Gaithersburg Priest Involved In Funeral Controversy
GAITHERSBURG, Md. (WUSA) -- It's been an extremely difficult week for Barbara Johnson -- perhaps the most difficult week of her life.
It all started on Saturday at St. John Neumann Catholic Church in Gaithersburg, where friends and family had gathered to say goodbye to Barbara's mother, who died last week after a brief illness.
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Just a few minutes before the funeral began, Father Marcel Guarnizo, who was presiding over the service, apparently learned that Barbara was involved in a romantic relationship with another woman.
A lifelong Catholic and former Catholic school teacher, Barbara says she hadn't even considered that her sexual orientation would be a problem with Father Marcel until she stepped forward to take communion.
"He said, 'I can not give you communion because you live with a woman,'" Barbara says.
Though shaken by Father Marcel's actions, Barbara says she tried to compose herself to give her mother the dignified funeral she deserved. So a few minutes later, Barbara began her eulogy.
"At which time Father Marcel left the altar and didn't return until I finished my eulogy," Barbara says.
According to Barbara, things got even worse, because after first refusing to give her communion, and then walking off the altar when Barbara was giving her eulogy, Father Marcel refused to go with Barbara's mother's body to the cemetery in Aspen Hill. Barbara says she was told that Father Marcel had suddenly become ill.
In a written statement, the Archdiocese of Washington conceded that Father Marcel had acted improperly, saying, "Any issues regarding the suitability of an individual to receive communion should be addressed by the priest with that person in a private, pastoral setting."
Barbara Johnson says she's satisfied with the statement, though she adds that the damage done, both to her family and to her mother's memory, could never be repaired.
"We don't get a do-over. This was her one moment to pass from this earth," Barbara says.