Thursday, March 29, 2012

When a priest refuses communion to a public sinner, it is not to protect the Eucharist

The recent controversy over the withholding of communion by Fr. Guarnizo has sparked numerous canonical and pastoral discussions in the Catholic blogosphere. Dr. Ed Peters (to my mind) has summed up well the canonical questions in numerous articles [here] – though, to be sure, some questions still remain as to what constitutes a “public” sinner [here].
However, rather than entering immediately into the debated case of Fr. Guarnizo and Ms. Johnson, it may be good to step back and consider the question of unworthy communion in general and then turn to the first case of sacrilegious communion which occurred when Judas took the Eucharist at the Last Supper.

Is sacrilegious communion the worst sin?
In the most blessed Sacrament is a twofold reality: One which is both signified and contained, namely, the Christ himself; and another which is signified but not contained, namely, Christ’s mystical body, which is the Church.
Now, for this reason, only those who are incorporated into the members of Christ and are one with him through a living faith (that is, faith united to charity) may receive the sacrament of the Eucharist. Thus, whoever receives communion while in mortal sin is guilty of lying to the blessed Sacrament and of a grave sacrilege. Hence, such a man sins mortally.
To receive communion unworthily (i.e. in the state of mortal sin) is in the third class of most grave sins. The worst sins of all are those by which we offend the Godhead directly, as unbelief and blasphemy. Then are those sins which are directed immediately against the sacred Humanity of our Savior, as when the soldiers beat our Lord. And, in the third place of gravity, are those sins against the sacraments – and among these, sacrileges against the Eucharist seem to be the worst of all.
Did Judas receive communion at the Last Supper?
The vast tradition on this point is that Jesus did give the Eucharist to Judas at the Last Supper. While it is true that St. Hilary (commenting on Matthew 26:17) does not believe that our Savior gave Judas his Body and Blood, Sts. Dionysius (Eccl. Hier. iii) and Augustine (Tract. lxii in Joan.) affirm that Judas did indeed receive communion (sacrilegiously) from our Lord. Further this is the opinion of St. Thomas, together with Origen, Cyril, Chrysostom, Ambrose, Leo, Cyprian, Bede the Venerable, Robanus, Suarez and also Fr. Cornelius a’ Lapide.
We can see that Judas did indeed receive communion (in an unworthy manner) at the Last Supper since St. Matthew states that all twelve of the Apostles sat with our Savior at the supper. This is why our Lord said to them, while they were eating: Amen I say to you, that one of you is about to betray me. (Matthew 26:21) Hence, it is clear that Judas the betrayer was yet present among them as they consumed the Eucharist.
Further, St. Luke also adds that, after the consecration of the chalice, Christ said But yet behold, the hand that betrayeth me is with me on the table. (Luke 21:21) From this it is clear that Judas was present and did indeed receive the sacred Eucharist at the Last Supper.
Finally, we point out that “without any doubt Judas did not receive Christ’s body in the dipped bread; he received mere bread [at that time].” (St. Thomas, ST III,q.81, a.2, ad 3) In other words, the bread which Jesus dipped and gave to Judas was most certainly not the Eucharist – Judas had already made his sacrilegious communion under both species, and upon receive this morsel went out immediately.
When denying communion to a public sinner, the priest is attempting to avoid scandal not sacrilege
Now, many who have been discussing the case of Fr. Guarnizo have considered the question almost entirely within the context of sacrilege. This is most especially prominent in the comment boxes of various blogs.
I maintain, however, that even in those cases when a priest must refuse communion to a public sinner, this is done not so much for the protection of the Eucharist from sacrilege, nor even for the spiritual benefit of the sinner, but rather for the sake of the community.
It is clear that the priest does not have an obligation (nor even a right) to protect the Eucharist from sacrilegious communions. Christ our Savior did not deny the Eucharist to Judas, even though he knew that this would be a terrible sacrilege. Judas’ sin was yet hidden, and so our Lord did not reveal the sin by refusing him communion. So too, priests must not reveal hidden sins through the denial of communion.
From this, it should be quite clear that the priest has not the authority to protect the Eucharist from sacrilegious communions made by hidden sinners. Even if a priest knows that a person is in mortal sin, if this sin is not public, he must not deny the sinner communion. Obviously, priests have a duty to explain to the people that communion is only to be received by those in the state of grace and united to the Catholic Church – but this is to be done through preaching, confession, and individual counseling.
Now, the Church requires that the priest refuse to distribute communion to public and manifest sinners. However, in doing so, the priest is clearly not acting primarily for the purpose of protecting the Eucharist from sacrilege, but rather in order to protect those present at the Mass from scandal.
If the priest did have a duty to protect the Eucharist from sacrilegious communions by denying communion to all those whom he knows to be obstinate in grave sin, then our Savior would have acted wrongly in giving Judas communion at the Last Supper. However, the priest does not (and must not) refuse communion to a sinner as a means (primarily) of protecting the Eucharist from sacrilege.
Rather, in those cases where a priest must refuse communion to a public sinner, the priest acts so as to protect the community from the scandal which would ensue should one who is obviously not united to the Church make a mockery of communion and lie to both the Blessed Sacrament and the Church by receiving the sacrament of unity while obviously divided from the mystical body of Christ.
An observation regarding the case of Fr. Guarnizo and Ms. Johnson
I notice that many of those who are defending Fr. Guarnizo speak primarily about how he protected the Eucharist from sacrilege. In this, they err. Fr. Guarnizo (if he did act rightly) acted so as to defend the community at the funeral Mass from scandal. It was not, at that moment, Father’s duty or prerogative to prevent a sacrilegious communion – thus, assuming the most charitable attitude toward Fr. Guarnizo, one must presume that he acted so as to prevent public scandal (and I do indeed presume his good intention, though I think he erred in his judgment that Ms. Johnson’s sin was canonically “manifest”).
However, let us consider the fact that Ms. Johnson did indeed receive communion at that Mass. It has, after all, been reported numerous times that she received communion from another immediately after being denied by Fr. Guarnizo.
Given that Ms. Johnson’s sin is now quite public and manifest (whether or not it was at the time, it certainly is now), it seems quite clear that the level of public scandal which has ensued from the denial of communion followed by the subsequent reception of the Sacrament from an extraordinary minister of communion is much greater than whatever the scandal would have been had Ms. Johnson not been refused communion in the first place.
In other words, the Christian faithful, whom Fr. Guarnizo must protect from the scandal of publicly sacrilegious communions, have been more scandalized and harmed in this case than if Ms. Johnson had simply been allowed to receive communion quietly.
Thus, it seems that either: 1) Fr. Guarnizo acted wrongly in denying Ms. Johnson communion, because her sin was not yet truly “manifest” (this is the position of Dr. Peters’, as I understand it).
Or, 2) Fr. Guarnizo acted rightly in denying Ms. Johnson communion, but then immediately failed in his duty when he allowed her to receive the Eucharist from an extraordinary minister, since this increased the scandal greatly (now, not only is the community present at the funeral scandalized, but also the much wider body of Catholics who heard of the incident in the news).
In other words, if Fr. Guarnizo was right to have denied communion to Ms. Johnson in the first place, it is clear that he must have erred gravely in permitting her to receive from an extraordinary minister.
If, on the other hand, Ms. Johnson was (at the time of the Mass) a hidden sinner and the communion would not have been a “public” sacrilege, then Fr. Guarnizo erred in refusing her communion.
In any case, those priests who refuse communion to public sinners must not do so primarily as a means of protecting the Eucharist from sacrilege. Rather, the priest must consider the Christian community and strive to protect the faithful from scandal.


