Priest in lesbian communion-denial saga out at the Washington archdiocese

Greg Dohler/TheGazette Marcel Guarnizo of Saint John Neumann Catholic Church in Gaithersburg speaks to protestors Monday morning during a rally … Continued

The statistics are in. The millennials are leaving the church, and nobody seems quite sure what to do about it.

I am one of them. Born in 1983, I belong to the wispy beginnings of the new generation. I turned 30 this year, and I’m raising two small boys. I hold within me both cynicism and hope. I left the church. I came back.

Here is what I can tell you about millennials: We grew up on easy answers, catchphrases and cliché, and if we’ve learned anything, it’s that things are almost always more complicated than that.

When I returned to church, it wasn’t because of great programs, alluring events or a really cool “café” set up in the foyer. I went back not because of what the church was doing, but rather in spite of it. I went back because I needed community, and because, thanks to a steady dose of medication and therapy, I was finally well enough to root through the cliché to find it.

But not all of us are there yet. For some of us, the clichés are still maddening and alienating. Recently, I asked my followers online for the five church clichés that they tend to hate the most. These were the top five responses:

“The Bible clearly says…”

We are the first generation to grow up in the age of information technology, and we have at our fingertips hundreds of commentaries, sermons, ideas, and books. We can engage with Biblical scholars on Facebook and Twitter, and it’s impossible not to see the way that their doctrines – rooted in the same Bible – differ and clash.

We’re acutely aware of the Bible’s intricacies. We know the Bible is clear about some things– but also that much is not clear. We know the words are weighted to a culture that we don’t completely understand and that the scholars will never all agree.

We want to hear our pastors approach these words with humility and reverence. Saying, “This is where study and prayer have led me, but I could be wrong,” does infinitely more to secure our trust than The Bible clearly says…

“God will never give you more than you can handle”

This paraphrased Mother Teresa quote has become so commonplace in Christian culture that I was shocked to learn that it wasn’t in the Bible.

Inherent in this phrase is the undertone that if life has become “more than you can handle,” then your faith must not be strong enough. We millennials may be a bit narcissistic, but we also know the weight of too much. We understand that we need help. Connections. Friendship. Sometimes therapy.

We know that life so often feels like entirely too much to handle. And we want to know that this is okay with you and with God.

“Love on” (e.g. “As youth group leaders, we’re just here to love on those kids.”

In addition to sounding just plain creepy, this phrase also has troubling implications. We may understand that we need help, but we certainly don’t want to be anyone’s project or ministry.

It may just be semantics, but being loved on feels very different than being simply loved. The former connotes a sudden flash of contrived kindness; the latter is simpler…but deeper. It suggests that the relationship is the point, not the act of love itself.

And really, that’s what we’re looking for: relationship –that honest back and forth of giving and receiving love.

Black and white quantifiers of faith, such as “Believer, Unbeliever, Backsliding”

Millennials are sick of rhetoric that centers around who’s in and who’s out. We know our own doubtful hearts enough to know that belief and unbelief so often coexist. Those of us who follow the Christian faith know that world around us feels truer than the invisible God who holds it together.

Terms like backsliding that try to pinpoint the success (or, more accurately, lack thereof) of our faith, frustrate us. We don’t want to hustle to prove our faith; we don’t want to pretend. We want to be accepted, not analyzed.

“God is in control . . . has a plan . . . works in mysterious ways”

Chances are we believe this is true. But it’s the last thing we want to hear when something goes horribly wrong in our life. We are drawn to the Jesus who sits down with the down-and-out woman at the well. Who touches the leper, the sick, the hurting. Who cries when Lazarus is found dead…even though he is in control and has a plan to bring Lazarus back to life.

You’ve heard us say that we like Jesus but not the church, and it’s not because we’re trying to be difficult. It’s because the Jesus we read about enters into the pain of humanity where so often the church people seem to want to float above it.

