’ posts that I cited above (“Canonical observations…”, March 15th), he makes it clear that that “Canon 916 binds gravely in conscience and an accounting to God of one’s conduct under that canon (or at any rate, under the values it protects) will be owed by each Catholic at Judgment.”  But what he fails to mention, although I know he would acknowledge it as true, is that canon 915 also binds gravely in conscience before God.  The reader is left with the impression though, that canon 916 is a matter of conscience while canon 915 is something else.  This is a misleading way of presenting the situation.  The obligation of the minister to withhold communion from the publicly unworthy (canon 915) is just as much a divine law as the obligation of the communicant to make sure he is rightly disposed before receiving communion (canon 916).  Referencing different authorities, we read, “Divine and ecclesiastical law command absolute exclusion from the Holy Table of all persons publicly unworthy of it, unless they have shown signs of conversion and amendment and repaired the scandal given to the community” (Legislation on the Sacraments in the New Code of Canon Law by H. A. Ayrinhac, 1928).  And from a more recent commentary, we read: “…this [c. 915] is a norm of divine-positive law…declared by the council of Trent in its decree on the Holy Eucharist, received by the 1917 Code, and restated by Vatican II’s post-conciliar legislation.” (Gramunt, in EXEGETICAL COMM (2004) III/1: 614-615.)  Thus the person who violates the divine precept underlying c. 915 will be accountable to God on Judgment Day just as much as the person who violates the divine precept underlying c. 916.  Arguably, the law of the Church itself recognizes by way of sanction the seriousness of violating c. 915.  At least in the opinion of Gramunt, the minister who violates this precept “can be punished by virtue of c. 1389 sec. 2, or by invoking c. 1399 which foresees, in a general way, the possibility of punishing those who cause grave scandal by an external violation of divine or ecclesiastical law” (Gramunt, p. 616).       

Dr. Peters talks about the importance of interpreting canon law in continuity with the tradition of the Church.  To that I say ‘Amen’.  This was one of the concerns of my previous post.  So to continue in that vein, and to bring home with one more citation the seriousness of the divine precept underlying c. 915, let’s reference yet one more authority—an older one.  Here is Rev. James O’Kane’s 1867 commentary, Notes on the Rubrics of the Roman Ritual, p. 380:

“[Public sinners] are not to be admitted to Holy Communion in any circumstances, until they have given proof of their repentance and amendment.  They have no claim to be admitted.  By their exclusion they are merely prevented from consummating an act of sacrilege; and even their reputation cannot suffer, since they are, by supposition, public sinners; and on the other hand, great scandal would arise from admitting them.  The priest, therefore, is bound to exclude them.  According to some theologians, he might administer the sacrament to save his own life, provided he were not required to do so in contempt of religion.  St. Liguori for a time thought this opinion probable, but he afterwards rejected it, and maintains that the priest must refuse the sacrament to the notoriously unworthy, at the risk of his life, even when contempt is not intended.” 

In the opinion of St. Alphonsus Liguori, a Doctor of the Church, the minister should rather die than give communion to the publicly unworthy.  By anyone’s account, this is pretty serious stuff.  Have we today lost the sense of the seriousness of the sin of sacrilege and scandal?  Upon the altar of the rights of the individual, have we sacrificed God’s right not to be profaned and the right of the community not to be scandalized?  We need to respect the conscience of the minister bound by such serious obligations just as much as we need to respect the right of the individual to be provided with the sacraments.  Have we focused on the latter to the exclusion of the former—unwittingly embracing an unbalanced hermeneutic that distorts our reading of canon law and the sacramental life of the Church?     

Differences of Opinion on Prudential Judgments Calls for Charity
Looking through a number of manuals and commentaries from the 19th and 20th centuries, it becomes clear that there is wide variety of factors to take into account when deciding whether or not a particular case of sin is “public”.  In the last analysis, this is not an exact science but a matter of prudential judgment.  The authorities themselves concur.  Stanislaus Woywod, for example, in A Practical Commentary on the Code of Canon Law, vol. I (1925), says: “No general rule covering all cases can be given for distinguishing a public sinner from an occult one, and the circumstances of every individual case must be considered.”  To return to the O’Kane commentary, we read on p. 381: “We need not seek for mathematical accuracy in a matter of this kind, and Carriere concludes that a crime may be looked on as public in any community when, considering the crime itself, the persons to whom it is known, and the community of which there is question, the knowledge of it is morally certain to spread.”  It is true that the minister must have a practical certainty that any given person falls into the category of those who “obstinately persevere in manifest grave sin” before he is bound to withhold communion from that person.  I have argued above that practicing and open homosexuals could very easily fall into that category.   More specifically I have argued that such an active and open homosexual as is being considered in the Guarnizo-Johnson does in fact do so.  But more to the point here is that even if in your judgment a priest in a situation like Guarnizo’s would not have made the right prudential decision by withholding communion from the person in question, it should at least be acknowledged that his decision was not wildly unreasonable.  We can in all charity acknowledge that one minister’s doubtful case might be another minister’s clear case.  We can respect his certain conscience even if in the same situation ours would have been doubtful.  We can acknowledge that there are situations in which different prudential judgments can be made by different people without either side faulting the other for negligence on the one hand or insensitivity on the other.  The Guarnizo-Johnson case is certainly one such case.  For example, probably Dr. Peters himself has a good pulse on the academic world of canon law and would know whether or not there are at least some respectable canonists who would disagree with him on this issue.  Are there no canonists who would judge that, per c. 915, Ms. Johnson should have in fact been withheld from communion?  I would imagine we could find a few.       