Dan said...

I believe that the denial of the Eucharist may also be a way of admonishing the unworthy. Hopefully the denial will lead the person to repentance and reconcilliation with the Church.

AAA said...

Excellent post Fr. Ryan!

Unfortunately, canon lawyers who have been posting against Fr. Guarnizo are just too eager to crucify the poor priest that they have missed the spirit of the canon.

In doing so, they actually caused additional scandal.

El Padre said...

I think this is an excellent defense of Fr. Guarnizo's actions.

Adoro said...

This does not read as very logical to me.

First of all, the woman in question revealed she was not Catholic, directly, to the priest, and then revealed she was living in sin. While the canon of "manifest grave sin" did not apply to her since she was not then a public figure (like, say Pelosi), the fact was that the priest was well informed as to her state and could refuse her Holy Communion on the simple basis that she had directly revealed she was not eligible since she was not Catholic.

Also...Fr. did not create public scandal because he was discreet in refusing her, and the Extraordinary Ministry of Holy Communion had no idea the woman had been refused and had not been told not to offer Our Lord to her. The only reason she was "allowed" was by being allowed to serve and yes, that comes back to the priest.

The woman herself. Ms. Johnson, created scandal by her behavior and public revelations.

The fact is that the teaching and canon, in true Catholic fashion are not "either/or" but "both-and"!

The Most Sacred Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity are protected both from sacrilege and scandal: the former on behalf of the soul (the single soul for whom Christ died, had there been only one soul for whom to ransom) AND for those who would be led into sin by the permissiveness of the priest to offer Our Lord to those who are known publicly to express dissent and therefore not be disposed.

Please, for the love of God, if I walk up to you and, without the benefit or intent of the Sacrament of Confession, spout that I am not Catholic and am embracing a life of sin, and then walk up to receive the Eucharist, DENY me the Eucharist! Deny Him for the sake of my salvation AND for the sake of the souls in your congregation.

And then please implore me to come Home.

For want of such simple discipline, so many souls become embroiled in manifest grave sin, and scandal is what happens when such a pot boils.

Kate Edwards said...

While I agree with the broad thrust of your argument, I'm not sure it is quite that straightforward on either point.

In the case of Judas, isn't it a little unclear just how far he had gone at this point? He hadn't yet been paid, and could still have changed his mind.