In the end, it’s not really about what churches say or don’t say. What millennials want is to be seen. Understood. Loved. It’s what everyone wants, really. And for this generation of journeyers? Choosing honesty over cliché is a really great place to start.

Check out our related article: “5 really bad reasons to leave your church.”

If you liked what Addie had to say in this piece, consider purchasing her recently released book, “When We Were on Fire: a Memoir of Consuming Faith, Tangled Love and Starting Over.”

Addie Zierman
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  • JoelB8

    If the devil exists, he takes the shape of priests who use the funeral of one’s mother as an opportunity to hurt a person because of their sexual orientation.

  • cprdcnats

    Not a funeral. Mass of Christian Burial.

  • COWENS99

    The man is. Religious bigot. He is nota priest, he should not be a priest. The entire church us wrong on abortion and wrong on gy rights. This is the product of a bunch of bigoted men wearing robes.

  • 1123581321

    If there’s a place in the priesthood for child molesters, there’s a place for a priest who opposes sin.

  • jimwalters1

    First, 99% of Catholics consider that mass and the graveside ceremony as just parts of the funeral as a whole. The mass typically said just before the body is transferred from the church to the graveyard, and the graveside portion of the service is conducted as soon as everyone gets there. When the Church and the graveyard are adjacent, the gap between them is a few just minutes. When the two aare not adjacent, the largest component of the gap between them is the travel time.

    Second, even if you are correct in splitting hairs that way, so what? How does that make Fr. Guarnizo’s behavior less cruel?

  • vw5186

    Guarnizo needs to stop watching the matrix and start studying the bible.

  • bob2davis

    If only there were a god and a jeezus, this whole thread could have a shred of validity.

  • Huckleberry2

    Good riddance! There are more progressive and accepting Catholics who are part of the faith community, and we are digusted by the politicalization and hatefulness of the right wingers. I think this priest was a liability, and that’s why he was dismissed.

  • GoodnessKnows

    I get what you are saying. The bigotry and cruelty makes you uncomfortable.

    So why do you stay?

    I guess the Church has found a way to keep you from feeling too uncomfortable so all you have to do to feel better is cluck your tongue and look sad.

    As long as you bankroll the Church and are handing over your time and your brain (that allows you to see evil but not separate from it) you are part of the problem, even tho you are clucking your tongue.


    If the mass had a short general confesstion service before communion, there would be no problem. Thoes that give communion at mass, how do they know who is in the state of grace?

  • Inis Magrath

    Good riddance to bad garbage.

  • meow2u3

    Who died and made you God, “GoodnessKnows”?

  • mathiasl

    “Remember Father Marcel Guarnizo, the black-caped Catholic priest who denied a lesbian communion at her mother’s funeral in Gaithersburg in February?” Yes, the lesbian stated she was not a Catholic but Buddhist, hence why she was denied communion. To receive communion one must be in communion with the Catholic (Roman or Eastern) Church.

  • mathiasl

    The individual told the Priest that she is a Buddhist. Kind of a giveaway.

  • mathiasl

    She stated to him that she is a Buddhist, not Catholic.

  • cprdcnats

    Just pointing out what you believe is the appropriate custom at secular or protestant funerals aren’t the customs at the Mass of Christian Burial. It is still a Mass. It is still the service in which we offer our prayers, sacrifices and fidelity with Christ’s sacrifice. In this case, we also offer our hope for those who have fallen asleep to enter Heaven and the eulogies are to express the person’s fidelity to the Church. Not going up for communion if you don’t believe, haven’t been initiated or are in mortal sin is the appropriate custom of all Masses.

  • Jambe d’Argent

    Thank you, Father Guarnizo, for standing up for the truth. You are a moral martyr. It is not the first time that the institutional Church sacrifices its best defenders for the sake of political correctness.

  • ajb1953

    One Nation – Don’t know much about Catholicism, do you?

  • ajb1953

    If by “progressive and accepting” you mean those “Catholics” who have rejected Catholic teaching, then yes, there are many. The only problem is they’re not really Catholics.

