From the Archdiocese of Washington: “The prime obligation falls to the persons presenting themselves for Communion…”

Below is an essay, reprinted here in its entirety, from this afternoon’s Washington Post, by Fr. William Byrne, who works as the Secretary for Pastoral Ministry and Social Concerns  for the Archdiocese of Washington:

In light of recent news this seems like a good time to explain (or review, in the case of Catholic readers) the importance of the Sacrament of Holy Communion to Catholics and the obligations it places on both the priest and the communicant.

As Catholics present themselves for Holy Communion, the priest or delegated minister says, “The Body of Christ” and “The Blood of Christ.” The communicant responds, “Amen.” This brief interaction expresses a much deeper reality of the belief in what the Church teaches about the Eucharist, the proper disposition of the one receiving Communion and the pastoral charity of the priest.

As Catholic Christians, we believe that the Eucharist is the real presence of Jesus Christ. It is not just a symbol, a wafer or a cup of wine.  Jesus is truly present – Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity.  Because of this we believe that to receive Communion, a person should be in the state of grace, which means that they are not conscious of having committed a sin serious enough that it ruptures their relationship with God. As with any relationship, it is not just a one-sided judgment that determines what hurts the relationship with God.  This determination is based on what the Church teaches objectively from sacred Scripture and tradition of Christian experience.  If a person is conscious of having committed a grave sin, he or she may not receive Communion until they have received absolution in the Sacrament of Reconciliation.  A person who is conscious of grave sin but has no opportunity to go to Confession may receive Communion for a serious reason, but first that person must pray to Christ expressing their sorrow, also known as a perfect act of contrition, and have the intention of going to Confession as soon as possible.

The priest has an obligation to make sure that the sacraments are respected, and any person who obstinately perseveres in manifest grave sin is not to be admitted to Holy Communion.  Ideally, the priest will handle such a situation pastorally by discussing the consequences of such sin with the person privately before actually denying them Communion.

The Archdiocese of Washington recognizes that the prime obligation to determine one’s preparedness to receive Communion falls to the persons who are presenting themselves for Communion.  In extreme cases where someone has been formally excommunicated or is trying to use the Eucharist to make a political statement it is appropriate to consider denying Communion. The reception of the Eucharist is a blessing and a grace. We should receive Jesus with the intention of becoming more like him. No one is entitled to the Eucharist. It is a free gift and should be received with humility and reverence.

The Second Vatican Council proclaimed that the Eucharist is the source and summit of the Christian life.  As such it is a sign of unity, but it must be a unity that is based on authentic Church teaching and mutual respect in charity.

Fr.. William Byrne is Secretary for Pastoral Ministry and Social Concerns for the Archdiocese of Washington and pastor of St. Peter Church on Capitol Hill.


  1. Hmm. Overall, it’s pretty good, imo. Two things stand out.

    “The priest has an obligation to make sure that the sacraments are respected, and any person who obstinately perseveres in manifest grave sin is not to be admitted to Holy Communion.” Right. I’d tweak a couple points, but it’s basically on target.

    But this rephrasing “In extreme cases where someone has been formally excommunicated [or interdicted] or is trying to use the Eucharist to make a political statement it is appropriate to consider denying Communion” misses some key points. Canon 915 is not about politics, though politicians must qualify under it, and if c. 915 applies at all, it REQUIRES withholding the Sacrament, not just ‘considering’ withholding.

  2. Quote: “The priest has an obligation to make sure that the sacraments are respected, and any person who obstinately perseveres in manifest grave sin is not to be admitted to Holy Communion. Ideally, the priest will handle such a situation pastorally by discussing the consequences of such sin with the person privately before actually denying them Communion.”

  3. A question, is a politician who advocate openly abortion such a person, Pelosi comes to mind.

  4. I would agree in that there is an element of discretion or latitude for prudential judgments being added here, which strictly speaking is not in 915 (though I think it is implicit in 912). But Ed I would assume somewhere in the 1700 canons of the Code that there is some canon that allows for this kind of discretion to be exercised by the priest? How is the Eucharist protected from the guy walking up the communion rail dressed as Alistair Crowley?

    I would tweak the Eucharist “is the real presence of”. It is Jesus Christ, not merely his real presence.

  5. Btw. it says: “the primary obligation falls to the person who presents himself for communion”, it means to say, as the priest can’t check everybody and can’t know whether someone is in the status of grace, the primary obligation falls to the person, BUT, it doesn’t mean: if the person thinks he is entitled to communion whatever he has done, he has naturally the right to receive communion. If the priest happens to know the status of somebody, he can deny him the communion. For example: I go to confession shortly before the Mass, I told the priest about my sin but I don’t show my repentance, so he denied me the absolution and it is correct so. Afterwards, I present me for the communion and he denies the communion to me, and it is his right and duty, I think. Quite so, and pastoral it is also meaningful, otherwise how would you like to heal the soul from sin if we keep condoning sin and say compassion means not to take sin seriously and the main issue is happy-clappy.

    I read also some background information about the Lesbian and her mother’s funeral, I was told that priest was rude and didn’t show the disease due respect. That is wrong of him, and if he was not really ill as he said, he should apologize to the Johnson family for his rudeness. BUT, the internet discussion, including the discussion, here, has become who has the right to receive communion, and it seems some people are promoting the opinion that the person who goes into the communion line can take communion whenever he wants to and the priests has no right nor duty to judge according to his information and estimation. WRONG in my eyes, this is the watered done feeling well Christianity. This unpleasant story, if misused to promote this type of Christianity, is really been misused and abused.

  6. I read it. The neo nazi example made me chuckle.

    I think both sides have been sufficiently aired on this and it is a pleasure having someone with your background provide insight.

    I think this episode has at least some silver linings in the form of statements like the one from Fr. Byrne above, which reiterate the doctrine of the real presence in no uncertain terms. I also think it is the extraordinarily rare situation where someone uses a funeral to advertise their sexuality. That never should have happened and the priest was put in a difficult situation.

  7. Sorry for some grammatical mistakes and typo, written in too great a haste.
    “pastorally it is also meaningful”, “present myself” etc. would be too tedious for the other readers to correct them all here.

  8. Well said, kevin.

  9. btw. it should have been “the diseased”

  10. Chris Sullivan says:


    Can 915′s “obstinately persevering in manifest grave sin” would have to be interpreted strictly ie EVERY one of the conditions would have to be properly proved beyond reasonable doubt. In practice, that high bar is very hard to meet.