Instead, the Gospel seems to imply that his heart hardened at this point.

On sacrilege, while I agree priests don't have an absolute duty here, but rather one that is shared with those who present themselves to receive, still they do have a duty to act to prevent sacrilige in some cases, for example by refusing communion in the hand where there is some risk of profanation.

And presumably if an occult sinner did present themselves for communion, the priest would be under at least a moral obligation to counsel him or her privately afterwards to prevent a repetition of the offence?

A Sinner said...

Scandalized into what sin, specifically?

ServusMariaeN said...


How could Father Guarnizo have prevented Ms Johnson from receiving from the Extraordinary minister?

Bernonensis said...

Father, although I am in general agreement with your analysis of this sad situation, I am not certain that the fact of Ms Johnson's receiving Communion means that Fr. Guarnizo "allowed" it, or even that he can be faulted for neglecting to prevent it. The action of giving/receiving the Host is so brief that it may have occurred before he was aware of it or had time to intervene, assuming there was a practical way of doing so.

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

TO ALL: Anonymous comments will not be posted.

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

@A Sinner,
When a public sinner receives communion it makes those in mortal sin think that there must not be anything wrong with unworthy communions.
Thus, both public and hidden sinners are scandalized into making unworthy communions.

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

@servusmariaen and Bernonensis,
Father Guarnizo made a big point about the fact that he denied Ms. Johnson very discreetly and allowed her to receive communion from the minister WHO WAS STANDING RIGHT NEXT TO HIM.
Now, there is no way to excuse this.

Either: 1) She is a public sinner and should not be admitted to communion on the second attempt.
or 2) She is not a public sinner and should have been admitted to communion right off.

As I priest, I have several times had to stop the line to intervene in situations with extraordinary ministers of Holy Communion ... it's not that difficult.

In this case, Fr. Guarnizo's own defense proves him wrong (one way or the other).

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

You make a very good point about a priest denying communion in the hand in places where there is danger of stealing the Host (as at the Vatican, for example).

Yes, certainly in such cases the priest acts so as to protect the Eucharist from sacrilege.
You are correct there.

However, my point in this article is about denying communion to public sinners ... and here the priest acts to protect scandal rather than sacrilege.

Again, you are certainly right that the priest has a moral obligation to instruct the private sinner (as well as public sinners) about the need to make a good confession before coming to communion.

In this regard, Fr. Guarnizo did very well -- speaking to Ms. Johnson in the sacristy before Mass.
(though, I believe, he erred one way or the other during the Mass itself)

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...


Please understand ... the Church teaches (in Canon Law), together with St. Thomas Aquinas and the whole Tradition, a priest simply CANNOT refuse communion to a private or hidden sinner.

Yes, it is very sad that people make sacrilegious communions ... bu the time to stop these is not in the communion line, but when preaching from the pulpit and in the confessional.

Priests need to start preaching about the need for confession after the most common mortal sins (like: skipping Sunday Mass, contraception, sins against purity, etc).
Also, when a penitent confesses a mortal sin, the Confessor has a moral obligation to question and instruct the penitent regarding the reception of communion in the state of sin.

HOWEVER, the priest simply cannot deny communion to someone who has not committed a "manifest grave sin".

Now: Either Ms. Johnson was a hidden sinner (as you say), and then Father should have given her communion.
Or, Ms. Johnson was a public sinner (as others say), and then Father should have also told the minister WHO WAS STANDING RIGHT NEXT TO HIM that she is a public sinner and must not be given communion.

This whole bit about being "discreet in refusing communion" is nonsense ... either she is a public sinner and the refusal should be public ... or she is a hidden sinner and she should not be refused.

I hope it is a bit clearer now ... thank you for a very spirited comment! :-)

Mick Jagger Gathers No Mosque said...

If I were a homosexual Catholic and I saw a Priest distribute Communion to my partner in sexual lust, I could, slyly, accuse that Priest of being guilty of trying to increase the intensity of the torments of Hell for my partner because one's torments in Hell are increased to the degree than on Earth that man acted in ways - such as receiving Communion in a state of Mortal Sin - that would necessarily increase the intensity of his punishment in Hell.

Communion as Hate act.. I can see the headlines in "The Blade" right now.

Aged parent said...

Dear Father:

I'm afraid that, with all due respect to your cloth, we do not speak the same Catholic language, and, sad to say, much of the blame for this situation must be laid at the door of the Church, whose recent Pontiffs have been very good at PR but not so good at spreading the Faith.

Your arguments are convoluted, Father. We know as children that we are not to receive the Sacrament unworthily. We know that to receive the Sacrament unworthily brings judgment upon ourselves. We also know that a priest must refuse the Sacrament, if he knows that the one who wants to receive is a public sinner. We also know, tragically, that many weak-kneed, cowardly and ineffectual priests, Bishops and Cardinals have given the Host to public sinners, and we know that they share in the sin when we do that.

