The Golem Speaks

Father Guarnizo Besieged by the Cult of Niceness

Published by Peter Mains on April 02, 2012 at 01:17 PM

Much has been made of the Father Marcel Guarnizo incident in Maryland a few weeks ago. Denying communion to an openly homosexual woman caused an outcry in the secular world and ultimately led to Fr Guarnizo's removal from ministry in the Archdiocese of Washington. Conservatives Catholics like George Neumayr -- editor of Catholic World Report and a columnist at The American Spectator -- are outraged. On the other end of the spectrum, Womanpriest advocates like Mary Hunt take this incident as vindication that the Church will soon be theirs.

The truly troubling reactions, though, were those of the Cardinal Wuerl and those circling the wagons for him. His focus and that of his supporters has been on the technicalities of Canon 915 and the tone of those taking a harder stance than the Cardinal. (A priest explains here why these defenses fall short.) Father Gaurnizo was criticized by Bishop Knestout for "a lack of pastoral sensitivity." Neumayr was castigated for his "nastiness" and "venom." Well, if there is ever a time to take off the gloves, it is in defense of the Eucharist. What Cardinal Wuerl and Bishop Knestout have failed to do in their comments is communicate that there is anything sacred at stake here.

Let us review the facts of the case. On February 25th, Barbara Johnson attended her mother's funeral and Father Guarnizo  performed the funeral mass. Prior to the service, Barbara introduced herself and "her lover" to Father Guarnizo. There is some dispute as to whether the lesbian "lover" blocked Father Guarnizo's from following Barbara out of the sacristy, but no matter. What is undisputed is that Father Guarnizo refused to serve communion to Barbara Johnson. Barbara went on to receive communion from a lay Eucharistic minister.

Afterward, Father Guarnizo did not attend the grave site with the rest of the mourners. He complained of migraine headaches. Father Guarnizo states in a public letter that he suffers from "occasional severe migraines." Perhaps the migraines were merely a convenient reason to not be involved in the unfolding fiasco. Perhaps the angst of being asked to commit a sacrilege aggravated his condition. Perhaps he was just so shaken that there was some combination of psychological and physical pain at work. Regardless, the mainstream media has reported on Barbara Johnson's feelings without showing any interest in how faithful Catholics like Father Guarnizo might feel. Likewise, Cardinal Wuerl's statements show no empathy for position of the priest who tried to protect the sacrament from a great sacrilege.

Perhaps the reason why Barbara Johnson's feelings have been analyzed here to the exclusion of Father Guarnizo's feelings is that Johnson's case is entirely emotional. Look at her comments in the Washington Post. "I will pray for your soul, but first I will do everything in my power to see that you are removed from parish life so that you will not be permitted to harm any more families." Note that the "harm" to her was entirely emotional. Her concern for Father's soul is laughable in light of her desecration of the Holy Eucharist. As 1 Corinthians 11:27-29 states: 

"Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of profaning the body and blood of the Lord. Let a man examine himself, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For any one who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment upon himself."

Judgment in the scriptural sense means damnation, the eternal death of the soul.

For a lesbian Buddhist to express faux concern over the soul of a faithful priest is offensive and cynical. Yet, Cardinal Wuerl and Bishop Knestout are content to pretend that her attacks on Father Guarnizo are motivated by a good faith concern for the Christian values of charity and community. George Neumayr criticized Wuerl as a "PC prelate." Neumayr is right in identifying the political correctness run amok her, but I think the problem goes deeper than politics. (Neumayr would probably agree.) There is a confusion between Christian charity and bland, hyper-tolerant "niceness." This comment at the National Catholic Reporter is typical of this confusion. 

Just made the mistake of clicking on the link to Neumayr's article. Wish I hadn't. What a mean-spirited nasty man Neumayr seems to be. Of course, the irony is as he's railing against the Cardinal in such a way it makes him seem the one being the most un-Christian.

By this logic, Jesus Christ was unchristian for driving the money changers out of the temple.