    God Bless

  11. Tom in Lazybrook says:

    And will he be addressing the role of Guarnizo refusing to attend to the deceased Catholic woman at her burial? This goes well beyond communion.

    I see all of these comments here from the Archdiocese. When will Guarnizo be apologizing? Until he does, this doesn’t go away. Sure, this will die down a bit. When Guarnizo gets posted anywhere, this will follow him.

    Don’t be surprised at the media play this has received. It just hit the Newark paper as well. The behavior of the church was scandelous to many laypeople. I don’t think a retreat into Canon Law is going to help the church look better. It looks cruel, regardless of what an interpretation of Canon Law might say.

  12. Karen LH says:

    Tom, the priest was ill.

  13. IMO, the Archdiocese realizes it unjustly hung Fr. G out to dry. This is their way of walking it back.

  14. From what I’ve read, the interment of the deceased was attended by another priest.

  15. deceased, maybe?

  16. Richard M says:

    1. If the archdiocese wants Fr. Guarnizo to apologize, I have no doubt that he will.

    Will that appease Ms. Johnson? I have my doubts. Not that it should matter.

    2. As to the burial service, we simply do not know why Fr. Guarnizo did not attend. Was he sick? Was he skipping it as a near occasion of sin? Was there some other reason? We simply don’t know. All we can do is speculate. It’s a fair question for the chancery to examine. If he acted improperly, I expect he’ll be asked to apologize for that as well.

    3. We shouldn’t be dismissive of the risk or reality of scandal to laypeople, but we have to be honest with ourselves, too: many of the people scandalized are scandalized for the wrong reasons, thanks to abysmal catechesis: they think they have an absolute right to the Eucharist, that there should be open communion, that they disagree with the Church’s teaching on homosexuality, or that they are just looking for excuse to pile on to the Church. None of which prescinds from the apparent conclusion, shared by Ed Peters and others whose educated opinions we all respect, that Fr. Guarnizo was overzealous in his application of canon 915.

    4. Fr. Guarnizo is by all accounts a very devout priest with an impressive record of achievements behind him, and one hopes he can make it through all this trial as a better and wiser priest. But it wouldn’t surprise me if the chancery decided to take him out of circulation, or worse. It’s my hope that they don’t overreact. Lord knows they haven’t exactly overreacted to worse clerical transgressions in the past.

  17. Thank you, I as a foreign am uncertain about the spelling, thanks for the help.

  18. It sounds so nice, ADW, but until you apply these principles to Nancy Pelosi and until you provide more specific guidelines to pastors and ministers of Holy Communion to help them identify a person who “obstinately persist[s] in manifest grave sin,” then these words are meaningless. The real scandal here is not Father’s erring on the side of protecting the sacrament and the People of God from scandal, but the ADW’s refusal to apply canon law to obstinately grave sinners like Ms. Pelosi and certain pro-abortion politicians who frequent the churches of the ADW and use “Catholicism” to support their pro-death views and votes.

  19. Yes. It can be met in certain cases, but it is, and is meant to be, a hard bar to pass.

  20. Ditto.

  21. Why on earth would conducting the burial of a parishioner whose standing seems to have been above reproach be a near occasion of sin for a priest? Whatever Fr Guarzino judged Ms Johnson’s state of sin to be, it would hardly have been catching.

  22. I could not care less how the media plays it. We’ve been down the anti-Catholic road with them a thousand times before. Ignore them.

  23. I bow to your knowledge on these matters Ed and to the Catholic Church Pope and Magesterium to define what we are to believe.

    I had a couple of questions.

    I have never heard this before that a person in grave sin “may receive Communion for a serious reason, but first that person must pray to Christ expressing their sorrow.” Not sure what a serious reason would be that we have to receive the Eucharist. I hate when these things are put out without clear definitions and examples because my serious reason might not agree with others. I also did not know we could pray to Christ expressing sorrow and that would put us in the state of grace BEFORE we went to reconcilliation. I guess if we are about to die and there is no priest we would certianly pray for Gods forgiveness, but where is it stated that doing so insures we are then in a state of grace. I thought that this was covered pretty well in keeping our lantern filled with oil for we know not the place and time. Honest questions here seeking to learn.

    As to your point on a political statement, I would assume that would be someone going up to receive the Eucharist making sure that their gay lifestle was on prominant display knowing it is against Church teaching. We had this with the Rainbow attacks during mass in many churches which is certainly a political statement. It is saying, I do not buy into your teaching and by giving me this sacrament, you are confirming I am not in grave sin, but in the state of grace. Again, it would seem to me this is an area that needs to be defined because I suspect this will be an ongoing tactic used especially against priest who speak out on actual Church teaching. It also sends a message to the all those who see it that the Church does not take this seriously or that this must not be the real Presence. We have seen this Catholic Politicians who have for years helped to insure abortion is protected from anyone tryng to stop it or even limit it. It is they coming to receive the Eucharist who are choosing to make it a political statement since many have been counseled and continue to arrive and be given the Eucharist.

    another point I have asked about a couple times is if a Eucharistic Minister, but especially a priest, knows the person is openly doing that which puts their soul in grave risk and they have been counseled gives them the Eucharist, is there grave sin on their part committed? Again, looking to see what the Church teaches. On that same point, if a priest or bishop knows a person is openly defiant of Church teaching and doing that which insures they are not in the state of grace chooses to look the other way, to never “discuss the consequences of such sin with the person privately” thus according to what I see here, remaining free to continue to give them the Eucharist, is this in itself not a grave sin on that priest or bishop? We seem to have some people in very open difiance in their lives to Church teaching and it seems like many looking the other way avoiding the conversation that would seem to put them in the position of having to protect the Body and Blood of Christ. We seldom seem to get to the final step. Kind of like a parent that has clear teaching the child ignores and then either looks the other way or gives them neverending warnings with not consequence for their actions. We all know how that turns out.

  24. Perhaps it is better to consult some other Canonists, I respect Dr. Peters but it doesn’t mean that I must take everything he writes to be granted. Dr. Peter’s conclusion is very disturbing: if a priest is not allowed to without communion from someone of whom he knows to have sinned severely and not yet received the sacrament of reconciliation, this kind of interpretation and application of Canon Law makes the Eucharist to be merely an issue of material interest, a good which we can win by going to court and file a complaint. Sorry, I don’t take it.

