The Archdiocese of Washington is apologizing to a local woman for a priest's alleged behavior at her mother's funeral.
Barbara Johnson says the priest denied her communion at the Mass because of her sexual orientation. Now her family is calling for the priest to be removed from any parish ministry.
The death of Johnson's mother was difficult enough to process, but at her funeral Mass at Saint John Neumann Catholic Church last Saturday, Johnson's grief was replaced by anger.
She says she was bullied by a priest because she was accompanied by her partner of 19 years.
"[The priest] covered the bowl carrying the Eucharist with his hand and looked at me and said, 'I cannot give you communion because you live with a woman and that is a sin in the eyes of the church.'"
Her family was shocked when the priest, Father Marcel Guarnizo, then left the alter during her eulogy to her mother.
"It was clearly a rebuke of me, it was a very personal response to me," Johnson said.
She says what upsets her the most is what happened after the funeral. Guarnizo claimed to have a migraine headache so he did not accompany the family to the cemetery. That left the family scrambling to find a last-minute replacement. A priest was eventually found to offer a final blessing at the burial site, but Johnson said the damage had already been done.
"I believe that he treated my mother's soul unjustly, "Johnson said. "More than anything he did to anyone else, Fr. Marcel sinned against my mother. This is holding me and my entire family back from mourning."
Johnson's brother Larry says his mother and his entire family deserved better.
"I don't really want to make this about the church, about gay rights," Larry said. "It's simply about a priest who denied my family the proper respect owed at the most personal time of one's life."
Their story is now generating national headlines and its gone viral online.
Reactions are mixed. Some defend the priest citing Catholic teaching on homosexuality.
""I don't think they should deny anybody communion."
"I mean he has his own personal beliefs and she has hers. So I can understand both sides of that."
"I just think it's unfortunate. That shouldn't happen."
The Archdiocese of Washington has apologized. In personal letters to Johnson and her family from the Auxiliary Bishop, he said:
I am sorry that what should have been a celebration of your mother's life, in light of her faith in Jesus Christ, was overshadowed by a lack of pastoral sensitivity. I hope that healing and reconciliation with the Church might be possible for you and any others who were affected by this experience.
The family says it appreciates the letters but wants Fr. Marcel removed from parish life.
"This priest is the one who owes us the apology. This priest is the one who's conduct was repugnant," Larry said.
An Archdiocese official says priests should not publicly reprimand parishioners but the Archdiocese is still looking into the incident and won't comment further on personnel issues.
"The most important thing is that another family never ever go through what this family went though. We would never want another family exposed to that kind of behavior."