That is how we were taught, Father, and that is how the Church has always so believed. Johnson, apart from being a Buddhist (which would make her reception sacrilegious on that score alone), proudly identified her sexual perversion to Father Guarnizo. He had no other choice, and in this act of "tough love" towards a woman living in a state of unnatural vice, and therefore manifest mortal sin (her pride in her behavior is enough to convince anyone of how she is living her life) this priest was doing her a spiritual favor, protecting himself from sharing in her guilt, and respecting the Body and Blood of Our Lord. And, Father, no amount of mental gymnastics and convoluted logic is going to change that.

Dr Peters' pedantic writings on the subject are frankly unworthy of a canonist and can safely be ignored. As, I fear, can yours. This good priest deserves better than what some are giving him and I can only conclude that the reason for that is that when the subject of the homosexual perversion comes up ordinarily good people seem to take leave of their senses.

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

@Aged Parent,
You need to re-read the post a bit more carefully ...

I did not say (with certainty) that Ms Johnson was or was not a public sinner.
Nor did I say that Fr. Guarnizo certainly was wrong to refuse her communion.

However, if you are correct, then Fr. Guarnizo is just another one of the "many weak-kneed, cowardly and ineffectual priests" (as you call them) -- since he very publicly has stated that he allowed Ms. Johnson to receive communion from a lay minister who was standing right beside him.

Fr. Guarnizo, if he really did think Ms. Johnson was a public sinner, had a duty to tell the lay extraordinary minister of communion (who was only a foot or two from him, as he claims) that she was not to receive communion because of her manifest and public sins.

Thus, on one account or another, Fr. Guarnizo failed in his pastoral duty.

In any case, the point is that the priest must deny communion to public sinners.
And he does this to avoid scandal, more than sacrilege.
That is the claim I make in this article ... and Fr. Guarnizo failed in one aspect or another. +

Stomachosus said...

Father, speaking of the tradition of law on this point, I think you have overlooked the fact that occult sinners were to be denied communion when they attempted to receive privately.

The old 1917 CI had this

Can 855 §1. Arcendi sunt ab Eucharistia publice indigni, quales sunt excommunicati, interdicti manifestoque infames, nisi de eorum poenitentia et emendatione constet et publico scandalo prius satisfecerint.
§2. Occultos vero peccatores, si occulte petant et eos non emendatos agnoverit, minister repellat; non autem, si publice petant et sine scandalo ipsos praeterire nequeat.

§2 But the minister bars occult sinners, if they seek [the sacrament] secretly and he does not know them to be amended; but not if they publicly seek it and he cannot pass over them without scandal.

Now canon law has changed and I will leave it to people like Dr. Peters to answer how occult sinners should be treated when they seek the sacraments in private. But that under the 1917 Code even occult sinners were denied communion if they seek it in private or if the priest can pass over them without giving scandal indicates to me that there is more reason to deny communion than giving communion. Even when no scandal is involved, communion was denied. It was only when scandal would be involved that it wasn't!!

I do think this underscores how serious scandal is here, but it also points to other sufficient causes (considered in themselves) to deny communion

Kay said...

In every piece of information I've read on this case, including Fr. Guarnizo's own statement, I've had the impression that Fr. Guarnizo denied the woman Communion with the expectation that she would accept that refusal and go sit down. It is incomprehensible to me that the fact that she presented herself to the extraordinary minister standing "four feet away" was anything other than a defiant act on HER part. I think that action was entirely out of Fr. Guarnizo's control. I'm shocked at the suggestion that he "allowed" it or that he is in any way responsible for it.

Had he made a big scene at the time, can you imagine what kind of uproar would have occurred? I bet it would be a lot more than the uproar we've already seen.

There is so much misunderstanding about the Eucharist, more misunderstanding about canon law, more misunderstanding about how "inclusive" the Catholic church "ought" to be, and indeed, just how "backward" the church is for thinking that this woman or any other "liberated and enlightened" person might have been, oh my gosh, "living in sin."

I hope Fr. Guarnizo is safe and well somewhere. I think he absolutely did the right thing according to his conscience (and maybe according to canon law) and in some really difficult circumstances. We are praying for him by name and hopefully he can come out of this trial by fire and get back to his priestly ministry. It does appear that he has been treated unjustly and it certainly can't be pleasant to have all these armchair theologians and bloggers and commenters speculating about facts that we don't actually know.

Anonymous said...


After reading your post my knee-jerk reaction was to question some of its points, especially the one about Christ Himself offering the Eucharist to a sinner. But I took a few deep breaths, re-read your analysis and changed my mind. However horrible it may seem, I agree with you that the priest is not really obliged to prevent the sacrilegious reception of the Eucharist. The onus of the matter rests on the sinner whose sacrilege
only compounds his sinful condition. Free will in action!


Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

Thank you for the citation from the old Code.
Yes, I do agree with you that, when private communion is privately denied to a private sinner ... this is done to protect the Eucharist.