A Broader Perspective
Peters can also, no doubt unintentionally, sometimes write as if canonists are the only people who should have anything to say on this issue.  Are there not other specialists whose respective expertise would be helpful?  What might a Scripture scholar, for example, have to say about this issue?  We often quote I Cor 11:27-29 when talking about the divine obligation undergirding canon 916.  But the Church has also traditionally cited Mt 7:6, “Give not what is holy to the dogs”, when talking about the divine obligation undergirding c. 915 (cf. Didache 9).  Is Mt 7:6 Eucharistic?  Does it have a sacrificial subtext to it? (cf. Ex 29:37; Lev 2:3)  Who are the dogs? (cf. Rev 22:15; Deut 23:18)  Maybe the canonists can learn from the Scripture scholars? 

Also what might a moral theologian have to say about the little known fact that the good name of the occult sinner is actually not a proportionate reason for the minister of communion to materially participate in the sinner’s sacrilegious communion but that the minister is only morally justified in materially participating in such a sacrilege in light of the possible negative effects a refusal might have on the community?  How might the perspective of the common good adjust our antecedent considerations that we bring to bear on reading and applying the Church’s law in the case of c. 915?  Also, if the sinner who presents himself for communion has the right to his good name, what happens when the sinner in question thinks his sin should be made public?  Is it even meaningful to talk about protecting the good name of the active and open homosexual?  What reputation is there left for the Church to protect at this point and how might this affect our application of c. 915?  These are all questions moralists could fruitfully explore and canonists benefit from. 

What about the non-specialist?  Has he nothing to contribute to this discussion?  Many good Catholics just defer to the opinion of the experts and that is often reasonable, but there are also a lot of other good Catholics who think Fr. Guarnizo acted rightly.  Are the moral intuitions of these faithful meaningless?  Might it not be reasonable to see if we can’t find a way of reading the Church’s law that converges with the sensus fidelium?  While our moral intuitions can often be wrong and we absolutely need the guidance of the experts, it can in fact happen that the common sense of the man in the pew discerns the issue at hand more accurately than the learned scholar.  In any event, it is only by appealing to this broader array of perspectives and listening to all voices that the canonist can avoid mistakes.   

In Closing
I hope the reader of this post does not interpret my disagreement with Dr. Peters as in any way a sign that I disrespect him as a fellow Catholic and as a professional canonist.  On the contrary, I respect him on both fronts, and I think that over the years he has done the lion’s share in getting c. 915 more widely understood and appreciated in America.  I’d like to consider this post as simply a modest contribution to that very important project.  All of us—clergy and laity—are responsible for the pastoral mission of the Church and when intelligent and well meaning Catholics disagree with each other, it’s only because they already have so much in common and are all working together for the good of the Church they so love.

Sincerely in Christ,



JMJ Ora Pro Nobis said...

I'm glad to read a canonist who believes the Fr acted correctly, I was outraged when I saw other canonists actually believed he had done something wrong! Instead of supporting such a priest, it is almost like kicking them when they are down! Thank you so much for the post.

Catherine said...

Thanks for your analysis of Canon 915. It definitely makes more sense than the alternative offered by the canonist who has been commenting on this incident.

Anonymous said...

I'm still shocked at the legal positivism that has plauged this case. It feels quite... offensive, to be honest. Canon Law is subject to moral and divine law. Always. Where has the common sense gone?

This is all we need to know: A person living in grave sin openly and proudly declares it to a Priest of God, an 'alter christus', and then demands the Sacred Gift as if it were her right.

What else is there to know? The Priest did the right thing. He saved her from condemning herself further by profaning the sacraments. He perhaps made her realise the gravity of her sin. He fulfilled his duty and because of his love for Jesus Christ in the Eucharist he withheld the Eucharist from her. And now all of a sudden he's in the wrong because of a Pharisaical obsession with Canon law?

Whatever happened, in any case, to the whole 'conscience' thing? Haven't we been told for so long that our conscience is the highest court of appeal (in a manner of speaking) - now all of a sudden an Ordained man must act against his conscience? Suddenly we want to put conscience into it's proper context?

This case makes me real sad; sad that this has turned into a way to persecuate a good Priest for doing the right thing. In a time when the Eucharist is treated like nothing more than a symbollic cookie we need Priests like this!