  25. Ed, in your example

    “Okay, now, I see ten women approaching. One of them is a lesbian. Quick, which one (according to some) is ineligible for holy Communion per c. 915? And how would anyone there know why I turned her away?

    See the problem? Everyone knows what Neo-Nazis, and Rainbow Sashers, and Nancy Pelosi look like, but what does a lesbian look like?”

    Is there a difference between the rainbow sash and the woman who comes up before mass to introduce her lover partner? By that act, isn’t she putting on the rainbow sash in your face and thus making a point? Do you have doubt that if what she says is fact that she is in grave sin any more than you know about the rainbow sash guy? It seems here that we are going on appearances and not knowledge of that person. Many germans who wore the uniform of Germany in WWII were nothing like those working in death camps and yet many had the same uniform. Many German military units had Catholic Chaplins saying mass with the troops receiving the Eucharist before going into war. it is not the outward appearance, but the firm knowledge they are in grave sin by their easily seen actions in life. They are draping their sin around them as with Nancy Pelosi no matter what banner she wears. It is not because she is a Democrat, but because she enables grave evil. The Neo Nazi may be an idiot, but that does not mean he has grave sin just for his uniform. Maybe if someone dressed as Satan, it might be a good sign. Thoughts?

  26. Sorry “withhold” not “without” (I am not in the top form today!)

  27. Wow great point on the no absolution going right to the same priest for the Eucharist. He knows..but can he use what he learned in confession now without in some way violating the vow that it remains secret? And if he knows and does not protect the Eucharist, is this not a sin on his part.

    What I like about this discussion is that I have learned a great deal and the simple fact is we are discussing the Real Presence, grave sin, the state of grace, the teaching of the church on the Eucharist, the grave sin of living in a gay relationship, politicians who support abortion, and much more. As I thought about this, I started to see Deacon Greg as being sneaky smart. He throws it out and lets everyone go at it which brings the layity active into discussions forcing us to hear and to think. It has taken me a long time to understand this. If this is not your plan Deacon, then I suspect our Lord is using you in a very good way. Same is true if it was your intention.

  28. Deacon Greg Kandra says:


    Canon 916 (right after the more celebrated 915) says: A person who is conscious of grave sin is not to celebrate Mass or receive the body of the Lord without previous sacramental confession unless there is a grave reason and there is no opportunity to confess; in this case the person is to remember the obligation to make an act of perfect contrition which includes the resolution of confessing as soon as possible.

    Dcn. G.

  29. Ditto here as well, nice job Richard.

  30. Good point.

  31. 1983 CIC 916. A person who is conscious of grave sin is not to celebrate Mass or receive the body of the Lord without previous sacramental confession unless there is a grave reason and there is no opportunity to confess; in this case the person is to remember the obligation to make an act of perfect contrition which includes the resolution of confessing as soon as possible.

  32. Deacon Greg Kandra says:

    Several people have mentioned Nancy Pelosi in this story.

    I’m curious. When was the last time anyone reported seeing her receive communion?

  33. That is true…or at least there are no recent photos of her. However, there are photos of Joe Biden. In fact, you posted one on your blog in September.

  34. Tom in Lazybrook says:

    After viewing some of Guarnizo’s comments (especially his comments in Slovakia) and his political activism, I”m not convinced. Furthermore, Guarnizo abandoned the body of the mother. He didn’t arrainge for Fr Sweeney to attend at the gravesite. Someone else did because Guarnizo ran off. Its possible that Guarnizo was ill. But its kind of hard to believe from my perspective when you have the case of a VERY political priest (he even runs think tanks – where he has some very controversial comments about the rights of man and the role of democracies – to say nothing of his tax policy) who is very political conservative, insulting a grieving woman not once but TWICE (including leaving the altar when the woman spoke) at the service and then we are to believe that he suddenly became ill? Possible, but unless he went to the hospital or a doctor, not arrainging for a replacement was abandonment. Lets settle this…was he sick enough to go see a doctor? Guys, when seen through the eyes of people who have been demeaned and abused by the USCCB, his story is not credible. There are good Catholics, who exhibit charity. But Guarnizo, who apparently spends the bulk of his time running around Eastern Europe arguing for theocratic laws (albeit he calls it Hellenistic/Metaphysical – but he really means church laws) and low taxes for the rich doesn’t appear to be a honest broker here (especially after the two calculated insults to the daughter). Really guys…Did the dog eat the homework THREE times? It would be great if Guarnizo went in front of the secular press and spoke about the case and answered some basic questions regarding Gay persons and their rights to freedom of speech, petition, protest, assembly, association, and expression in light of his Eastern European project. And why he cannot bring himself to apologize for the hurt he has foisted on the daughter and to all LGBT supportive Catholics.

  35. naturgesetz says:

    Exactly, Teresa. This makes it clear that in these cases, it it the duty of the individual not to receive, and not the duty of the minister to refuse the individual.

  36. Tom in Lazybrook says:

    And Newt Gingrich. Lemme guess. He’s a Catholic in good standing? I’ll bet he takes communion.

    But this is the larger point. If you demand that all Catholic politicians vote as the Vatican tells them to, even on public policy that impacts non-Catholics, then would it be unfair for all non-doctrinaire Vaticaners to agitate against the election of any Catholic in good standing, persuant to fears of undue influence by the See?

  37. So if Mrs Johnson breached the Canon Law why must the Archdiocese apologise?

  38. P.S. instead, they should have instructed her that she should have refrained from receiving. If the priest was rude to the Johnson family he should apologize for being rude. And Dr. Peters can give him a lesson in not applying the Canon Law in an overtly zealous way. But the apologize of Archdiocese Washington, now made public all over the world, sent out a wrong message, from now quite a few Catholic lay people will think sin doesn’t matter. A very worrying signal.

  39. naturgesetz says:

    Because they breached Canon 915.

  40. Is there a breach?

  41. naturgesetz says:

    It is not worrying to anybody who can understand that Canon 915 applies to a much narrower class of people than Canon 916.

  42. naturgesetz says:

    Dr. Peters says so, and by apologizing, the Archdiocese seems to agree.

