On Fr. Marcel Guarnizo’s statement: “I believe that he, and those inclined to support him, need correction”

From Dr. Ed Peters:

Fr. Marcel Guarnizo’s statement evidences misunderstandings of several aspects of Catholic law on the administration of holy Communion and confirms my sense that Guarnizo erred in withholding holy Communion in this case. Regarding those errors, I believe that he, and those inclined to support or even imitate him, need correction.

I offer here canonical commentary, and that, only for those who are interested in the operation of canon law in the Church and are aware of (or willing to take direction on) how this venerable legal system serves the Christian community. Those suffering, regardless of their doctrinal views, from various kinds of ecclesiastical antinomianism are invited to address their more basic concerns about the role of law in the Church in another context.

I comment here only on Guarnizo’s decision to withhold holy Communion from Barbara Johnson on Feb 25, except briefly to correct one parenthetical remark by Guarnizo: he apparently thinks that Cdl. Wuerl does not have the authority to “suspend” him. I have stated all along that Guarnizo is not suspended, but there is no question that Wuerl could suspend Guarnizo, or apply any other appropriate penalty, if things come to that (cc. 1408, 1412).

This is a blog post (if a longish one), so I can’t include as much scholarly apparatus (e.g., footnotes, in-text citations) as befits a study of this matter. Likewise, I must leave some useful but secondary points of law unstated here; none of those points, however, in my opinion, would rehabilitate Guarnizo’s decision in this case.

Summary of pertinent facts

Guarnizo admits that he only met Johnson a few minutes before her mother’s funeral Mass, admits that he had no knowledge whatsoever about the Johnson family, and offers no indication that he knew anything about the congregation gathered for Mass that day.

Guarnizo says that, a few minutes before Mass started, Johnson appeared in the sacristy and introduced another woman as her “lover”; further conversation was prevented by the “lover” standing in a doorway. There was apparently no mention of Johnson’s possible lesbian activism, her cohabitation status (if any), her degree of ‘alienation’ from the Church, or her possible involvement in Buddhism.

There is no reason to doubt but that Johnson was baptized Catholic and there is no evidence that she ever proffered an “act of formal defection” (when such were possible) or has been found guilty of a canonical crime such as apostasy (c. 751, 1364).

Primary applicable canons

Notwithstanding some unguarded talk about no one having the right to receive holy Communion, canon law provides a complex of norms that upholds the faithful’s fundamental rights—rights ultimately conferred by Christ through His Church—to receive the sacraments. Cappello, DE SACRAMENTIS (1945) I: 361

It goes on at great length and detail.  Read the rest.

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