Perhaps Paul was unchristian and insufficiently sensitive when he thundered, "O foolish Galatians!" (cf Galatians 3:1) As St John Chrysostom writes in his commentary on Galatians, "that this Epistle breathes an indignant spirit, is obvious to every one even on the first perusal." Paul was angry not in spite of the fact but rather because he was zealous for the souls of his flock. Anger in itself is not unchristian. "Be angry but do not sin," Paul writes (Ephesians 4:26). Anger can cause us to sin by lashing out at others and trying to harm them. Paul channeled his anger into a passionate but also diplomatic plea for the Galatians to live in the Spirit. George Neumayr is trying to protect the Church. I see no evidence that he has harmed anyone beyond upsetting their delicate feelings.

Barbara Johnson is using her emotions to lead the Catholic Church into the grievous sin of allowing a more "diverse" group of people -- dissenters from the Faith who have no interest in the sanctity of the sacraments -- to receive communion. She is not alone, though. When Father Guarnizo was effectively refused the privilege of celebrating the Mass in the Archdiocese of Washington, the charge against him was "intimidation." Father had solicited affidavits on March 7th and 8th -- two weeks after the incident -- from several people. Note that these "credible allegations" are entirely emotional. Unless Father Guarnizo was making threats to the physical safety of these people, the allegations boil down to him being mean and perhaps overbearing. The subjective nature of these allegations means that a serious investigation would almost certainly be a waste of everyone's time.

Notice, though, that Father Guarnizo again refused to wallow in emotion. He fought to establish the objective facts of the case. This should have been done immediately by the archdiocese itself. The longer the archdiocese waited to collect statements, the weaker and more tainted everyone's recollection of the events would have been. In the mean time, in the absence of a strong defense of the Eucharist by the Church leadership, the emotional climate promoted by the media was primed to turn witnesses against Father Guarnizo. By the time Father Marcel took matters into his own hands, the Church had already failed him by not taking the necessary action to lay the groundwork for a fair evaluation of the matter.

In the spirit of charity, let's give Cardinal Wuerl and Bishop Knestout the benefit of the doubt. Defenders of Cardinal Wuerl have insisted that we should not judge the situation until we have all of the facts. Let us assume that a clandestine investigation was well underway. Assuming all of that still does not exonerate these men. The spectacle of a priest being chastised for defending the Holy Eucharist from sacrilege is a public scandal. It sends the message that we do not really believe that Eucharist is the Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity of our Lord Jesus Christ. If we really believe what the Church teaches, how could we cave immediately to someone out of concern for transient emotions?

It is no secret that the leadership of the Catholic Church has had scandals in its very recent past. The abuse scandal had many contributing causes, but two prominent causes were a lack of transparency and the failure to act promptly. Had Church leaders quickly and thoroughly investigated the situation and alerted law enforcement, countless tragedies could have been averted. Their "sensitive" (to the priests) approach was to sweep the facts under the rug while dithering over an appropriate response. Events suggest that Cardinal Wuerl is likewise simply not interested in discovering the truth.

Delaying an investigation had at least one benefit for the Cardinal. Failing to perform a timely  investigation or failing to reveal the facts as they came to light meant that the media would lose interest. Cardinal Wuerl would not be forced to take a strong stand. Of course, this meant throwing Father Guarnizo under the proverbial bus. Cardinal Wuerl and Bishop Knestout, though, had the great privilege of being paladins of tolerance -- the media's favorite post-moral virtue. If that impression is erroneous, let them clarify it so that the faithful know that a priest is not being railroaded in order save the reputations of his superiors.

We have to decide which we value more: being nice or being moral. Sensitivity to the feelings of others is a good quality to have, but not at the expense of their souls or the souls of others. If Christ were myopically focused on the feelings of His Apostles, he would not have rebuked Peter, "get behind me Satan!" In the words of St John Chrysostom, "[f]or always to address one's disciples with mildness, even when they need severity is not the part of a teacher but it would be the part of a corrupter and enemy."

If Cardinal Wuerl has serious criticisms to make of Father Guarnizo's conduct, let him put aside the bromides and be direct. Because this is a public scandal, it requires a public response. A response that fails to defend the values of the Church is to implicitly teach a false message. This false message will lead some into sin and affirm others, like Barbara Johnson, in their sins. Our Church is our Mater et Magistra -- our Mother and Teacher. If she does not protect her children and teach them well, she has failed.


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