  43. What mentioned is a non-pastoral approach, but not the breaching of a certain code of law. And is there any Court decision about Fr. G.? Who breached the Canon Law, the father or the diocese? Your answer is not at all clear. Neither am I satisfied with the explanation of Dr. Peters. He is a lawyer, but to decide the case there is something called Court. I think it is a basic knowledge of jurisprudence.

  44. It is still worrying for people who hold the sacrament to be more important than Dr. Peter’s Interpretation of CIC 915.

  45. naturgesetz says:

    Basically, Canon 915 requires the pastoral approach, because until you’ve used it in a case like this, the sin is not technically persistent and obstinate.

  46. naturgesetz says:

    Oops, should have said, the sinner is not persistent and obstinate.

    BTW I’ll be very surprised if there is a canonical trial, in this case.

  47. So the sacrament of Eucharist can be ministered to any one even to one whom the priest saw he killed someone? And how many must he murder until he becomes persistent?

  48. To receive communion with grave sin is a even greater sin, I don’t see that why none of you find it to be O.K.

  49. naturgesetz says:

    And it is the priest who violated Can. 915. The Archdiocese apologizes because he is one of their priests.

  50. “to be not O.K.”! of course. I am outraged by Naturgesetz and Dr. Peters and I won’t and am not willing to understand why it is O.K. to minister the Eucharist to someone of whom you know he is not in the status to receive it. No and No. Sorry.

  51. I am not ready to accept your interpretation Naturgesetz, I want to wait for other Canonists to speak out on this issue. Until now we have only Dr. Peters.

  52. “Wuerl: Why I Won’t Deny Pelosi Communion”

    Thats easy, it’s because you are a coward.

  53. naturgesetz says:

    It’s not okay to receive Communion when one is in a state of grave sin. Nobody say that it is. It’s just that not all grave sins are “manifest” and not all sinners are “obstinate” within the meaning of Cannon 915. Again, please try to understand that there are lots of people to whom Canon 916 applies, but Canon 915 doesn’t. They shouldn’t receive Communion, but the priest/minister has no duty to refuse them. It may seem weird, but that’s how it is in the Catholic Church.

  54. So why the priest must give the Eucharist to the not yet confessed sinner?

  55. No it is not how it is in the Catholic Church, it is how you and Dr. Peters interpret the CIC 915. It is not decided yet.

  56. naturgesetz says:

    So what the priest has to do when he “knows” that someone is in a state of grave sin is talk to the person and explain to him/her that what s/he is doing makes him/her ineligible to receive Communion. If s/he refuses to change, but continues in sin, the s/he is obstinate and should be refused Communion, if the sin is “manifest.”

  57. In comparison to Civil Law, not every code of law is perfect, and there are always emendation necessary, if the interpretation of Dr. Peters is obliging, something needs to be done urgently to get rid of this self-contradiction in the Canon Law.

    And if it is not the duty of the priest, it doesn’t mean he is not allowed to withhold the Eucharist of a not yet confessed sinner.

  58. She is not excommunicated. For once the communion is denied to her, when she came suddenly for communion. And the priest did talk with her before and learned that she was in an open gay relationship. She can still repent and then come to communion.

  59. naturgesetz says:

    Teresa —

    If you haven’t read this yet

    I think you might find it helpful. And go to the link about Bishop Ricken.

  60. Deacon Steve says:

    Tom why would he not be in good standing? His current marriage is valid in the church as I understand that he went through the annulment process for the 1st 2 marriages when he converted. If his current marriage is valid what in your opinion would preclude him from receiving the Eucharist?

  61. I agree

  62. Deacon Steve says:

    Theresa there is a difference between killing someone and murdering someone. Murder carries a moral judgement that it was an unjustifiable killing. Killing makes no moral judgement because killing is sometimes justifiable and therefor not a grave sin that would preclude someone from receiving the Eucharist. The whole point of all this is that the communion line is not the place to be making these distinctions, especially the first time the minister meets the person. And overwhelmingly the burden lies on the person in the state of sin. Canon law is to be interpreted as loosely as possible when granting rights, and as narrowly as possible when restricting a person’s rights. When there is any doubt, it should be interpreted in the favor of the person. Ultimately God will judge their intentions.

  63. Naturgesetz, I’ve read it. I must say the Canon Law itself is confusing: if the sinner has the duty not to present himself for communion when he hasn’t confessed yet, because “Whoever eats this bread or drinks the Lord’s cup in a way unworthy of the Lord will be guilty of the body and the blood of the Lord. 1 Corinthians XI: 27″, then why doesn’t the priest has the right to deny it to her to prevent such a grave sin? If I see something doing something very bad, I have the right and even obligation to stop him, it is called civil courage in the secular world. Now in the Church, a priest is reprimanded because of his endeavour to prevent someone from sinning even more gravely. Now the CIC 915 § 2. says “But occult sinners, if they ask secretly and the minister knows they are unrepentant, should be refused; but not, however, if they ask publicly and they cannot be passed over without scandal”, so it is O.K. to deny Mrs. Johnson the communion if she was alone with Fr. G, but not O.K. as she was in the funeral of her mother and should be spared of the scandal. But what is more important, the scandal or the sin? For a Christian, it is the sin which is a greater grievousness.

    Actually, I can’t agree with this approach, even if it is “what it is in the Church”. I am not a follower of legal positivism so I think there is something higher in the Church than the CIC 915, it is called the Faith.

  64. Tom, you don’t know what you are talking about. Fr Guarnizo is the one who arranged for the substitute priest to meet the funeral party at the cemetery (which was not in the neighborhood). He was ill. He is not speaking to the media because he has been instructed by the Archdiocese of Washington to remain silent. As hard as it is for you to understand obedience, this is what a good priest understands — as hard as it is he must remain obedient to the bishop. It is up to the bishop at this point to allow Father to speak and defend himself or they, mercifully could also defend him … which they have not done so far, unfortunately.

  65. P.S. what I think is thus: in the Civil law there are regulations with which I disagree because I find them to be unjust, but as a citizen I am subject to them. And thus is with the Canon Law, as long as I am allowed to express my opinion as a lay woman: I do find CIC 915 to be perfect I recognize the pastoral endeavour combined with it and the charitable intention, but in my humble opinion, it brings confusion and difficulties, and also contradictions to the teaching on sacraments we lay people receive from the Church. I don’t know what was the usual practice of the Church in the past, but this case we have is, in my eye, a wrong signal that lay people can go to communion freely. It does bring confusion, not every lay man carries Dr. Peter’s interpretation of CIC 915 with him around, for liberal Catholics who don’t care any way, it is a signal that anything goes.