However, my point in this article is that the public denial of communion to a public sinner is not primarily about avoiding sacrilege, but scandal.

Still, I thank you for pointing out the practice from the 1917 Code.
The "scandal" to which you refer there is the scandal of having a private sinner publicly exposed without due cause -- meaning that protection of the Eucharist from sacrilege is not a just reason for exposing a private sinner.

Peace! +

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

I'm not sure to whom you are refer as "armchair theologians and bloggers" ... but I can tell you that I have numerous times stopped the communion line in order to intervene in a situation involving extraordinary ministers of communion who were standing more than a mere "four feet" from me.
It's not that difficult ... after all, it is the Body of Christ we are talking about -- is it really too much to ask a priest to go out of his way when it comes to the Blessed Sacrament?!

If this woman was a public sinner (and I don't think she was), then Fr. Guarnizo should have intervened rather than allowing the grave scandal of a public and manifest sinner receiving communion.

However, I don't think that (at the time) Ms. Johnson had been established as a public sinner ... thus, I would have given her communion right off.
I suspect that Fr. Guarnizo also knew she wasn't really a manifest public sinner, else he would not have allowed her to receive communion from another. +

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

Thanks for the input!
It is a very difficult question, to be sure! +

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

I have switched to embedded comments, since some said that this will make it easier to "subscribe by email."

Aged parent said...


I must insist that you stick to the facts. In your somewhat snide response to my post you indicated that Father Guarnizo "allowed" a lay person to give this poor wretch Communion. If that is what you think I would advise you to read carefully the facts of the matter.

When Father refused her Communion she immediately dashed over to some hapless "lay minister" (whatever that is) who, confused, simply gave her Communion.

As to which priest is "failing in his duty" on this matter, I can certainly say that it isn't Father Guarnizo.

Anonymous said...

"In other words, the Christian faithful, whom Fr. Guarnizo must protect from the scandal of publicly sacrilegious communions, have been more scandalized and harmed in this case than if Ms. Johnson had simply been allowed to receive communion quietly."

Dear Father, I think the world of you, but I disagree with you here. As one of the faithful in the pews, I would have been more scandalized had she been given Holy Communion quietly by the priest.

When all is said and done though, she had no business going up to receive to being with. She held herself out to be an adept on all things Catholic. Surely then she was aware of how the Church tells Her children not to receive Holy Communion in the state of mortal sin? Regardless of the fact that she doesn't regard herself in mortal sin, she should have had the dignity to respect the laws of the Church. This was, in my opinion, just another "in your face" moment, and, quite frankly, I have grown very tired of them.

A most blessed Holy Week to you!


Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

@Aged parent,
I'll just repeat what I said in a comment earlier:

"I can tell you that I have numerous times stopped the communion line in order to intervene in a situation involving extraordinary ministers of communion who were standing more than a mere "four feet" from me.
It's not that difficult ... after all, it is the Body of Christ we are talking about -- is it really too much to ask a priest to go out of his way when it comes to the Blessed Sacrament?!"

I wonder, why didn't Father tell the communion ministers that the woman (whom he supposedly considers to be a well known and manifest sinner) was not to be given communion?
I have done similar things on numerous occasions in my parish, it's not that hard.

Well ... whatever ... the whole incident shouldn't have happened. +

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

Thank you for your kind comment ... I do enjoy hearing from you from time to time! :-)

I doubt, however, that you would have been scandalized had you been at the Mass and Father given her communion ... how would you even have known she was a sinner?

In any case, Father has pointed out that most people there assumed that he did nothing at all to prevent her from receiving communion -- so, if she is a public sinner, then Father seems to me to have given scandal by allowing her to take communion from a minister standing right next to him.

Finally, you are most certainly quite right in your statement that she should not have been coming up for communion in the first place.
Fr. Guarinzo did a very good job of making that clear (to the best of his power) in the sacristy ... and I commend him for that!
But I do believe he erred (one way or the other) during the distribution of communion.

Let us pray for one another this Holy Week! +

SonofMonica said...

Why in the world would it be scandal to the congregation if it weren't wrong in the first instance for her to privately desecrate the Eucharist? This is a whole lot of pretzel-y thinking to me. If it's wrong in public, it's wrong in private.

Bernonensis said...

Father Erlenbush,

Here is Fr. Guarnizo's account of the incident: "...I quietly withheld communion, so quietly that even the Eucharistic Minister standing four feet from me was not aware I had done so. (In fact Ms. Johnson promptly chose to go to the Eucharistic Minister to receive communion and did so.)"

So, Ms Johnson approaches, Father holds his hand back, maybe gives a slight shake of the head or whispers "No"; Johnson turns aside, presumably on he way to her seat. Father, in an effort to make everything appear normal, avoids following her with his eyes, looks down at the ciborium, at his hand raising the Host, at the face of the next communicant. Meanwhile, four feet away, perhaps in his peripheral vision but not in his clear sight, Johnson has stepped up to the EM and received communion without his being immediately aware of it, just as the EM hadn't noticed anything odd about Johnson's stepping up, apparently just after having receiving from Father.

