Theresa Nino, 53, whose family has gone to St. John Neumann for more than a decade, said Guarnizo reenergized the orthodoxy with regular lectures and his traditional Latin Mass. Most parishioners, particularly older ones, “feel outraged. They feel he’s being railroaded by people who don’t even belong to the parish,” Nino said.
She admired Guarnizo’s leadership at weekly protests outside a Germantown clinic that performs late-term abortions. In speeches to dozens of protesters, the priest has referred to LeRoy Carhart, a physician, as “the butcher of Germantown,” equating abortion with the actions of Nazi war criminals. Carhart, in an interview, said he and his staff were afraid of Guarnizo.
“He is the most likely person to push the boundaries in terms of trespassing and harassing women,” Carhart said. “If there is personal space between you and him, he’s invading it. It gives you an intimidating feeling.”
What’s next for Guarnizo is unclear. In his statement, he questioned the Washington archdiocese’s handling of the case and its allegations of his intimidation. Some Catholic commentators noted how unusual it is for a priest to publicly contradict and criticize his superiors. Doctrine dictates that priests are to be submissive to their bishops.
“If I was Cardinal [Donald W.] Wuerl, I’d buy him a one-way ticket to Moscow,” the Rev. Thomas Reese, a Washington Jesuit and former editor of liberal Catholic magazine America, said in reference to the archbishop of Washington. “These days, arch-conservative priests feel much more comfortable attacking their bishops than do liberals because they feel they’ll get support from conservative Catholic blogs and maybe some in the Vatican.”
In his statement, Guarnizo said, “I remain my bishop’s and my Church’s, and above all Christ Jesus’ obedient servant.” Since he was not ordained in Washington, his bishop is technically Archbishop Paolo Pezzi of Moscow. The Rev. Kirill Gorbunov, spokesman for Pezzi, said the archbishop had no comment on the situation. He knew of no plans for Guarnizo to return to Moscow.
While the priest has been fiercely attacked by liberal Catholics and non-Catholics, conservative Catholics have rushed to defend Guarnizo‘s decision to deny Johnson Communion. That Johnson ultimately received the sacrament from a lay minister that day hardly seems to matter at this point.
The vitriol the incident has unleashed online has unnerved Johnson and her family.
She has found some comfort at the grave site of her parents. She has visited them three times in recent weeks. She brings her father a carton of his favorite chocolate milk. She brings her mother yellow flowers, a gift her husband sometimes surprised her with when they were alive.
They are buried side by side in a Montgomery County Catholic cemetery, where they share a single marker that features a rosary at its center. Beside Loetta R. Johnson’s name is a bas-relief figure of the Virgin Mary. Beside Theodore E. Johnson’s name is a bas-relief figure of Jude the Apostle, the patron saint of impossible causes.
Staff writer Kathy Lally in Moscow contributed to this report.