  66. Sorry “CIC 915 to be imperfect”. Of course I can’t do anything and must obey the regulation, but still, I find it to be in conflict with the Catechism and even with itself i.e. CIC 916.

  67. naturgesetz says:

    Again, Canon 916 applies to everybody in grave sin, and it makes clear that they are personally responsible for what they do. Canon 915 applies to priests and other ministers of Communion and gives them responsibility for a much narrower class of sinners that those covered by Canon 916. It is not a contradiction, IMO, but a difference which is prudent, since it is difficult to know the state of someone’s conscience, until you’ve had a frank discussion with them. And Canon 915 is intended to prevent just the sort of confusion you mention. When the sin is “manifest,” that is when the people in the congregation generally know about it, it requires the priest to do something about it — first try to get the person to stop, and then, if that fails, refuse Communion to the known sinner. And this is so that the congregation will not get the idea that this grave sin that they all know about is okay.

    Maybe Canon 915 could be better written, but it is trying to balance several important things: the primacy of conscience; avoidance of detraction by revealing that someone is in grave sin when people don’t already know it; avoidance of rash judgment, when a minister assumes wrongly that someone is in grave sin; fraternal correction before discipline; avoidance of scandal by ministering Communion to a known grave sinner; avoidance of unworthy reception of Communion (although, as the Archdiocese says, that is primarily the communicant’s responsibility, not the minister’s).

  68. I cannot argue with Dr Peters’ explication of Can. 915. But in my thoughts and prayers I am very much with Father Marcel. As I do not know the facts fully (all I know is what I have read from the major post on this issue on this blog) I cannot decide whether or not Father Marcel was justified. I do know very much what it is like to be faced with emotionally charged funerals at which people demand the most inappropriate things. I can fully sympathise with Father Marcel feeling sick. It has happened to me many times. What is very sad, however, is that in the diocese’s letter of apology no reference was made to the communicant’s obligation to ensure that he/she is properly prepared for Holy Communion and no mention was made of the fact that, on the face of it, being in a Lesbian relationship is contrary to the Divine Law. Now Ms Johnson is confirmed in her belief (as a lifelong Catholic and former teacher in a Catholic school) that her sexual lifestyle is not a problem as far as receiving Communion is concerned. I am concerned for Father Marcel. What kind of pastoral support is he receiving at the present time? Maybe the apology letter could have been crafted in terms of: “On the basis of the facts available, perhaps Father Marcel should not have denied you Holy Communion and I therefore express my regret at the hurt caused to you on the occasion of your mother’s funeral (NOT celebration of life). Nevertheless, given that you introduced yourself to him as a lesbian and that you introduced your partner as your lover, it would appear that, objectively speaking, you are in a relationship that contradicts Divine Law and that therefore you should not in fact have approached Holy Communion. Clearly, now that the matter has become manifest, I must ask you not to present yourself for Holy Communion in future unless/until it becomes manifest that you are not living in a situation which is objectively sinful.” The letter speaks of “kindness”. Fraternal correction, as Pope Benedict has reminded us, is a great act of kindness, which the laity no less than the clergy have a right to receive. The current policy seems to be to never apply Canon 915.

  69. Outside observer, lay-woman (but practicing Catholic, and Catechist), wife, mother, daughter…

    This woman meant to inflict scandal, at some point, and her own mother’s funeral mass was the opportunity. If it wasn’t then, it might have been at Easter, or some other point. At least with a funeral mass she gets some “mourning points” and sympathy from some corners.

    It was both a political and social action, that occurred about the same time the State of Maryland acquiescence to the bully tactics that made a demand for changing natural law by legislation. Intentional timing? Or luck of the moment?

    If she were the typical American born since 1965, that did not receive a full and accurate faith formation, and grew to adulthood with the “feel good” message, I might, might, consider that she ‘did not know what she did.’

    Local reports are that she taught within the Parochial school system for the Archdiocese of Washington, so she has the ‘knowledge’ about the restrictions on reception of the Holy Eucharist.

    I pray for the poor priest that was doing his duty, I pray also for the Bishop that leads his flock away. I would have liked to have seen a “sorry you were inconvenienced, but rules are rules” letter, than the one written and released.

  70. Well since 99% of everyone walks up to Communion we know that almost everyone these days is constantly in a state of grace, and we don’t have to worry about Canon 916. We are living in very holy times.

  71. I don’t want to go around in circles but an extraordinarily strict, I would say cramped, reading of 915, again, as some are urging, would force a priest to permit someone shooting someone in church to receive communion, provided he or she had not shot anyone before and didn’t seem intent on continuing to shoot people. It just doesn’t fly.

    but on to the next topic now I think.

  72. Well, I’m sharing this comment left anonymously at my blog today, because I think it illustrates the problem:

    “OK I don’t Care if I get posted or not but We have a right to go and receive communion at the funeral of a dead family member whether we are Lesbian transgender gay or even if we have a different religion. It is the point of honoring the faith of the family member. The priest was not in the right to stop the women from honoring her mothers religion just because she was a Lesbian.”

    My common sense tells me that this is incorrect. However, it would appear–and I’m not being snarky or sarcastic or anything else–that according to the interpretations of Canon Law we’ve been seeing, this anonymous commenter is perfectly right: unless he or she is known to be obstinately persisting in manifest grave sin, he or she does have the “right” to go receive communion, even if they are not even Catholic. The priest does not appear to have the “right” to stop this person or any of the people he/she mentions. All he can do is make the announcement that people who aren’t Catholic or Catholics who aren’t in the state of grace ought not receive, and then stand back and prepare to give communion to everybody anyway.

    Why is it that this seems wrong to me?

  73. I guess I read a different story than some of those on these boards…I saw a grieving woman who thought she could honor her mother by the Catholic Mass of the Resurrection and receive the Eucharist to help her in her grief. My mother in law recently died, and I know it was a huge comfort to our family to celebrate the Mass of the Resurrection. If a priest had turned away a Catholic family member, it would have been very painful and hurtful…and none of us had an agenda. We were there to pray for my mother in law. Some are active practicing Catholics, some have fallen away. It was also a moment of reconciliation with the Church for some present. Why in the world you would think anything different at this Mass? I don’t get it.