Now, isn't that at least as likely an interpretation of Fr. Guarnizo's account as the one you imagine? Isn't it fact more likely, since it does not require us to believe that he was simultaneously zealous and negligent about preserving the Host from sacrilegious reception? Unless you know of some further account of the event that makes this more charitable construction impossible, I should think that the spirit of priestly fraternity, to say nothing of simple justice, would prevent you from assuming the worst of Father's actions or state of mind.

Anonymous said...

"I doubt, however, that you would have been scandalized had you been at the Mass and Father given her communion ... how would you even have known she was a sinner?"

What?!?? Don't you know, Father Ryan, that everyone tells Veronica everything????


Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

by the ??? and ?!??, I am presuming you were laughing as you wrote that! :-)

(if I am wrong, please let me know)

In the end, I think you and I really are in agreement about the deeper point: Priests must deny communion to public sinners. +

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

If Ms. Johnson was (at that time) not a hidden sinner, but a manifest and public sinner ... and one who was obviously very aggressive ... I still do not understand why Father did not warn the others distributing communion.

... perhaps it is because Fr. Guarnizo, deep down, knows that Ms. Johnson is not really a public sinner after all?

That being said ... my problem is not with Father, but with those "supporters" who are trashing about and wagging their tongues against the bishops.
These both misunderstand canon law, and the deeper theology. +

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

You fail to recognize what is really at stake here.

Are you suggesting that a priest ought to refuse communion to private sinners as well as public?
Then, was Jesus wrong when he gave communion to Judas (who had already sinned by betraying Christ to the chief priests, and also by stealing from the treasury)?

Of course it is a sin for a hidden sinner to take communion ... but the burden there lies with the communicant, not the priest.
On the other hand, when a priest gives communion to a public and manifest sinner (especially one condemned of heresy), then he is guilty of a grave sin together with the communicant.

Is it really that hard to understand?

Anonymous said...

Father, yes, I was joking. It was meant to make you laugh - or at least smile. I often wish you had those little smiley faces here so that I could have properly conveyed that.

And, yes, we can agree on that: Priests must deny communion to public sinners.

God bless you!


Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

Don't worry ... I did chuckle!
... and this is how I try to make a smiley face
:-) or :)

dcs said...

Reverend and Dear Fr. Erlenbush,

It is also the opinion of Dom Prosper Gueranger that Judas received Holy Communion at the Last Supper. Just FYI - and I only know this because I am working through the Passiontide volume of The Liturgical Year right now.

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

@dcs, Thank you for the info! Yes, Dom Gueranger is an invaluable resource! +

Bernonensis said...


Fr. Guarnizo had very good reason to think that Ms. Johnson was a manifest public sinner. By her own admission she was engaged in a relationship that was objectively sinful; if she announced this to a perfect stranger on first meeting, it is morally certain that her friends,some of whom were at the funeral, were also aware of her state, and this meets the criteria for being a manifest public sinner. Because of this, and because she proclaimed herself an adherent of a false religion, Fr. G. had no choice but to deny her Communion.

This does not mean that everyone in the church knew of Ms. Johnson's way of life; some of her mother's friends may have had no idea she is a lesbian or a Buddhist, and it is really none of their business if she is. Father G.'s duty was to prevent her committing sacrilege, not to publish her faults, and so he attempted to refuse her Communion as quietly as possible.

Now, it is true she actually did receive anyway, but this fact can't affect the rightness or wrongness of Fr. G.'s prior judgment. If he thought their talk in the sacristy had dissuaded Johnson from coming to Communion, he would have had no reason to alert the EMs about her before Mass began. If he thought she was headed to her seat after being refused, he would have had no reason to warn the EM then. As I suggested before, the most charitable view is that Fr. G. was simply unaware that Johnson was making another attempt to receive before she succeeded. I see no reason to suggest that he was of two minds in this matter, and really believed "deep down" something different from what he claims.

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

This is getting a bit silly ... Ms. Johnson's "lover" physically blocked Fr. G in the sacristy ... how can anyone think that the situation was resolved and under control when the encounter ended like that?!

My goodness! Fr. G was surprised that the woman was defiant?! Nothing about the meeting before the Mass would have indicated that?!

Well ... whatever ... setting the particular case aside: When a priest refuses communion to a public sinner it is about preventing scandal - since he does not do anything to prevent sacrilege when the sin is private. +

Bernonensis said...

Neither of us knows what was said in the sacristy that day, but I am willing to give Fr. G. the benefit of the doubt and believe that when he walked out into the sanctuary he thought he had made it clear to the women that Ms. Johnson was not to receive Communion. If their attitude was defiant, that in itself was no sure indication of what would happen next.
At Communion time, Fr. G. may have suspected that Johnson would try to receive from one of the EMs and that he would have to intervene, but when she came to him instead, he probably thought that his refusal would settle the matter. Fault him if you must for lack of insight into the obstinacy of this woman, but please don't read cowardice or duplicity into his actions on no more evidence than your suspicions.

