Fr. Marcel Guzman, the founder of Aid to the Church in Russia who was recently “suspended” for charges of “intimidating behavior” after he refused Communion to a Buddhist Lesbian at a funeral (who proceeded to receive from the EMC, which shows her lack of respect for the Eucharist and the reason we should not be using lay EMCs), has issued a statement in his self-defense.
Now, here’s the situation as Fr. Guzman explains it:
1. He heard Confessions for an hour before the funeral.
2. After he was done hearing Confessions, but while he was vesting in the sacristy, Barbara Johnson, the decedent’s daughter, introduced herself to him and introduced another woman with her as her “lover.” He began to say something, and Johnson immediately turned and left. He tried to follow, but her “lover” positioned herself in the door way so he couldn’t get by (who’s engaging in “intimidating behavior”?).
3. Johnson came up for Communion. He put his hand over the paten and very quietly refused her communion–contrary to statements that he publicly proclaimed her sins to everyone–so quietly that even the EMC standing next to him did not hear. Johnson went over to the EMC and took Communion sacrilegiously.
4. During 25 minutes of eulogies (which, of course, shouldn’t be happening at Catholic funerals), Fr. Guzman left for a few moments to take some migraine medicine because he felt a migraine coming on.
5. He finished the funeral and accompanied the body to the hearse, but he felt the migraine coming on full force, so he asked another priest to cover for him at the grave site.
6. He says that while people keep arguing Canon 915, Canon 915 has nothing to do with this situation. As I’ve argued regarding this case and regarding the Archdiocese of Washington “policy” in general (discussed below), there are other situations about Communion that have nothing to do with Canon 915: such as when a person comes to Communion drunk or immodestly dressed or high on drugs or something. He said this was that sort of situation.
7. Contrary to reports (and the claims of the aux. bishop of Washington, Barry Knestout) that there were “long-standing” reports of “intimidating behavior,” Fr. Guzman says that the bishop told him directly that the “accusations” came from two conversations with participants in the funeral, and Fr. remembers both conversations being civil. Bishop Knestout had the letter signed on his desk when Fr. Guzman came to meet him to “discuss” the matter. This sounds more and more like Bishop Loverde’s treatment of Fr. Haley and Fr. Clark (the latter of whom sucessfully appealed his case to the Vatican).
Now, here’s what we knew about the case before Fr. Guzman’s statement:
8. Johnson didn’t say it to him, but she’s a practicing Buddhist, and not even Catholic.
9. Bishop Knestout says that the official policy of the Archdiocese is never to deny anyone Communion (even in the cases like someone who’s visibly drunk?) A priest, according to the Archdiocese of Washington, should privately advise people who are unworthy not to receive, but never refuse someone who presents himself/herself. This policy was established by Theodore Cardinal McCarrick and apparently not rescinded by Cardinal Wuerl, who claimed he would at least honor the decisions of other bishops regarding politicians (i.e., the bishop of Kansas City, who has since been arrested on trumped-up charges, telling Kathleen Sebelius she’s not to present herself for Communion). McCarrick infamously said that he didn’t believe in turning Communion into a “fight.” This is presumably also the position of San Francisco’s Archbishop George Niederauer, who infamously gave Communion to members of the notorious “Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence,” claiming that he didn’t know who they were and just thought they were “oddly dressed.”
10. Barbara Johnson made all sorts of accusations about Fr. Guzman’s demeanor which he says aren’t true, and she implied that he made up the migraine just to snub her family.
11. Fr. Guzman’s situation is rather tricky. He’s founder of Aid to the Church in Russia. He was ordained in Russia and is incardinated as a priest in a Russian diocese; he is only officially a visiting priest in the Archdiocese of Washington, and he was only serving as a parochial vicar. He is not “suspended” as a priest; he is merely on “administrative leave” and has had his *faculties* suspended in that Archdiocese (so, for example, he could get faculties from Bishop Loverde of Arlington–though I doubt Loverde would do it–and begin serving in that diocese). A canonical suspension would mean that he can’t serve as a priest, period, until the Archdiocese says otherwise, but he’d have to be incardinated in that diocese to have that happen. Any bishop in the US who wants to pick up a priest can grant Fr. Guzman faculties tomorrow.
Now, prior to this statement by Fr. Guzman, my “take” on the situation had been that I think this is a situation where both sides were a little right and a little wrong, though I thought it was clearly a hit job by a liberal Archdiocese against a conservative priest. I know someone who used to work for him at Aid to the Church in Russia and complained about how difficult he was to work for, but Fr. Guzman has now said that the Diocese didn’t say anything about long-standing disputes. On the other hand, as Fr. Dwight Longenecker has pointed out, accusations of “intimidating behavior” are made against priests all the time (esp. when they’re conservative), and are a great way for having a witch hunt.