  74. Tom in Lazybrook:

    Were you there? Do you know if the priest was shirking his duties? Stop pre-judging this guy! We only have one side of the story — Barbara Johnson’s (whose own motives are unclear). If he made an error in mis-applying the Canon Law, as Ed Peters has suggested, OK, fine, then he made an error.

    Have you ever had a bad day at the office? Got into a fight with your wife? Yelled at someone you shouldn’t have?

    Or, maybe you’re just one of those perfect persons (who’s never erred) … and you feel entitled to stand in judgement of this priest … and everyone else for that matter.

    We don’t know the full story … and until we do … why not try to withhold judgement and “lay off” for a while?

  75. the date onthis is 2 years ago. I wonder if he has “flipped-flopped” to be PC about it. I do think the time has come to stand firm with issues like this.

  76. “It was also a moment of reconciliation with the Church for some present.” is it really or just a moment in one’s life to make a statement ?

  77. The following was written by someone who didn’t know the current Canon Law 915, but he is a Saint, St. Chrysostom:
    “I speak not only to the communicant, but also I say to the priest who ministers the Sacrament: Distribute this gift with much care. There is no small punishment for you, if being conscious of any wickedness in any man, you allow him to partake of the banquet of the table: ‘Shall I not now require his blood at your hand?’ (2 Sam. 4:11). If some public figure, or some wealthy person who is unworthy, presents himself to receive Holy Communion, forbid him. The authority that you have is greater than his. Consider if your task were to guard a clean spring of water for a flock, and you saw a sheep approach with mire on its mouth–you would not allow it to stoop down and pollute the stream. You are now entrusted with a spring, not of water, but of blood and of spirit. If you see someone having sin in his heart (which is far more grievous than earth and mire), coming to receive the Eucharist, are you not concerned? Do you try to prevent him? What excuse can you have, if you do not?

    “God has honored you with the dignity of priesthoood, that you might discern these things. This is not to say that you should go about clothed in a white and shining vestment; but this is your office; this, your safety;
    this your whole crown.

    “You ask how you should know which individual is unworthy to receive? I am speaking here not of some unknown sinner, but of a notorious one. If someone who is not a disciple, through ignorance, comes to Communion, do not be afraid to forbid him. Fear God, not man. If you fear man, you will be scorned and laughed at even by him; but if you fear God, you will be an object of respect even to men. But if you cannot do it, bring that sinner to me, for I will not allow anyone to dare do these things. I would give up my life rather
    than give the Lord’s Blood to the unworthy.

    “If, however, a sinful person receives Communion, and you did not know his character, you are not to blame, however. I say the things above concerning only those who sin openly. For if we amend these, God will speedily reveal to us the unknown also; but if we let these flagrant abuses continue, how can we expect Him to make manifest those that are hidden? I say these things, not to repel sinners or cut them off, but I say it in order that we may bring them to repentance, and bring them back, so that we may take care of them. For thus we shall both please God and lead many to receive worthily. And for our own diligence, and for our care for others, we will receive a great reward. May we attain that reward by the grace and love that God gives to man through Our Lord Jesus Christ, to whom be glory, world without end. Amen.”

  78. Very interesting Teresa, thanks for that. His comments are consistent with my cradle catholic ‘gut’ view of the matter.

  79. Martin Luther says:

    What the Aux. Bishop has done has validated the Protestant view that communion is to be open to all, believers or not. “It’s between the parishioner and God.” Protestants 1, old timey catholics: 0
    We Win.
    (FYI: look for thousands of rainbow sash wearing, gay pride couples to crash the catholic churches this Sunday. We WILL receive communion. Aux. Bp. Knestout has admitted that is our right.)

  80. pagansister says:

    Why would anyone want to take a photo of Nancy Pelosi or Joe Biden receiving communion? Why would a photographer be in Church during mass anyhow? And if someone is taking photos with their phone? That is an invasion of privacy, especially in Church. IMO what they do in Church is totally their business, and no one elses.

  81. pagansister says:

    The person in this case, who happened to be in a loving relationship with another woman, feels, I’m sure that she is not commiting any sin, grave or other wise. Her “sin” apparently is loving another woman. She presented herself to receive communion at her mother’s funeral—in grief—and the priest added to the already sad occasion by refusing her, IMO.

  82. Tom in Lazybrook says:

    Oh, so getting divorced twice because you were cheating is okay. Catholic Senator Vitter can hire a prostitute to dress him up in diapers and he’s okay. Bill Donohue’s divorce is okay. I could go on for days with more examples.

    I guess its only those that support Gay rights and/or abortion in public policy that impacts non-Catholics are apparently to be punished by the church. Why not just go ahead and say so publcally? And while your at it, change the name from Roman Catholic to Republican Catholic?

  83. Tom in Lazybrook says:

    How does one get an annulment for abandoning his first wife due to his infidelity. And the second wife due to infidelity?

    I’d love for someone to explain that one to me. Sounds like Gingrich got an indulgence not an annulment available to non-prominent persons.

  84. pagansister says:

    Meant to add—since the Archdiocese of Washington feels that the obligation to present themselves to receive communion or not falls to the person, Ms. Johnson had no reason not to present herself. If the responsibility is that of the person, then that means the priest had no business saying no?

  85. Tom in Lazybrook says:

    Your ‘christian charity’ overwhelms me. (sarcasm)

  86. Deacon Greg Kandra says:


    Tribunals do not grant annulments based on what you did after you were married. Infidelity is not, in and of itself, a grounds for annulment.

    Tribunals determine if there was a valid, sacramental marriage present at the time the marriage took place. The reasons a valid marriage may not have existed are numerous.

    Dcn. G.

  87. Tom in Lazybrook says:

    If Guarnizo ‘had a bad day’ at work, and did something wrong, then perhaps he should apologize. I’m not willing to forgive him for having ‘a bad day’ unless he ASKS for forgiveness.

  88. Deacon Steve says:

    Tom I never said cheating was ok, but when Newt converted to Catholicism he went through the annulment process, and was then able to have his current marriage convalidated. As Deacon Greg mentioned the annulment isn’t granted on the basis of infidelity, unless it is shown that the person intended to be unfaithful, thus nulifying their consent. You never did point out what Newt has done that would be grounds for denying him the Eucharist. Your attitude and judgement of him is exactly why the communion line is the wrong place to be deciding who can and cannot receive.