St. Benedict, pray for us!

Fr. Augustine Thompson, O.P. said...

Dr. Peters has just replied to the recent Spectator opinion piece. And again, called for Pelosi's exclusion from communion:

P.K.T.P. said...

Scriptor's analysis is excellent. Having perused it carefully, one can admire his thoroughness and the structure of his argument. Nevertheless, the fact that this issue needs such analysis in a public forum in the first place is very troubling. As Scriptor himself asks in regard to Canon 916, Have we completely lost the sense of sacredness?

The Archbishop in this case should not need to consider such careful analysis. What Scriptor has explained with great care should be obvious to those who are charged with enforcing the law. Instead, of course, the foxes have been given charge of the henhouse. In a previous time, this sort of question would not even come up. But today we have canonists defending the manifest and grave sinners as they present themselves for Holy Communion. Yes, there needs to be a shake-up in the hierarchy. These bishops we have have become a joke. Nobody can take them seriously. Unfortunately, that undermines the Church and her sacred authority.

Credit goes to Scriptor here for having the patience not to be intimidated by the usual liberal ideologues who try to use the law against itself. His rigour is to be commended.


Prof. Basto said...


Again: sacrilege was avoided.

Mike Cliffson said...

Canon law changes, where the faith behind it does not.
I will be very sorry to see the end of the days in which I, we all, could go to mass wherever, and go up to receive communion, just as I am sorry to have to now queue for a security check at St Peter's.
But having lived in two parishes where presumably satanists, pòsibly noncatholic twits who had read bram stoker, it boots not, the aim is desecration of our lord's body, and also nonbaptized followers of a certain religion for unclear purposes had tried to communictae and/or make off with the host (which on the tongue makes more difficult, but does not prevent, BTW) I can see no alternative but for canon law to limit communion to those known to the priest, preferably by recent confession.That would automatically clear up this sort of case. These are the times we live in.
Has anyone a better idea?

Mike said...

Prof. Basto,

I have read that the person in question received from a layperson at the funeral Mass.

Magnus es Domine said...

Didn't I read that, in addition to the "lover", Barbara Johnson's BROTHER was also present during the exchange with Fr. Guarnizo in the sacristy? Presumably this brother is also a baptized Catholic -- and hence a member of this nebulous "community" on which the canon lawyer's interpretation of the word "manifest" appears to turn. In this case, would not the fact that her situation was known to her brother (a third party) suffice to meet the criterion of "manifest" sin? (And for all we know, the lesbian lover may have been a Catholic as well.)

If Christ is present wherever "two or three" believers are gathered, is it not enough that (at least) two or perhaps three baptized Catholics were privy to this sinful relationship for the "manifest" criterion in the canon to be met? Or should the sin have been known to every single person in the church at that funeral on that day, or 50.0001% of them? Practically speaking, something private is something known to me alone; once a single colleague or one acquaintance knows, it may be up on Facebook tomorrow.

Confused said...

Somebody please assist me here.

My understanding is that anybody in mortal sin who has not performed proper sacramental penance is not suppose to receive Eucharist.

So why is 'manifest' a criteria at all, other than it enables the priest to know that the person is unfit? Even if nobody knows, or only the priest knows, the person is not supposed to receive the sacrament.

Why does some state of mortal sin have to be manifest and known community-wide?

I'm not getting it.

Ed Peters said...

The Guarnizo case, not unlike the Cuomo case last year, has unearthed some serious misunderstandings of Catholic sacramental discipline even among those who clearly understand and respect what (Who) the Eucharist is. I have tried to address those mistakes as best I can, but I obviously cannot respond to every variation I’ve seen, or correct the new mistakes that have grown out of the earlier ones, and so on, and so on; the possibilities are innumerable, and I do have other tasks before me. So, people must decide as they think best, drawing on what sources they think reliable. Cordially, edp.

ps: I just noticed the editors' endorsement of Neumayr's attack on Cdl. Wuerl. How sad.

dcs said...

Even if nobody knows, or only the priest knows, the person is not supposed to receive the sacrament.

The person is not supposed to approach, but the priest can't publicly refuse Holy Communion to an occult sinner whether he knows about it or not. FWIW, Dr. Peters has said that Fr. Guarnizo acted correctly in warning the would-be communicant not to approach for Holy Communion.

Prof. Basto said...


The problem is that:

- no one in mortal sin is to receive the Eucharist. But ordinarily, it is up to the person potentially receiving to examine his or her own conscience and to discern about wether or not mortal sin has been commited.

- That general duty on all the faithful is imposed by Divine precept, and is also reproduced in the law of the Church, in can. 916.

- In addition to that duty of the faithful, Divine Law and Canon Law also impose ON THE MINISTER the duty to refuse Communion to public sinners. The norm is of Divine origin, and is reproduced in the Law of the Church in canon 915. The canon orders the Minister to deny Communion to those that persevere obstinately in manifest grave sin.

