On the Priest Who Bit a Would-be Communicant

On the Priest Who Bit a Would-be Communicant May 27, 2024

a priest at the altar holding a Host
image via Pixabay

All week, the people have been clamoring about a priest who bit a woman trying to receive Communion at Mass.

I was bemused because I kept seeing that headline in isolation and wondering what on earth was going on. Everything about the story seemed bizarre. People were saying conflicting things about it. Somehow, a woman tried to receive Communion at Thomas Aquinas Church in Saint Cloud, Florida, and the priest bit her.  I couldn’t imagine how such an event could take place.

For days, I didn’t realize there was video footage of the encounter, but there is: you can see that a woman approaches the priest; others attempt to pull her away from the priest, but she lunges at the priest and reaches for him. Later, in an interview with the TV news, it’s explained that this is the second time she tried to receive Holy Communion at the same church that day.  The priest realized she wasn’t a practicing Catholic and turned her away, but she came back and did it anyway as disruptively as she could, and he bit her while trying to keep her hand out of the ciborium. That seems to be the sequence of events. Later, she told the news “He wouldn’t give me a cookie,” further underlining that she’s not Catholic at all. The person with her adds that she resisted the Host being placed in her mouth (which she calls “force”) and tried to take one out of the ciborium as well, all signs that those women didn’t know how to receive Holy Communion and didn’t know anything about the ritual they were disrupting.

I’m probably not going to make anyone happy with my assessment of the situation.

I’ve developed a reputation for being a left-wing lunatic, and in some ways I’ve earned that. I write about abusive priests quite a lot and I’m the first to say that priests can be violent and belligerent for no reason. I certainly suspected that was the case when I saw the headline. But I still think that woman was in the wrong. You should not try to receive Holy Communion if you’re not a practicing Catholic. That’s deeply offensive. I don’t even have to go so far as a theological argument that it’s offensive, though of course plenty of those exist. But we don’t have to share any of the same beliefs about the Eucharist to know that it’s wrong. You should never receive Communion at a church you don’t belong to unless that church’s custom is to have open communion, because that’s cultural appropriation. Just don’t do it. Especially don’t assault the priests or the EMHC and stick your hand in the ciborium when you’re being turned away– and yes, invading someone’s personal space, not going away when the person is resisting you, and reaching to try and grab something that person is holding do meet the criteria for assault. She did assault him.

That said: no, the priest shouldn’t have bitten her.

I think he was justified in defending himself because he was being assaulted, but biting was taking it too far and was a dangerous idea anyway. Biting is most often a really bad method of self-defense. It spreads germs, both to the biter and the one who’s been bitten. The general rule for self-defense is always to use the minimum necessary force and to retreat as quickly as possible. It would have been better to clamp one hand over the Ciborium and back towards the Sacristy while yelling “SECURITY!” But I don’t think the priest consciously PLANNED on biting her, I think he panicked. I would’ve panicked too.

Furthermore, I should point out that it sounds as though the woman was mentally ill. I don’t think someone who was thinking clearly would storm in to multiple Masses at the same parish, assault the pastor and babble about “a cookie.”  My long-term readers know that I had a severely mentally ill stalker for a neighbor for several years, so I know something about dealing with a person who is out of their mind and trying to hurt you. There aren’t any good options in a situation like that. It’s a nasty, traumatic ordeal made worse by the fact that the person doing the attacking can’t really help it. No, the fact that someone is having a psychotic break or a manic episode or the like doesn’t give them the right to hurt other people. But they’re not PLANNING to be destructive, and yet that’s how they’re acting. This is a situation where there were no good solutions.

And then there are the people who claim the priest was “defending the Eucharist.”

I’m not sure how to feel about that.

I don’t think you should desecrate the Eucharist, obviously. It makes me sad just thinking about it. But what is the Eucharist?

The Eucharist is Jesus, under the disguise of bread, inviting us to take and eat.

After Jesus had instituted the first Mass, He went out into the garden with His newly ordained Apostles, the first priests in His new church, and had a panic attack by Himself while they slept. And then, when the soldiers came to desecrate Him, Peter the very first Pope stood up with his sword and struck one of them on the ear.  And Jesus rebuked the Pope and told him to put the sword away. He healed the person who had come to murder Him. He let them arrest Him and lynch Him, and forgave them as they nailed Him to the cross. So it seems to me that priests should never be violent, when defending the Eucharist. In fact, it seems that the best way to honor the Eucharist would be to consciously resist any violence at all and heal the people who mean the Eucharist harm.

Anyway, until any further evidence comes out, those are my thoughts upon seeing the video footage of this unfortunate event. It wasn’t the priest’s fault, he could have reacted better, and I think Jesus doesn’t want us to “defend” Him in that way.

Let’s all try to make it a better world.

 

 

Mary Pezzulo is the author of Meditations on the Way of the Cross, The Sorrows and Joys of Mary, and Stumbling into Grace: How We Meet God in Tiny Works of Mercy.

 

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