The letter from Bishop Barry Knestout, a top administrator in the archdiocese, which covers Washington and its Maryland suburbs, says the punishment was for “engaging in intimidating behavior toward parish staff and others that is incompatible with proper priestly ministry.”
The archdiocese on Sunday confirmed Guarnizo’s removal and noted that Knestout’s letter was read at all Masses this weekend at the church where he served, St. John Neumann Catholic Church. The pastor there, the Rev. Thomas LaHood, said the removal was not related to the Communion controversy but “pertains to actions over the past week or two.” He did not elaborate.
In announcing the penalty Sunday, LaHood spoke at some length about disagreements that have emerged in the parish because of what happened at the funeral Mass. “As we know, there’s been disagreement within the parish over how and to whom Communion is distributed,” he said before reading the letter. “From my perspective, this disagreement and related emotions flow from love. Love for Christ, really and truly present in the Eucharist. However, how we live out this love is important. The scriptures tell us that we are known above all by how we love.”
Later, he said: “I realize this letter is hard to hear.” He told parishioners that it involved a “personnel issue, dealing with issues of ministry in the church.”
Lahood said, “Father Guarnizo will have every opportunity to present his position."
An archdiocesan spokeswoman would not clarify whether LaHood’s comments meant that Guarnizo would not be penalized for his handling of Barbara Johnson at the funeral.
Johnson, 51, a D.C. artist, has said that as she approached Guarnizo in the Communion line that day, he covered the bread and told her that he could not give her the sacrament “because you live with a woman, and in the eyes of the church, that is a sin.”
Guarnizo has refused to comment on what happened at the Mass.
Several bloggers have defended Guarnizo and claimed, citing anonymous witnesses, that Johnson’s version of events is inaccurate.
Johnson declined to comment Sunday beyond this statement:
“The Johnson family continues to pray for the Archdiocese of Washington, Father Guarnizo, and all Catholics during this time of upheaval. While we understand this letter does not pertain to the events that occurred at our mother's funeral, we are hopeful that Bishop Knestout’s decision will ensure that no others will have to undergo the traumatic experiences brought upon our family. We urge all Catholics to put aside political points of view, and pray that our Church will remain in Christ’s love.”