- That is: normally, it is the duty of the faithful to avoid sacrilege. The faithful is to examine his conscience, and is required not to present himself for Communion if he knows that he has commited grave sin. But, in the case of public sinners, apart from the personal responsability, there is also a responsability of the Minister, that is required to deny Communion.

In those cases only, the Minister overrides the personal determination of the Communicant, and refuses Communion to the person engaged in persistent manifest grave sin.

As the article explained, in the Washington controversy, the priest acted reasonably within the frame of the duty imposed upon him by Divine precept and by can. 915

New Catholic said...

Dear Dr. Peters,

We did not endorse Mr. Neumayr's article's content. But it is a superbly well-written piece, even if one disagrees with its content.

It is not surprising that such inflammatory language rises up in such circumstances, not surprising at all, and the fact that it is inflammatory does not make it untrue, or even necessarily unwise. The faithful around the world are tired, sick and tired, of the double standards. Sick and tired faithful do not a healthy Church make.


A. M. D. G. said...

The whole thing could have been avoided had the former practice of the Church prior to the mid-twentieth century been in place: NO DISTRIBUTION OF HOLY COMMUNION AT FUNERAL MASSES.

Confused said...

So, if I'm following the responses to me correctly, a priest cannot deny Eucharist to somebody he knows with 100% certainty to be in grave mortal sin, if this is a public distribution and the grave mortal sin is not sufficiently known publicly.

Please forgive my ignorance and naivete, but I'm simply floored. Giving the Body of the Lord hinges upon how well known a sin is publicly. Simply don't know what to say. A priest being forced to being an accomplice to sacrilege, how is it not?

Matthew said...

A.M.D.G. I think raises a cogent point. Before continuing, I would add that it does not do away with the current controversy itself however!

That said, I think the idea of not distributing Communion at Masses such as Weddings and Funerals (with respect to the former, excepting the Bride & Groom and perhaps wedding party-type people known to the priest) ought to be seriously considered. As all of us well know, there are such significant issues afoot today about the reception of Holy Communion when and by whom that much sacrilege would be avoided by not doing this sort of thing. That being said, this is in some ways a lame substitute for Priests and Faithful actually believing what they ought to believe and practicing that, something for which there is no equal substitute. Obviously, there is the contrary point that it is a very good thing for those properly disposed to receive Our Lord's Body, Blood, Soul, & Divinity; however, we do not NEED to receive at all Masses, even when we are adequately prepared and disposed and I think there is a solid case to be made that the avoidance of so many acts of sacrilege when there are so many non-Catholics present outweighs the other side.

There are so many non-Catholics at these Masses, especially nowadays, and so many priests, not to mention "EMHC's" who do not care for Our Lord as Fr. Guarnizo, that this is something worth considering.

ItIStheOrientation said...

Ed Peters is beyond disingenuous in attacking George Neumayr because "although Johnson is a lesbian, being a lesbian does not disqualify one from being admitted to holy Communion." Johnson herself has repeatedly stated, "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.'' i.e. Guarnizo followed the NEW law--he refused Johnson communion because by introducing her sexual partner to him she claimed to be PRACTICING the homosexual "life style".

Here is Ms. Johnson saying she is married to this "life partner" w/blessing of her mom and dad:

"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?’”

In addition, to Barb's mom and dad knowing all about her life of sin, Barb's cousin Daisy had this to say in a comment on Fr. G's statement:

"No matter what he says, the only reason he did not give Barbara communion was because she is gay - period the end. I know many devote gay Catholics who receive communion and their PRIESTS are WELL AWARE of their LIFE STYLE."

In a later comment Daisy claims to be a practicing Catholic & to attend church regularly. Her view of a Catholic funeral does not involve God or praying for the salvation of her aunt's soul, but "This was the celebration of my Aunt's life and everyone in the church was hanging on every word. Is 25 minutes too long when you are celebrating 85 years of a life???" [How long is eternity in hell?]

Daisy goes on to say:

"I don't know what he is talking about when he said "she was not kneeling and the cup"??? No one kneels when they receive holy communion, we just walk up and hold out our palms, just as Barbara did that day. I was there and witnessed all of this and believe me when I tell you that this priest was just pissed off..."

Sort comments by oldest first & go to page to 2

There is no better witness to the destruction "of the teachings" of VCII than the complete moral collapse of this family, which is the moral collapse of our Church and society. As we approach Palm Sunday may Cardinal Wuerl and the rest of the hierarchy (including all their defenders) think about how they have TAUGHT an entire generation to just walk up and hold out their palms...

Meanwhile, Rev. Marcel Guarnizo is the first priest who seems to have cared about this family's salvation in a long time.

God is not pleased.

David said...

From a "morality" perspective, that there are probably at least two moral issues here: sacrilege and detraction. Sacrilege has already been discussed at length. I don't think detraction has really been mentioned at all.