  89. George Mason says:

    Exclusive: Inside sources provide new info on priest censured for denying lesbian Communion

  90. George Mason says:

    Subjectivist viewpoints like yours are always inconsistent. For example, you claim the woman does not think she committed sin. So, you argue the priest must respect that. But, in arguing thus, you privilege the woman’s feelings over the priest’s. So, in trying to support the woman’s subjective feelings, you make those same feelings an objective factor that trumps the priest’s subjective feelings.

    Your subjectivism sneaks in a presupposition against viewpoints you don’t like. Thus, the priest is not allowed to act according to his conscience, according to you, because the woman would not be happy if he did so.

    By what standard do you subordinate the priest’s ideas and feelings to the woman’s?

  91. Ralph Joliup says:

    True Reconciliation is a conversion from sin, not a feel good moment that encourages sacrilege. What if it made Uncle Frank feel good to come to the funeral drunk and pound the coffin in anger at the deceased. Is that an acceptible reconciliation moment?
    But, encouraging those in a state of mortal sin to feel good by receiving Christ unworthily (because they don’t even believe in sin or the real presence) is reconciliation? You need to review your priorities and sense of reality!

  92. Ralph Joliup says:

    Maybe you should go back to sleep Tommy. You sound a little cranky.

  93. Ralph Joliup says:

    Thanks for laying down your cards and showing your bigoted views, Tom.

  94. pagansister says:

    Read my addition—according to the Archdiocese of Washington, it is up to the person presenting themselves—not the priest, yes George Mason?

  95. Deacon Greg Kandra says:

    All those details were posted in a comment on this blog two days ago by “DvS,” presumably the person cited in the Lifesite piece. They were also corroborated in the email I received and posted separately.

    I’ll add, once again: there are conflicting details from Johnson and from others about what actually happened. She’s telling one version in interviews, and these other witnesses are telling another. (Among other things, in Johnson’s version, it is the other woman herself who casually mentions that she is Johnson’s “partner,” while in the Lifesite version, it’s Johnson who introduces her as her “lover.”)

    We have yet to hear the priest’s version, or find out what sort of investigation is being undertaken by the AoW to determine the truth.

  96. interesting- I guess the rights of the LGBT community trump the rights of the Church to its own religious beliefs/expression. That concept is coming from a court near you soon. Notice she says”even if we have a different religion”- it is all about me and my feelings! Do not invoke G-d, faith, the magisterium or any of you strange beliefs to oppress me! While I am being somewhat over the top here- the implication is clearly there in what you assert. The point of the Eucharist is not to “honor family members”- you are not required to have a mass to honor your family members- a secular wake/celebration of life is more fitting- especially if you have a different religion or no longer are in good standing with the Church. There is no requirement (nor right- oh my gosh i said it!) for a funeral mass. Your grieving loss does not trump others, including the Churchs rights & obligations. None of us know all the facts in this case, but clearly there is no right of non-Catholics to go to communion, whether Ms J was incorrectly denied the eucharist is another matter. I lean towards thinking she should have been denied IF (& only if) she if fact presented her “lover” to the priest beforehand & he , in private, told her not to present herself for communion. If this did not occur, she should probably should have received the eucharist- but i am not a canon law expert.

  97. Deacon,
    Cardinal Wuerl has gone on record as saying he will not deny Holy Communion to Ms. Pelosi and suggesting that there might be no instances in which CL 915 is to be enforced, even though the requirement to enforce it is not within a bishop’s discretion. Sacrilege is sacrilege, whether it takes place in the ADW or another diocese. Yes, it should rarely be enforced, and there are certain ways in which it must be enforced, but the ADW was incorrect to state that a minister of Holy Communion need only CONSIDER whether to enforce it under the proscribed circumstances. The Cardinal also refused to intervene in Trinity’s celebration of Ms Pelosi’s Catholicism a few years back. Can you not see that this record (whether or not there are photos!), juxtaposed against the current condemnation and apology for a priest who was trying to uphold the sanctity of the sacrament, might ITSELF be a source of scandal to the faithful? The ADW needs to provide specific guidelines to ministers of Holy Communion as to how to identify those making a “political” statement at the Communion rail, so as to equip them to charitably handle future controversies. And may I be so bold to suggest that there is a problem with a law that is so narrow as to only include those who openly practice grave sins in an “ongoing” way, while leaving a priest in the awful position where he’s required to give Holy Communion to a woman who has just announced that she has a lesbian lover, and whose lover then blocked him from trying to counsel the woman? And extreme as they may be, other commenters’ examples of someone shooting up or defacing a church and then proceeding to the Communion line does indeed demonstrate a certain absurdity here. After all, they only shot someone one time, so I just go on and ask, “The Body of Christ?”

  98. Father,
    THANK you for reminding us of the need to pastorally support PRIESTS as well as the laity. Even though the ADW made a public statement generally describing the duties of the communicant, you’re right: the ADW did not specifically address Ms. Johnson’s responsibilities at SJN and in the FUTURE. I sure hope someone spoke to her privately about this, at least, so that she does not decide to demand Holy Communion AGAIN in the ADW while persisting in this sin. What a travesty it will be for “political” communions to become a trend to subvert the Church’s teachings on intrinsic evils and on Her sacraments. The heated hateful treatment of Father Marcel in this case -even from Catholics- and the apology might unwittingly empower enemies of the Church. Has the Lord not been offended enough by our sins -mine included- in not treating the Eucharist with reverence, only to endure intentionally sacrilegious communions?

  99. Deacon Greg Kandra says:

    My point: maybe, just maybe, Ms. Pelosi is refraining from presenting herself for communion. In which case, this discussion about her is moot.

  100. Deacon Greg Kandra says:

    A part of me wonders if there is more backstory to this than we know.

    I find it curious, for example, to read the history of Fr. Marcel.

    He grew up in the Diocese of Arlington, studied in Rome, and was ordained to the priesthood for the Apostolic Administration of European Russia by Archbishop Tadeusz Kondrusiewicz. And he’s now serving in the Archdiocese of Washington. That strikes me as out of the ordinary.

    Dcn. G.

  101. Tom in Lazybrook says:

    Seriously, if you’re going to excommunicate or deny communion to politicians based upon the public policy views, then the question of undue influence becomes relevant. I stand by my concern.

