“Prudential judgment” required when giving out communion

Another priest has added his voice to the discussion about the Archdiocese of Washington communion controversy:

A priest who writes on faith and culture emphasized the need to balance respect for the Eucharist with pastoral sensitivity.

“These are delicate matters,” said Msgr. Charles Pope, who blogs about culture and current events for the Archdiocese of Washington, D.C.

He explained to CNA on March 2 that it “requires some judgment on the part of the priest” to apply Church teaching on when to deny Communion to an individual.

On Feb. 28, the Washington Post reported that Barbara Johnson was denied Communion at her mother’s funeral after introducing her lesbian partner to the priest before Mass.

The incident took place on Feb. 25 at St. John Neumann Catholic Church in Gaithersburg, Md., which falls within the Archdiocese of Washington, D.C. Johnson said that Fr. Marcel Guarnizo covered the host and told her that by living in a lesbian relationship, she was sinning in the eyes of the Church.

Canon 915 of the Catholic Church’s Code of Canon Law instructs that those who obstinately persevere in manifest grave sin should not be admitted to Holy Communion.

Msgr. Pope explained that this means the priest must know that the person’s sin is grave, that it is manifest – or well-known – and that the individual in question is obstinate in his or her sin before denying the sacrament.

That generally means that the priest “would need to meet with them privately,” he said.

Conflicting reports make it unclear whether Fr. Guarnizo had warned Johnson upon meeting her partner before Mass that she should not present herself for Communion.

Msgr. Pope said that in his experience, most people do refrain from coming forward for Communion when the circumstances are explained to them.

However, sometimes they do not, he said, and such situations require “prudential judgment” by the priest “in that moment.”

He explained that a priest may have to make an instantaneous judgment when he sees the individual come forward for Communion. Even if the person has already been warned, perhaps he or she did not hear properly or did not understand.

“Right there at the altar may not be the time or the place” to offer a better explanation, he said.

Read more.


  1. I hope this story will now be put to bed. The priest used his judgement, perhaps too impulsively. The Bishop apologized, perhaps too lavishly. I still don’t believe the lesbian woman didn’t know she shouldn’t take communion. If you ask me there is blame to go around to everyone.

  2. That about sums it up.

  3. Manny,

    The woman received communion from an EM during the Mass. The priest also made an announcement that only those in a state of grace should receive communion. The priest is not at fault here.


  4. Deacon Greg Kandra says:


    How did he know whether she was or was not in a state of grace?

    Dcn. G.

  5. Savvy,

    Though the orientation is a grave disorder of one’s nature, it is not in itself sinful. The fornication, if it is happening, is the sin. Unless knowledge of fornication was shared with the priest, he acted rashly and uncharitably. Do we assume that no married persons are actively engaged in adultery or the consumption of online porn?

    See the danger in making assumptions? That lesbian might well be living a chaste existence with her partner, something of no more moral consequence than two good friends as roommates, while some married person receiving the Eucharist at that mass might well be having an affair or be addicted to porn.

    Domestic living arrangements seen from afar tell us nothing of one’s worthiness to receive communion. I just don’t see this situation as rising to the level of notoriety in politicians such as Biden, Pelosi and Sebelius who work with all of their energy and industry to promote and protect abortion.

    There is all the difference in the world between protecting the integrity of the sacraments and establishing oneself as the gatekeeper to grace. That’s the bottom line in this debate.

  6. I agree completely Manny. Since it is obvious by now that no one here was in the room with the priest before mass or was there to see how the lover/partner was introduced, everything is speculation. since the state was gong through battles on special rights for gays, and this is two days after it passed if I am right on this, I have a suspicion that this confrontation was meant to happen but again that is speculation, but based on a history of confrontatin between gay activist and the Catholic Church.

    At any rate, kind of tired of hearing about it and think you have it right. She recieved a lavish apology from the Archdiocese and that should be enough. It is also something which faithful Catholics do not receive when fighting for Church teaching to be upheld and getting shut down often in a very intolerant way by a dissenting priest. Many often don’t even hear back from the Bishop or archdiocese and you never see a dissenting priest hit like this priest was by his own.

  7. Deacon,

    Why did she made a point of showing off her “lover” to the priest before the Mass? The article also says she was agitated, about this priest presiding over the funeral Mass, because this priests was known for this defence of church teachings.

  8. A chaste lesbian does not write lesbian porn. See the link to the article I posted. Yes, it’s unclear how much the priest knows about her.

  9. Deacon Greg Kandra says:


    There are conflicting accounts of what actually happened, what she actually said, and what the priest actually knew.

    None of what you’ve described would necessarily mean that she was in a state of mortal sin, or that she even adequately understood the gravity of her situation. The priest would need more to go on.

    Dcn. G.

  10. It’s unclear how much you know about her. Lifesite incorrectly identifies the Barbara Johnson in this case with a different Barbara Johnson, who is older, not Catholic, and whose mother passed away in 2010. Giving scandal is also a sin, please remember.

  11. Rev Mr Flapatap says:

    Deacon Greg,

    I live in the area and know many people from St. John Neumann (an active parishioner was in formation with me and I know well two of their deacons). I wouldn’t call this “conflicting accounts”. The situation was made clear before the Mass began and she still presented herself. All I have learned about the whole situation points to this being a setup by a disgruntled Catholic.

  12. It’s odd how sexual sin tends to want to stay secret – - unless it is of the homosexual variety. Then it is demanded to be accepted as good. A curious byproduct of that disorder at least in some cases.