Nothing triggers a migraine like anger or stress, and while I believe Fr. Guzman is sincere in saying he had one, I also believe he might have let Ms. Johnson’s intimidating behavior agitate him enough to give him a migraine. Even *if* the Archdiocese were acting on longstanding questions of Fr. Guzman’s temperament, this would be a horrible time to act on it, as it makes it look very much like the Archdiocese puts human respect above the sanctity of the Blessed Sacrament. In any case, my suggestion to Fr. Guzman would be to try and learn some relaxation techniques and study contemplative prayer to achieve some inner peace, so he can help prevent his migraines.
Regardless of whatever Fr. Guzman is or is not accused of doing, the Archdiocese’s policy of not denying anyone Communion is downright evil and needs to be overturned by the Vatican.
I also saw a comment somewhere by a Buddhist who said that Barbara Johnson’s actions were doubly offensive from a Buddhist standpoint. For one thing, she was being disruptive and making a show of herself to make a point, by forcing herself into a ceremony she did not belong in just to make a point and disrupt others’ peace (i.e., contrary to her claims about Fr. Guzman, *she* is the one who disrupted her mother’s funeral, and if her mother was at all deserving of a Catholic funeral, I’m sure her mother would agree). Secondly, she was engaging in the Buddhist equivalent of breaking the First Commandment: she claims to be a Buddhist yet is engaging in another religion’s service that symbolizes unity–either she’s a Buddhist or a Catholic; she can’t be both.
HOWEVER, having read Fr. Guzman’s statement, I have several observations about why I think Fr. Guzman’s self-defense rings true, especially when contrasted with Fr. John Corapi’s public statements last year.
1. In the Fr. Corapi situation, I saw a comment from a police officer who said, “Innocent people talk.” Fr. Corapi’s statements were very selective. He selected very few facts to discuss, always the ones in his favor, and totally ignored complete claims made by SOLT or others he was supposedly responding to. Instead, Fr. Corapi’s statements focused on deflection, attacking his accusers or critics. This police officer was saying that Fr. Corapi’s statements had all the tell-tale signs of someone lying, whereas an innocent person will give great detail about the facts and try to be as polite as possible to the accuser.
In this case, Barbara Johnson has gone out of her way to say what a horrible person she thinks Fr. Guzman is–and, let’s face it, she’s a lesbian, which means she already has issues with men, authority, etc. I’ve never met a lesbian, or even a heterosexual feminist, who didn’t have a deep-set hatred of men or see all men as inherently intimidating (which probably comes from unfortunate histories of abuse in their own backgrounds, but it’s unjust of them to accuse all men of abusive behavior because of whatever happened to them). Her mother’s Catholic, and she’s a Buddhist, which means she has nothing but antipathy towards the Catholic Faith. Fr. Guzman, however, never attacks Johnson in his statement, other than to mention the physically intimidating behavior engaged in by Johnson and her “lover.” He gives great detail on the day’s events, and the subsequent events from his perspective.
2. As an English teacher, I teach my students about critical reading techniques, and how to discern between two sources with contrary versions of events. Usually, we should presume both sources are manipulating the facts in their own favor, and I’m willing to grant that there may be a certain amount of that going on here.
However, the one with the agenda in this case, the one with the most to gain, is Barbara Johnson. Worst case scenario for Fr. Guzman is he goes back and serves his home diocese in Russia. Yes, he has a reputation to protect, but he doesn’t have the agenda that Johnson does. Everything Johnson has said and done in this situation is to push a radical homosexualist, anti-Catholic agenda. As one commenter noted, by not taking Fr. Guzman’s side, the Archdiocese of Washington has just given carte blanche for homosexualist protestors to do just what Johnson did: march into Catholic churches, whether they’re Catholic or not, present themselves for Communion and then try to get priests suspended for refusing them Communion.
Fr. Guzman’s worldly interests would be best served by acquiescing in the situation. Instead, he’s standing on principle. Again, a big difference from Fr. Corapi is that we’re talking about *principles*. No one is disputing the facts in this case, except for the question of Fr. Guzman’s demeanor and the question of his migraine. Fr. Guzman is not accused of any real wrongdoing. He’s being accused of being “mean.” He’s being accused of violating a diocesan policy that is itself unjust and sacrilegious. So it’s not the same thing as a priest refusing to comply with a legitimate investigation in to allegations of wrongdoing.
Further, in the “he said/she said” aspect of it, his description of events perfectly conforms with what she said–she’s just making allegations about his motives and attitude.
I think Fr. Guzman’s best call is to seek out a friendly bishop who will take him in–I’m sure there are at least a few, maybe Vasa or Jurgis or someone like that–and shake the dust of Washington, DC, off his feet.