  102. Tom in Lazybrook says:

    No. There won’t be a court case from the LGBT community over this. Because the Lesbian has no legal rights in this case. And I don’t think that she should have legal rights here.

    But the abscence of a legal right does not excuse the church from public criticism.

  103. Tom in Lazybrook says:

    LOL. Perhaps these shocking relevations would be more believable if they came from a neutral source.

  104. since the Archdiocese of Washington feels that the obligation to present themselves to receive communion or not falls to the person, Ms. Johnson had no reason not to present herself.

    That doesn’t follow, pagansister, or am I missing something? If the obligation is primarily on the person presenting themselves, then there is an even heavier duty of self-scrutiny on the person seeking communion.

  105. pagansister says:

    sjay: If Ms. Johnson doesn’t feel she is doing anything wrong by being who she is, then that could be considered “self-scrutiny”. It is obvious that she presented herself. That was why I restated the title of the article.

  106. Since the woman clearly knows the requirements for reception of Communion and what the church teaches about the sinfulness of homosexual activity, she should not have presented herself for communion. Pagan because someone thinks they are not committing sin doesn’t mean they aren’t. I think you are out of your area of expertise when it comes to Catholic moral theology. Me thinks Ms Johnson knew exactly what she was doing and the stir she caused was IMO deliberate.

  107. Deacon Greg Kandra says:

    Since the woman clearly knows the requirements for reception of Communion…

    I think that’s assuming too much. Which is why the priest should have had a conversation with her beforehand — to determine her circumstances, explain the Church’s teaching, and see if she genuinely understood the gravity of her situation.

    We live in an era when so many Catholics have been told, repeatedly, “it’s okay if your conscience tells you so,” and it wouldn’t surprise me in the least to learn that this woman, for all her Catholic upbringing and background, was clueless. So many people in the pews think they know with dead certainty what the Church teaches. And, in fact, they don’t.

    I see that again and again here on this blog.

    Look, it’s Lent. We’re all works in progress. And we all have a long way to go. I’m giving Barbara Johnson the benefit of the doubt — and the priest, too, for that matter. I’m operating from the assumption that both were trying to do what they thought was right.

    My hope and prayer is that both will grow and learn from this experience — and that so will the rest of us who together comprise the Body of Christ.

    Dcn. G.

  108. Your point Deacon? What are you suggesting these facts might have to do with the issue of discussion in this post?

  109. Interesting story on Apparently this woman was an openly gay activist as well as a Buddhist!

  110. pagansister says:

    RomCath, if “this woman” was baptized in the Church, then from what I undestand, she is always considered Catholic, whether she is active or not, am I correct? So, she presented herself for communion—perhaps to honor her mother.

  111. Dr Chigbo Ibeh says:


    Your Lordship,


    I would like to emphatically express my feelings and thoughts on the above issue by saying that I do not blame the Priest who officiated the Mass or the Lesbian lady who wanted to receive communion as a way of exercising her “human rights”, but would put the blame on the ever uncertain and confused application of the Church’s laws by the leadership of the Church in different places and at different times.

    In the case at hand, the leadership was very much in a hurry to issue a communiqué containing apology to the worthy lesbian lady who has shown every intent to humiliate Fr. Guarnizo and determine his future.

    One is inclined to ask some questions , though not limited to these:
    (1) What level of investigation did the leadership of the Catholic Church in Washington carry out before laying blame of pastoral insensitivity on Fr. Guarnizo?
    (2) Does the Catholic Church have a clear and unambiguous teaching on which matrimonial relationships could deny one the satisfied conscience to walk up to the Communion rail?
    (3) Are the teachings of the Church subject to personal interpretations and manipulations by the person at the helms of affairs at a given time?
    (4) Did the adult lady lesbian know her responsibilities and privileges as a Catholic?
    (5) Does her true and real understanding of her responsibilities and privileges based on the teachings of the Church not question her conscience as to her respect for the body of Christ.
    (6) Is it not the responsibility of the Priest to help protect and accord due respect to the body of Christ from the unconcerned and unbothered?
    (7) Is it not the responsibility of the so called communicant to ensure that he or she is in the state of grace before receiving the body of Christ?
    (8) Having introduced her partner to the Priest, should the Priest have abandoned the Mass celebration in order to hold a session of Catechism with her?
    (9) Was the Priest bound to know that the lesbian lady was going to walk up to the communion rail for communion before starting the service so as to hold a private discussion with her?

    (10) In other words, should a priest conduct a survey amongst Mass attendees to know who and who needed a private discussion before starting a service?

    (11) In a given parish, does the parish Priest have the right to deny communion to a person who is willingly and knowingly living publicly or even privately a life-style that REJECTS the teachings of the Church?

    (12) If Canon 905 is not meant to be applied, why is it there? As usual, another way to sow confusion in the minds of the faithful and maintain ambiguity in teachings?

    (13) How can we lead people of the world to Christ when we are not even certain over what we teach and the faithful are always left to dwell in confused interpretation of what the Church is actually teaching?

    14) Finally, are we really convinced and have a good belief in what we teach or do we just shift things to satisfy the demand of the time?

  112. If one has formally rejected the faith and embraced another they are not considered Catholic. They are not allowed to present themselves for communion. SHould they wish to return to the Church they have to make a profession of faith.

  113. Anthony Joseph says:

    I embrace the Church’s discipline concerning Holy Communion, the responsibility of the receipient and the that of the person designated to distribute the Holy Eucharist. Having said that, would this priest have violated his conscience but permitting this woman to communicate if, in deed, she did speak to him about her dissent on Catholic teaching about sexuality? How a priest’s Bishop chooses to handle the situation is his perogative as chief shepherd to whom we submit in obedience. It “feels” is if many are forgetting that Father’s decision may have been Spirit led and how grateful we ought to be for his witness of his belief in the Real Presence when we have seen among laity and clergy alike, dissent in the Church teachings about the Eucharist with little attention or action! While the Communion line is not ever to be a time of catechesis, I am saddened by the condemnation of this seemingly faithful priest has received. Since any news service reports happenings as they come to know them and often without complete knowledge and the use of reputable sources, there are only three people know the complete story: the Lord, the priest and his Bishop. I have no doubt that this Bishop will act with the best interest of all parties without compromising Catholic teaching on the Real Presence. For me, my response can only be praying for the woman, the priest and his Bishop and leave whatever action that the Bishop discerns to be just to his office of governing the flock entrusted to his care.


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