  13. Deacon Greg Kandra says:

    Rev. Mr. F:

    Questions that should have been asked to this woman (and that, it seems, were not) before she was denied communion:

    When is the last time you went to confession? What is your relationship with the Church? How often do you go to Mass? What is the nature of your relationship with this “partner”? What do you understand to be the Church’s teaching about homosexuality? What do you understand about the Eucharist? Do you know it is the Real Presence of Christ? What is your understanding about mortal sin? Do you realize that someone in a state of mortal sin should not present themselves to receive communion? Have you talked about any sexual issues with a confessor, spiritual director or priest? Do you want to go to confession now?

    Those are for starters.

    The sad but shocking truth: I know many cradle Catholics — probably some who consider themselves devout and faithful — who do not understand what it means to have a properly formed conscience, or grasp the meaning of the Eucharist, or know the qualities that need to be present for one to be in a state of mortal sin. We live in a Catholic culture that for decades has been telling people, “Listen to your conscience. Do what feels right to you in your heart.” I’m willing to wager that is where Barbara Johnson was coming from.

    Finally, I’ve talked about this issue with several priests of differing backgrounds from around the country . All have said the same thing: based on the scant information available, under the circumstances (a family a funeral, a brief and sketchy conversation moments before Mass) they would not have done what that priest did. Lacking more detailed information about the state of her soul, they would have given her communion.

    Dcn. G.

  14. Yes, Rev. Mr. F is correct that she presented herself and her “lover” to Fr. Marcel before Mass. Yes, he told her she should not receive. (Excactly what my sources have told me happened.)

    Now, if he told her she could not receive, then why did she do so? Did she do so to make a point and gain herself an award from GLADD, etc? Did she do so, because Fr. Marcel is really one of the key people who are fighting the late term abortion clinic. (And, there are great stories about him and his ministering to the women — and their husbands, boyfriends, etc. — who go in. In fact, there is one about a man named Edward and his girlfriend but more about that another time.)

    You can split hairs about Canon Law all you want, but the more and more we learn about this situation, the more and more I have come to believe (1) Fr. Marcel did the right thing; (2) the Archdiocese of Washington threw Fr. Marcel under the bus; (3) they botched the PR aspect of this by automatically stating that he was wrong before getting all of the facts; and (4) Cardinal Wuerl has given scandal to the faithful of this Archdiocese.

    If this is an example of how we plan on dealing with these things in the future, then we might as well just admit we have lost the war and leave our faith at the door of the church at the end of Mass on Sunday.

  15. It’s not too hard to discern, at least from her conduct after the mass, that she has an agenda. More importantly, however, is the doctrine of the Real Presence. As an above average amateur theologian, I don’t care so much for Father Bryne’s articulation of it in that second press release in which he said something like the Eucharist “is the real presence of Christ.” The doctrine is summed up in shorthand as the Real Presence or transubstantiation, however “real presence” is not the definition of the doctrine itself.

    “Real presence” can mean many things, i.e., it is Christ’s real spiritual “presence,” kind of like the “force” in Star Wars. But that is most definitely not what the Church teaches. The Eucharist is Jesus Christ himself, body, blood, soul and divinity; it is the same Jesus who raised Lazarus and Jairus’s daughter from the dead; it is not a “spiritual” Jesus different from that historical person in some way. I think it’s important to be precise here so no further confusion results.

  16. Robert Klingle says:

    I remember President Regan was given Communion and he was not Catholic. Nothing was ever done about that. rules are sometimes rules and sometimes rules are not rules. Hard to keep it straight.

  17. Christine says:

    With regard to this comment: “All have said the same thing: based on the scant information available, under the circumstances (a family a funeral, a brief and sketchy conversation moments before Mass) they would not have done what that priest did.”

    I find it absurd to fail to show the priest the proper level of deference in this situation. You were not there. And just because a handful of people that you know personally have one opinion does not make the opinion correct. Use some logic. I could come up with just as many priests or more who might indicate that they agree with what this priest did. In light of the fact that you do not know the lesbian personally, it is inappropriate to assume that she had the best of intentions. Grown adults such as this lesbian should act like grown adults. It is an adult’s responsibility to take it upon themselves to catechize themselves if they were not properly catechized growing up. I personally have not presented myself for communion during times when I have had any doubts about Catholic teaching. This woman should have been mature enough and educated enough to take responsibility for staying in her seat during communion. She is failing to act like a grown adult, and I don’t see how publicly siding against the priest is appropriate. Based on what you yourself called SCANT information, I find it absurd for you to publicly side against a priest.

  18. Deacon Greg,
    Thanks for the update on this blown-out-of-proportion event. I’m a new Catholic and I am finding myself surprised by the Media’s blindness to Church teaching and the complete lack of sensitivity in reporting about it. I have seen it so much that I felt lead to write – trying to correct the Media’s view on Church issues. I recently wrote about this subject and would love to get your feedback.

    A Dog in the Library


  19. Julianne Wiley says:

    I have a question based on an encounter I once witnessed n an Orthodox Church in North Carolina.

    A man approached the priest for Communion, and the priest engaged in a quiet conversation with him, and then the man walked away without receiving. I couldn’t hear what was said, but a parishioner who was standing much closer, explained to me later that the priest had said that the man needed to talk to him after the Divine Liturgy.

    The priest and the man had this private conversation; apparently any questions regarding the suitability of his receiving Communion were resolved; and the man then received a portion of the Communion which had been reserved for him. (This happened perhaps 10 years ago, and is as I undestood it at the time.)

    Wouldn’t his be a prudent pastoral practice fo Catholic priests as well? Quietly ask the person to speak with the priest after Mass; resolve any questions, including sacramental Reconciliation if necessary; then offer Commuion in good faith. This would protect the spiritual well-beng of the recipient, as well as preventing sacrilegious reception and scandal, which in some cases mght otherwise be severe.

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