There are two sins associated with "defaming" a person: calmuny and detraction. Calumny is if what you say is false. Detraction is if what you say is true. It is often a serious sin to ruin someone's reputation, even if what you say is true. (this is admittedly a gross simplification: see's article on detraction for more detail)

It is normally detraction to publicly reveal the secret grave sins of another person. Detraction is a grave sin. If a Priest refuses communion to a Catholic, he is by that act revealing the fact that the other person is "obstinately persevering in ... grave sin." But if the sin is already "manifest," then the Priest is not revealing anything. The sin is already known.

Note, in this case the Priest may be *materially* cooperating in the sin of sacrilege. Not morally, but materially. Dr. Peters mentions this distinction. Example: we could speak of God's material cooperation in all of our sins: "in Him we live and move and have our being." Without the existence that God constantly continues to give us, we could not sin. Without the free will He gives us, we could not sin. And yet God is morally innocent of our sins. Materially vs. morally: important distinction.

Confitebor said...

Fr. Guarnizo did not reveal Johnson's sin. She revealed it to him -- and her family reportedly already knows about her sin and approves of it.

Anyway the problems of Mr. Peters' opinion of what "manifest" means have already been explained.

Confused said...


Thank you for the detailed discourse, as it helps me put things in somewhat better focus.

However, with all due respect to you and others, I still have steep problems with this. I cannot stop thinking of St. Paul in Corinthians; that is what should be our overriding consideration - yes, above all else.

Besides, what exactly is being revealed if a priest refuses communion to somebody? Simply that the person is not supposed to be receiving communion. It does not advertise what sin they have committed and not repented of. I would argue that it does not even reveal if there is a seriouis sin in question.

An example: I heard of a case some years ago in Eastern Orthodoxy that a person committed such a serious and 'bonehead' sin [that's the word the priest used to describe the situation] that though the penitent received absolution, part of his penance was he was to refrain from receiving communion for 2 months.

Now suppose this person disregards the penance and comes up for communion prior to the end of the 2 month period, and the priest who handled his confession is serving. I would think the priest has every right to deny him. And this isn't, strictly speaking, about any particular unrepented and unabsolved grave sin, but a violation of his penance guidelines.

We should not drink judgment against ourselves or even be a party to it. Sorry, if I'm being obtuse here, but I simply don't know any other way to look at this.

JT WIlson said...

I don't understand why more attention isn't paid to the Vatican guidance on interpreting Canon 915 in the Declaration by the Pontifical Council for the Interpretation of Legislative Texts dated June 24, 2000.

That Declaration makes clear the preference for avoiding scandal, to the point of providing an example where someone spiritually disposed to receive the Sacrament should be denied it, for fear of scandal! (The public wouldn't know they've repented, etc., so scandal would persist.)

"Remoto scandalo" are the words used. The opportunity for scandal must be removed. Inserting bars such as "widely known" and "substantial majority" (knowing) strikes me as contrary to the intent of the Canon.

Given the fact that the woman's lifestyle was advertised in the Washington Post death notice (listing her and her partner, "Ruth" as if they were a married couple), it is utterly unreasonable to believe that the opportunity for scandal was removed.

Here's the link to the Declaration:

Lynda said...

I think the nub of the matter is a priest knowingly cooperating in, or permitting, sacrilege of the Body of Christ, and acting against his informed conscience in that regard. A priest could not (properly and without scandal) be condemned for obeying his conscience in this way, but rather ought to be supported for so doing. The sin of the woman concerned was public (as she chose it to be), was ongoing and obstinate, and furthermore she was refused when she presented in a discreet and pastoral manner. What I don't understand (as one trained in the civil laws) is how so many analysts, and the Diocese concerned (?) are limiting the issue(s) to c.915 (which, incidentally, I think was satisfied, on a test of objective reasonableness) when surely there are other fundamental principles governing the issues involved, which ought not to be contravened? Lynda

Joseph Anthony said...

One issue I have is that I have only seen one expert comment on this, and he hasn't answered any of the most potent arguments in favor of the Rev. Fr. Guarnizo. I understand that Dr. Ed Peters must be busy, but to devote himself to answering the Neumayr article, with significantly less articulate arguments, but to dismiss this on the grounds that (a) the author is writing pseudonymously and (perhaps) (b) that an article like this will get a smaller circulation leaves me at a loss.

In a matter of law, arguments to authority are not unreasonable. Being the only authority I have yet seen speaking on this particular situation, Dr. Peter's opinion takes added weight. But this article by Scriptor appears to me to be better argued and significantly more convincing that Dr. Peter's argument. I am a reasonably intelligent person, and I want to take a reasonable position on this.

Dr. Peters writes: "people must decide as they think best, drawing on what sources they think reliable." Well, I don't know whether a source like this is reliable insofar as I don't know if the author is an authority, but it is most certainly well argued and convincing, and fits better with my innate sense of the situation.