When a priest refuses Communion to a public sinner, his concern is primarily to prevent scandal, that is true, but not exclusively;he also wishes to avoid sacrilege.
When the sin is private, and the refusal is likely to cause scandal, he does not withhold the Sacrament, because permitting the harm done by the sacrilegious reception, harm to none but the recipient, is better than actively causing harm to others through scandal.

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

If we are going to start talking about presuming the good intention of our pastors ... then I will presume that the bishop who issued an apology to Ms. Johnson knows more about the situation than any of us ... and that he (i.e. the bishop) acted rightly, while Fr. Guarnizo was mistaken (though, presumably, good-willed).

Bernonensis said...

You are certainly right about that, Father; we ought to presume the best of everyone involved, based on the evidence we have. But if the evidence shows that Fr. Guarnizo's case was decided and disciplinary action taken before he had a chance to make his side heard ....

Unknown said...

I agree with what you're saying, but I think you err on the assessment of whether Fr. G. caused scandal through his actions. Isn't "scandal" where we (or the Church) appears to give public approval to sin? Isn't giving the Eucharist to a public sinner what would cause the scandal through the appearance that "it's no big deal"? That she subsequently received the Eucharist through a minister who probably didn't know of her sin should not cause scandal. I am thinking that Fr. G. would have caused scandal if he had given her communion, since she confronted him with her sins (not confessed) immediately prior.

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

I have never seen any evidence to indicate that Fr. G's case has been decided or that any disciplinary action has been taken against him.

If you think that his leave of absence constitutes a case, trial, conviction, and punishment ... then you have terribly misrepresented the Diocese. +

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

The greater scandal is caused by the fact that Ms. Johnson was denied by the priest but then received from a Eucharistic minister right next to the priest ... thus, far more widespread scandal has come from the event, since it has been publicized.

Now, I think that she was not (at the time) a public sinner ... but if you think that she was, then Fr. G should have taken greater precaution to protect the Church from this scandal. +

Bernonensis said...


No, I don't think any canonical action was taken against Fr. Guarnizo, and when I spoke of his "case" I didn't mean it a legal sense. What I meant was that the decision to remove him from the parish can't be understood as anything other than a response to complaints over this incident; that the natural interpretation of it is that it is a disciplinary action, not in the canonical sense but simply an instance of a bishop exercising his authority to modify the behavior of one of his priests; and that if, as Fr. Guarnizo claims, the letter relieving him of his duties was on the bishop's desk before they discussed what had happened, when the bishop had no information apart from Ms. Johnson's complaint and the testimony of two individuals who do not seem to have been present for the conversation in the sacristy, then Fr. G.' s removal from the parish unjustly put his reputation at stake without permitting him to say anything in his own defense. The sad truth,as we all know, is that many priests are removed for a wide variety of offenses -- sexual misconduct, drug and alcohol abuse, embezzlement -- and a bishop owes it to his priests to consider every possible angle before taking any action that might set tongues wagging.

Paul said...

I have had the priviledge of serving at many funeral Masses. Not once have I heard a word about the guidelines of who is and who isn't suppose to receive the Eurchrist. Also at many other special Masses have I hardly ever heard anything said. In the Post-synodal Apostolic Exhortataion of His Holliness, Pope Benedict XVI says in 'The Sarament of Charity' paragraph 50: " In these cases,(wedding Masses, funerals and the like) there is a need to find a brief and clear way to remind those present of the meaning of sacramental communion and the conditions required for its reception. Wherever circumstances make it impossible to ensure that the meaning of the Eurchrist is duly appreciated, the appropriateness of replacing the celebration of the Mass with a celebration of the word of God should be considered."
If more priests listened to that, these horrid situations would be much less.

Chuck O'Malley said...

In a perfect world, priests would distribute Holy Communion to only the cannonically qualified and properly disposed communicanats (no one is truly worthy).

But in the real world two disordered events may occur: the priest might give Communion to a disordered communicant, or the preist might unjustly withhold Communion from a communicant who is in proper order.

In her wisdom the Church, in her theology of the Eucharist, in her canons, and in her liturgical guidelines, clearly thinks the latter the greater evil.

Tantumblogo said...

Fr. Erlenbush stated:

"Priests need to start preaching about the need for confession after the most common mortal sins (like: skipping Sunday Mass, contraception, sins against purity, etc).
Also, when a penitent confesses a mortal sin, the Confessor has a moral obligation to question and instruct the penitent regarding the reception of communion in the state of sin."

I'm very glad to hear you say that. Have you given sermons on these subjects? Some priests, like Fr. Philip Neri Powell, print their sermons online. Others have them recorded and are available anonymously (audiosancto). Have you considered placing your sermons on these critical subjects online?

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

I do have a blog with some sermons on it ... though I no longer update or post new sermons (because I never write out my homilies or use any notes ... so it is just too much work for me to go back and write them out for a blog).

