Thursday, March 15, 2012

The Priest Who Lied: Open Letter to Bishop Barry Knestout

I am choosing to make this letter public and posting it on my blog because the incident that occurred with my cousin Barbara Johnson upsets me a great deal. The treatment she received by Father Guarnizo is unbelievable to me. As I mention in this letter, this is not about religion. But I wish to add this. I am positive that many a Catholic who have "sinned" have accepted communion. Divorced folks, women who use birth control as well as homosexuals and people who have lied. We are human beings. The priest does not deny the larger part of the congregation communion or even question those who appear to receive it during every mass. Barbara Johnson was singled out. If you are so inclined, please email the Bishop in support of the Johnson family. Some in the Catholic church have publicized his email asking people to support Father Guarnizo.

Dear Bishop Barry Knestout, ( )

I am writing to you about the incident that occurred during Loetta Johnson's funeral on February 25, 2012.

I have seen much of the chatter online. Some defend Barbara, some defend Father Guarnizo.

In a written statement Fr. Guarnizo made some pretty egregious statements concerning Barbara Johnson. On a personal level, I was infuriated as I read his statement. I am related to Barbara but was not at the funeral. Many family members were in attendance and witnessed what really happened with their own eyes.

I wish to address what the Father says about his introduction to my cousin. He states in the article:
"A few minutes before the Mass began, Ms. Johnson came into the sacristy with another woman whom she announced as her 'lover.' Her revelation was completely unsolicited. As I attempted to follow Ms. Johnson, her lover stood in our narrow sacristy physically blocking my pathway to the door. I politely asked her to move and she refused."

Barbara is a peaceful, very laid-back person, as is her partner. They have a very nice life and are happy people. Neither woman uses the word "lover" to describe their relationship. The Father's claim that he "politely" asked her partner to move and that she refused is preposterous. Why would she do this at the funeral of her partner's mother? Why would she choose to pick a fight or "dare" the Priest conducting the mass? This would be very out of character for either woman. Why would Barbara want to make a political statement about her homosexuality on the worst and saddest day of her life? She was saying a final good-bye to her mother. If anyone were to think about this for one minute and leave their personal opinions out of it, it makes no sense that Barbara would act in such a way. The priest himself refers to Barbara's partner in this statement as "lover", not friend or partner. From a psychological stance, his choice of the word lover here is suspect, at least it is to me. It doesn't come across as Priestly.

My family witnessed Fr. Guarnizo denying Barbara communion as well as seeing him walk off the altar as she gave her eulogy. He mentioned in his response that two eulogies were given. He only left the altar while Barbara was delivering hers. They also witnessed Barbara having to find an alternative priest to accompany the family to the cemetary to deliver the final blessing because Fr. Guarnizo claimed he had a migraine.

This is not about religion. This is about what one human being did to another on the hardest day of her life. Father Guarnizo clearly states that he became aware that Barbara was a lesbian BEFORE the service began. If he had a problem with giving her communion, the time to say something was in private before the funeral started. Not in the middle and in front of the entire family. It was in fact Father Guarnizo who made a political statement, not Barbara. He says that he "quietly withheld communion." Withholding communion to a woman in the middle of her mother's funeral is not choosing a quiet way to make his very obvious point. The rest of his statement goes on to completely proclaim his innocence and call both my cousin and the archdiocese liars. He ends with "I remain my bishop’s and my Church’s, and above all Christ Jesus’ obedient servant..."

How can he make this claim? His statement reads as complete defense. He takes no responsibility for his hurtful actions and calls everyone else a liar. I don't know this man personally but what he writes comes off as someone who is using his position to defend his horrible decision and actions. He displays no regret or compassion, only contempt for the church and for Barbara.

Again, this is not about her right to communion in the church's or Father Guarnizo eyes. It is not about politics or Barbara's lifestyle. It's about the lack of compassion from a man, a priest, and how he treated a woman while she laid her mother to rest. It is indeed Father Guarnizo who wished to make a political statement about homosexuality and his disdain and complete disregard for her or the rest of the family.

It is not the job of a human being to judge another and the "job" of a priest is to guide and teach the message of God and Jesus with empathy and compassion. It is not meant to be used as a way to punish those with whom the priest disagrees.

I hope you are able to see this unfortunate situation with clarity and an open heart. I feel so much for Barbara and all of her siblings as now, this sad day is over-shadowed by the horrific events that took place. I would not wish that experience on anyone.


Kimberley A. Johnson

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