Dr. Peters appears to disagree. But he hasn't even answered two of the central arguments, namely, in the first place that some things (such as divorce and remarriage) are manifest in themselves, even if it is not notorious in a particular community, and that unashamedly living in active homosexuality with a homosexual partner who is present and introduced as such is something that by its nature is public and manifest because there is a morally certainty than it will not be hidden; and, in the second place, that the likely spread of the notoriety must be taken into account.

I don't understand how Dr. Peters can come down against Fr. Guarnizo with such confidence unless he rejects this argument about the meaning of manifest. If he rejects it, he should explain why, so that the rest of us might be edified. If he doesn't reject it, he should explain why it is so clear to him that this situation still fails to reach that threshold.

If I am to make a conclusion based on the arguments, I have to conclude against this authority, unless he responds to the arguments. Perhaps I should not make a conclusion in this situation.

kiwiinamerica said...

One important issue which has remained largely unaddressed, both by Peters and other commentators in this whole case, is the penalty imposed on Fr. Guarnizo.

Firstly, Ms Johnson presented herself to Fr. Guarnizo just before Mass and informed him of her sexual orientation and her relationship status. Fr. Guarnizo did not make it his business to target her or seek her out. In so doing, she presented him with a serious canonical issue and with little time to reflect upon it. He had no time to consult other experts, write a dissertation, as some have done on their blogs nor to consult his superiors. Therefore, he made a decision, perhaps rightly, perhaps wrongly.

If he decided wrongly, then at worst, imho, he was guilty of an error of judgment. And this merits the removal of his priestly faculties in the Archdiocese? I mean.........seriously?? Surely this could have been resolved by a simple talk with his bishop after the fact.

But wait..........the Archdiocese has said that the penalty on Fr. Guarnizo had nothing to do with the Communion issue!!!

Who truly believes that?? I mean honestly!!

Fr. John Doyle said...

There is once again not a single post making a canonical argument as to why Dr. Peters is incorrect.

I am not sure how Dr. Peters qualifies, as P.K.T.P styles him, as a liberal ideologue who try to use the law against itself.

I am afraid your complaint is with the law and not with Dr. Peters.

Popcorn Muncher said...


Very good, discerning points! Disturbing that an archdiocese would act this way.

Paul M said...

From the pew where I sit it seems abhorrant that this good priest is attacked with obscure interpretations of Canon law. His accusers believe he is bound to make his decision based on a subjective judgement of how much the public/congregation are aware of the sin. It would seem some canonists think that unless EVERYONE, or at least the vast majority, knows the sin, the priest must give communion. How can a priest know this? Perhaps the priest should ask for a show of hands beforehand? This sort of pharasaical legal gymnastics, to my mind, renders the law impossible to apply. The old approach regarded 'public sin' as an objective state in which one lived. If one lived in such a state (ie: divorced and now living with someone else), one was refused Communion. Simple!

Thanks Sciptor & Mr Neumayr, however, I wish your interventions weren't necessary!

JTLiuzza said...

I'm no canonist and am a simple guy but I don't understand the apparent gross over analysis. For me the first three paragraphs in Tom Esteban's comment (3rd from the top) pretty much sums it up.

Manifest sin? We're all sinners. I'm in manifest sin every time I'm seen standing in line at the confessional.

And, in my humble opinion, Mr. Neumayr's article about His Excellency's dereliction of duty was not an "attack." What I find most "sad" is this from the article:

A while back he was asked if he [Cardinal Weurl] would withhold Communion from the pro-abortion Nancy Pelosi. He said no. That style of "confrontation" makes him uncomfortable, he told a persistent reporter.

Here's a Cardinal, who wears red as a symbol of his willingness to die for the faith, but he gets squeamish at the thought of "confrontation." Again, simple guy here but that seems to me to be garden variety cowardice. Am I wrong in pointing that out because he is a prince of the Church?

Picard said...

Great post and argumentation by Scriptor!

And kiwiinamerica:

Well put!

Bill Meyer said...

I think that the core of misunderstanding--for those of us not trained in Canon Law--is that a) Ms. Johnson (it appears from information which has come out subsequent to the initial reports) should not have approached to receive, and b) that despite Ms. Johnson's regrettable behavior and claims given in the sacristy, Fr. Guarnizo did not, on those bases, have cause to deny under Canon 915.

It has taken me a while to reach this appreciation, and with all possible respect to Dr. Peters, his collected articles on Canon 915 seem to this layman, at least, to assume a bit too much comprehension of Canon Law on the part of the reader. Perhaps Dr. Peters was only writing for other canonists; he has offered a link to these comments, however, on Fr. Z's site, at least, so I must assume that we are supposed to be able to learn correctly from those comments.

I would point out, in defense of those of us with only layman's status, that apparently Fr. Guarnizo did not properly understand the application of Cn. 915, so the rest of us might need to be forgiven.

New Catholic said...