Here is an example (and I've given similar sermons a couple other times) ...

Regarding audiosancto, the sermons on there from Fr. Phil Wolfe are priceless!
Here is an example of one of his best:
[you may have to download it in order to get the whole sermon]

Tantumblogo said...

Fr. Erlenbush -

I know Fr. Wolfe well. We are incredibly blessed to have him as the assistant pastor at our FSSP parish.

You can see a picture of him with my son from last Sunday here:

Scroll down to the last pic.

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

Yes, you are indeed very blessed to have Fr. Wolfe at your parish. I only know of him as a friend of friends ... and, outside of facebook, that doesn't really amount to much! :-)

Tantumblogo said...

Oh, and thanks for the link! When I saw you mention Fr. Wolfe, I lost my head!

Mea culpa.........

yan said...

I think it is a difficult question!

Fr. you admit in one of your responses that protecting the Eucharist was one of the motivations behind the rule in the 1917 canon:

"Yes, I do agree with you that, when private communion is privately denied to a private sinner ... this is done to protect the Eucharist,"

yet everywhere else you say that, in public, protecting the eucharist is not a proper reason for denying.

You say that Jesus didn't deny Judas therefore it can't be ok to deny it; but then what is the justification for denial under the old canon? If we accept your dictum that protecting the eucharist is not sufficient reason to deny in PUBLIC to a private sinner, then, the priest is left to judge in each situation not only whether the sinner is public or private, but also whether the communion is public or private.

We have already seen the difficulty in defining whether a sinner is public or private. Mustn't we now double the difficulty by putting the issue of the status of the venue in question, if the priest's knowledge of the sin of the sinner is insufficient to deny communion?

Why must the actions of Jesus toward Judas be the prototype for all future situations? Would the disciples have been scandalized if Jesus did NOT give Judas communion? [I would think not.] Wasn't Judas a public sinner anyway, a thief that stole from their purse? Maybe He allowed Judas to take communion not for a pattern for future priests to follow, but for some other reason?

Chuck O'Malley said...

Since sin has subjective components, i.e. knowledge and intent, no one can know with certainty that another is in the state of sin for no one can know the mind of another. The third component of sin is objective -- the act which, if in itself is evil, is apparent to the community. The actor is perhaps a sinner but certainly an evil-doer. If obstinate and persisent in his evil act, his defense before God is invincible ignorance, however the Church, as a medicinal action ex-communicates him to avoid scandal to the community. Excommunicate means "out of communion."

Chuck O'Malley said...

Fr. Erlenbush,

Does your research on refusing communion show that a pastor ever has the canonical or liturgical discretion to, as a matter of general policy, refuse communion to all friends and all family at Communion to the Sick on non-holy days of obligation?

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

It sounds like you have a particular priest and situation in mind ... so, I'd rather not give my opinion -- there are just so many factors to take account of when it comes to practical situations.

However, I will say that those present with the sick may be permitted to receive Communion ... but there are certainly times when this is not feasible (for one reason or another).

Peace! +

Chuck O'Malley said...

Father Erlenbush,

Thank your insight.

May I infer from your reply that a general refusal of Communion to the family and friends of the sick is illicit in that any refusal must attach to a present reality of the particulars of time, place and person?

Although "so many factors" or such particulars may come into existence, they must, in fact, be in existence to provide a rationale for examining the validity of the decision to refuse Communion.


Chuck O'Malley said...

Father Erlenbush,

Perhaps we could come to a better understanding of the Church's mind on the matter of who may receive Communion by examining the canons and litrugical norms. I cite three canons and two norms that seem intructive to me.

The canons:

Can. 912 Any baptized person not prohibited by law can and must be admitted to holy communion.

Can. 917 A person who has already received the Most Holy Eucharist can receive it a second time on the same day only within the eucharistic celebration in which the person participates, without prejudice to the prescript of รข‡' can. 921, §2.

Can. 918 It is highly recommended that the faithful receive holy communion during the eucharistic celebration itself. It is to be administered outside the Mass, however, to those who request it for a just cause, with the liturgical rites being observed.

The Liturgical Rites Instructions:

"The Catholic Handbook for Visiting the Sick and Homebound 2012"

"Who May Receive Holy Communion"

"Catholic shut-ins, caregivers, or others who assemble with them may receive Holy Communion ..." (pg. 15).

"Holy Communion and Worship of the Eucharist Outside Mass (1976)"

"The faithful should be encouraged to receive communion during the Eucharistic celebration itself. Priests, however, are not to refuse to give communion to the faithful who ask for it even outside Mass." (No. 14)

Are you, Father, aware of canons or norms which instruct the ordinary minister of Communion on those particulars of person, place or time which allow or require him to refuse Communion to canonically qualified Catholics other than canon 915?


Post a Comment

When commenting, please leave a name or pseudonym at the end of your comment so as to facilitate communication and responses.

Comments must be approved by the moderator before being published.