    I think this priest is a true and faithful Catholic, and that’s why he was shuffled out of liberal-town.

  • ajb1953

    So you think the Church Christ founded should be teaching that it’s okay for mothers to murder their babies in their wombs, and that homosexuals should be engaging in sex outside of marriage? Newsflash, Nimrod, adultery and fornication are sins, as is murder. Obviously you are no Christian.

  • ajb1953

    jimwalters- First, you have no idea what “99%” of Catholics consider. Second, you clearly have no idea what you’re talking about, and the more you talk, the more evident your ignorance becomes. Third, explain how it is “cruel” to attempt to prevent someone from committing a grave sin. It’s much more cruel for a person to turn a blind eye to a person who is jeopardizing his or her soul for the sake of political correctness.

  • ajb1953

    GOD BLESS FR. GUARIZO! He remained faithful to his vows, and he did the right thing. Too bad the same can’t be said of Cardinal Wuerl.

  • muusk

    He put his hand over the body of Christ and looked at me and said, ‘I can’t give you Communion because you live with a woman, and in the eyes of the church, that is a sin,’ ” she recalled Tuesday.

    He did not say,” I can’t give you Communion because you are Buddhist.” The stories about her dabbling in Buddhist philosophy (as have many famous Catholics) came much later, based on stories people found about her on the web. From what I understand, she never renounced her Catholicism, she just dabbled in those elements which are not inconsistent with Catholicism, such as meditation.

  • ThomasBaum

    Rather sad that so many seem to think that Catholics should not be catholic.

  • larryclyons

    Bye-bye. Don’t let the door slam on yor butt on the way out. And hopefully that will be the last reasonable people around here hear from you.

  • larryclyons

    They’d have to look at least as good otherwise it would be nightmare fuel.

  • cricket44

    Well, now. That *is* a blessing.

  • muusk

    By defying Cardinal Wuerl, he violated his vows of obedience to his own bishop. So, no, he wasn’t faithful to his vows.

  • cricket44

    Nothing moral about him. Sad to see the the love of Christ twisted into pettiness and malice.


    A priest that was TOTALLY representative of catholicism.

  • jlizkenn1

    Mathiasl wrote: “The individual told the Priest that she is a Buddhist. Kind of a giveaway.”

    No, neither she nor he claimed that as any part of their exchange, in anything either has been published saying in their different accounts. If you’ve read otherwise, can you please cite your source?

  • muusk

    but which do you mean is “truly Catholic”? Those lifelong Catholics who grew up learning such Catholic doctrines as the Primacy of Conscience and who have tried to incorporate the saving message of Jesus into their everyday lives? Those are the true Catholics.

  • jimwalters1


    I grant that I have no survey data to back the 99% claim up, but I think it is close In non-technical conversation I have never heard practicing Catholics refer to the “Mass of Christian Burial” as anything other than the “funeral mass” or the “funeral”. The mass and the graveside service are seen as parts of a single funeral.

    As for my “ignorance”, what part of my description of Catholic burial rites was inaccurate?

    The cruelty of Fr. Guarnizo was in humuliating a woman greivinng the death of her mother in a Church full of people. You would have a better point about protecting her from sin 1) if she weren’t already going to hell on several counts accordinng to traditional Catholic thought, 2) if she had been explicitly warned not to come up for communion and chose to come anyway (I don’t know if she was or not), and 3) if Fr. Guarnizo wasn’t violating archdiocese policy for these cases.

    Looking at the last point: If you think that the archdiocese caved in to pressure from the left and chose to violate moral principle, how do you know that hasn’t happened in cases of political pressure from the right? Can the statements of the bishops be trusted at all if – as you imply – they blow in the winds of politcal expediency?

  • amelia45

    Cardinal Wuerl continues to surprise me, in a good way. Here is a bishop who really is pastoral – at least sometimes. That is more than can be said for some of them.