I am sorry, Fr. Doyle: you may agree with the reasoning, or you may disagree with it, but you simply cannot say that there is "no canonical argument".

MPS said...

In my mind, it is a grave error to view Canon 915 as restricting the rights of the faithful. The faithful have no right to receive Communion in an unworthy state. This is not an ecclesiastical edict, it's a proclamation of Divine Law. It's not about 'rights' in any sense of the word.

JT WIlson said...

Fr. John Doyle, for a canonical argument contradicting Dr. Peters, please look at my earlier post here. The PCILT says the opportunity for scandal must be removed. Dr. Peters has not explained why the Pontifical council can be ignored on this point. He seems to ignore the Declaration when setting the bar for a Canon 915 circumstance much higher.

Gratias said...

Father Marcel Guarnizo should be hailed as a great Catholic. It is most important he keeps working in a parish here in the USA, his country. Who will be the brave Bishop to step forward and right this wrong? We are watching.

Cardinal Wuerl brings shame to the Church.

J. R. P. said...

I wonder.

Comparing the quotes of prior analysis in that quote - and, indeed, the historically common magisterium of condemnation in communing those in serious sin - with what we've been saying recently, both Fr. MacDonald and Ed Peters (who I respect).

Is it possible that there was a hermeneutic of rupture that has been operating since Vatican II with regard to Canon Law?

It seems to me there could be two issues: first, in its interpretation - I have often noted weaknesses in various formulations in my copy of the "New Commentary of the Code of Canon Law". It always seemed a little weak. Second, perhaps, even going so far as to certain formulations of the 1983 code?

Is there any basis for us to think that Canon Law and its interpretation might itself has somehow made it unscathed - pristine - through the orthodoxoclasm of the 60s?

After all, even perfectly reasonable people were mislead by the "smoke of Satan" - many people who were into heterodoxy would come back to the fold. Is it possible that individuals, even good ones, might be operating under a bad legacy?

I can begin to make a case, I think. Just off the top of my head:

The scandal of annulments.

The difficulty of getting pedophile priests out - indeed, the whole idea of "treatment" versus sequestration and punishment for delicts.

The 'dead letter' of Canon 1366? How about 1371? Has anybody been successfully prosecuted by an Ordinary since 1983? 1373? 1374? Has anything in this entire section been applied in the United States with anything near the regularity of the offense? Is someone going to try to convince us that these things haven't happened?

Concerned and Troubled said...

Something that should be of grave concern to ALL priests and ALL lay faithful who support their pastors against the arbitrary excercise of episcopal authority is the Auxiliary of Washington's use of "credible allegations" of "intimidation" to remove a priest from ecclesiastical office and cancel his faculties. This is an expansion contra legem of the particular norms for handling allegations of child sex abuse.

"Credible allegations" do not suspend the need for prior investigation (among other canonical due process requirements)except in such cases. "Intimidation" is not lawfully treated as one of the graviora delicta. "Intimidation" is not even a delict or canonical crime.

Remove first - conduct investigation latter is not a lawful application of penal norms when the delict alleged is not one of the graviora delicta and even less is it lawful when no delict is alleged. Whatever the facts to be discovered by proper process in the exchanges between Fr. Guarnizo and the Archdiocese of Washington and Fr. Guarnizo and the "intimidated" parties the black letter text of the Auxiliary Bishop's public statement announcing the suspension of Fr. Guarnizo manifests in the most favorable interpretation gross canonical ignorance and at worst a manifestly unjust expansion of the application of norms governing the process for allegations of child sex abuse to cases of "inapproriate behavior" of whatsoever type as alleged by whomsoever.

The certainty of the law fails if due process is arbitrarily suspended and the allegation of crime does not describe a crime. Who is safe within the church to exercise conscience when he will be judged by such unfathomable standards?

MPS said...

Answering JRP, I certainly think there is a hermenuetic of rupture at play. The Magisterium has consistently held over the centuries that cohabitation is a public sin. Today, canonists seem to ignore that. Admitting to having a lesbian 'lover' in the sanctuary is admission to cohabitation. Cohabitation is a public sin in accordance with Church tradition. Canon 915 obliges the Priest to withhold Communion. It couldn't be simpler, unless one is a Canon Lawyer trying to make a case.

For the sake of balance, I'd like to see a Canon Lawyer hypothesis on how he (Oxford 'he') would represent the Priest in a defense under a hypothetical prosecution under Canon Law.

One last comment: some now seem to be arguing that the Priest merely violated a discipline. The fact is, that if he did indeed violate the Canon, he has objectively at least committed the grave sin of scandal (2nd type according to Cdl Burke) or more precisely, defamation. The Priest in such a situation has to arbitrate between sacrilige and type 1 scandal (causing the sin of others) on one hand and type 2 scandal (defamation) on the other. The Church is actually helping the Priest (rather than the Communicant) by issuing prudential guidance on how to navigate those waters.

What a bizarre situation we have when the Canonists claim the last word on what is essentially a moral and dogmatic issue.

Fr. John Doyle said...

New Catholic,

You do not seem to be able to follow an argument. You state, "I am sorry, Fr. Doyle: you may agree with the reasoning, or you may disagree with it, but you simply cannot say that there is "no canonical argument."

I did not write that there was "no canonical argument." I wrote that "There is once again not a single post making a canonical argument as to why Dr. Peters is incorrect." Here I was referencing the com boxes attached to this post. Everyone has opinions but no one had a canonical argument.

-Fr. John Doyle

New Catholic said...

So, what you meant was that there was not a single COMMENT - not that there was not a single POST, since the POST itself presents a canonical argument.

No commentator is under any obligation to present any kind of argument, as you made clear by not presenting any argument yourself, but simply being obnoxious and condescending. We respect priests deeply here in Rorate - but we despise condescending and obnoxious commentators, even if ordained.


MPS said...

In answer to Fr. Doyle, a canonical argument regarding C915 comes from Cdl Burke who to a non-canon lawyer is more authoritative than a lay canon lawyer. A lawyer's argument that what Cdl Burke means is the opposite of what he is saying is over my simple head so I'll stick with my literal understanding of the following:

"Regarding the ministering of the Sacrament to the faithful, the Rituale Romanum established:

All the faithful are to be admitted to Holy Communion, except those who are prohibited for a just reason. The publicly unworthy, which are the excommunicated, those under interdict, and the manifestly infamous, such as prostitutes, those cohabiting, usurers, sorcerers, fortune-tellers, blasphemers and other sinners of the public kind, are, however, to be prevented, unless their penitence and amendment has been established and they will have repaired the public scandal. [28]

Please note: "cohabitating" couples are identified as public sinners not to be admitted to Communion (repeatedly throughout the Church's history, incidentally).

The question comes down to this, a prudential judgment regarding whether or not the communicant involved in the case was admitting to cohabitation. In the context of modern society where cohabitation is a fully established societally accepted practice, it is reasonable to conclude that someone introducing her lesbian lover is admitting to more than a mere 'run of the mill' sexual sin but rather to cohabitation. In that case Cdl Burke, the quintessential Canonist directs that Canon 915 does apply along with Magisterial tradition that Communion must be withheld from such a person.

If a Priest wants to contend that it's an admission to merely a private sin and not cohabitation, then he could feel free to distribute Communion to that person. However, giving a pass to such an admission is giving an undue benefit of the doubt to someone, in the context of modern social norms.

The other Canonical principle at play is 'the rights of the faithful'. Baptized faithful have the right to receive Holy Communion when properly disposed, a premise that no one is arguing. They do not have the right to receive Him unworthily however. Scripture is clear on that and Canon 916 encapsulates Magisterial teaching on that. I contend that Canon 915 is not about the rights of the faithful, but the duty of the Priest. The so-called restriction of the rights of the faithful that limits the interpretation of the Canon to its narrowest possible interpretation cannot form part of the syllogism for this Canon 915, since it's not the Canon that restricts the right to receive Communion. One must have recourse to the underlying Church teaching which is not about rights at all.

But if it were, the so-called 'right' is eliminated by the existence of sin in the internal forum. The so-called 'right' would be eliminated in the external forum by virtue of a public sin. It's the communicant who causes the restriction of the 'right', not the Church, nor the Canon. Some other cogent argument for a narrow interpretation of this Canon needs to be offered in my view. No conclusion based on that premise is valid, since the premise itself is false.

We mere mortals cannot be faulted for choosing Cdl Burke's aliteration over that of others in lesser offices - under the precept that he enjoys special graces incumbent on his high office. That brings up another point, that the Priest distributing Communion has at his disposal the special graces of his office guiding him, graces a lay canonist doesn't have. It's the same argument as that which applies to the difference between a Bishop/Priest and theologian regarding the office of teacher.

So, again, I'll go with the doctrine preached by Cdl Burke on cohabitation, and my opinion on the prudential judgment regarding whether she was admitting to cohabitation or mere impurity.

In Christ,


Aged parent said...

It is indeed very troubling that some are tying themselves up in legalisms and forgetting the simplicity of the affair. Father Guarnizo had no other choice but to refuse the Sacrament to one living in defiant mortal sin, and no amount of pedantic analyzing is going to change that.

It seems that when the subject of this particular perversion comes up many people take leave of their common sense. And if they think that it would have been better to give the Sacrament to this creature so as not to hurt her feelings rather than deny it to her - a denial which may ultimately do her good by forcing her to see the spiritual death that awaits her if she persists in a sinful state - they are doing her no good at all.

There is such a thing as "tough love", something the Cardinal has apparently never heard of before. His track record in the Church has not been an edifying one and with this affair he has done serious damage to the Faith.

Shane said...

Oh look what's happened:

Whatever happened to allowing the laity to have a say? Is it only okay if they happen to be progressives?