The Canonical Defender, Prof. Ed Peters, who does not have an open combox on his fine blog In The Light of the Law, has opined about the case in the Archdiocese of Washington DC, now infamous, wherein a lesbian Buddhist instrumentalized her own mother’s funeral Mass so as to set a trap for a priest whom she wanted to provoke into refusing her Holy Communion.
My own opinion has been clearly given all along. I think the priest in question, Fr. Guarnizo, acted prematurely in denying the lesbian Communion under can. 915, but his choice was understandable and ought to be applauded. Given the lack of good examples from bishops in regard to can. 915, priests – who are also bound to obey can. 915 – have been left to shift for themselves. Also, Fr. Guarnizo was trying to uphold some important principles.
In any event, people are writing to me that Fr. G was “suspended” by his ordinary bishops Card. Wuerl.
No… not really. There is LAW involved, as it turns out.
Take it away Dr. Ed!
My emphases except for headings and comments.
Bp. Knestout’s March 9 letter on Fr. Guarnizo
March 11, 2012
Most of the lesbian/Communion controversy has been a dis-edifying parade of misleading commentary[I hope I am not guilty of same.] being proffered about misapplied laws. I don’t write here to correct these many errors, as their partisans (whether ‘left’ or ‘right’) don’t seem especially interested in what the law actually says, but I am happy to offer some observations on Bp. Knestout’s letter of March 9 for those who are trying to understand what is, and is not, at work in this matter.
1. Fr. Guarnizo has not been suspended (suspension is a canonical penalty levied only upon guilt for crimes, per c. 1333), but he has been placed on “administrative leave”, a term not found in the Code, [! Not in the Code… but it sure is used OFTEN.] but nevertheless serving as a practical description of a situation in which, usually, one is not permitted to function as a cleric for so long as a wider situation requires resolution. A priest’s faculties for confession, preaching (homilies), witnessing weddings, etc. can be restricted a couple of different ways, and there is no reason to think that those ways were not satisfied in this action (although direct discussion of them is lacking). [By which I think Prof. P means, they haven’t been explained to the public.]
From the text of the letter, I cannot tell whether Guarnizo is prohibited from celebrating Mass even in private (he is certainly prohibited from public celebration), although the trend in such cases is to allow for private celebration. This question could easily be addressed between Knestout and Guarnizo, and probably has already been answered.
2. A vicar general almost certainly has sufficient authority to issue such a letter (c. 479 § 1); one may expect the Cardinal to be informed of this action in a timely manner (c. 480).
3. As a parochial vicar, Guarnizo has considerably fewer procedural rights to office than would a pastor. Compare a pastor’s rights under c. 522, etc., and c. 1740 etc., with those of a parochial vicar, per c. 552. All associate pastors know this. [An aside. The terms I became used to were “assistant”, rather than “associate” or this “parochial vicar” creature. Years ago a priest was visiting the rectory of my home parish when the late Msgr. Schuler reigned. He ask Msgr. whether in that archdiocese we used the “assistant” or “associate”. Without missing a beat Monsignor responded, “The first three letters are the same”. But I digress.]
4. Guarnizo is not “incardinated” in the Archdiocese of Washington (c. 265 etc.); the situation of an “extern” priest is inherently more tenuous than is the situation of locally incardinated clergy, it being a function more of contract (express or implied) than of law. All extern priests know this.
5. Little in Knestout’s letter suggests that this action is being taken in response to the lesbian/Communion controversy (though one may be sure that the pro-lesbian camp will claim victory, [A big reason why I wonder if this was well-done. But I am not the man in the big chair and don’t know much about the circumstances.] and the pro-Guarnizo camp will decry the ‘mistreatment’ of the priest).
The allegations of “intimidating behavior” by Guarnizo are not recited in Knestout’s letter, but three questions would occur to me: (a) is this just a pile-on by people looking to kick Guarnizo while he is down?, or (b) are there long-standing legitimate complaints against Guarnizo that the recent controversy made more likely to surface? , or (c) did Guarnizo’s post-controversy conduct in the parish render him intemperate with others, provoking what are really recent complaints? Such are the things that an investigation is designed to, well, investigate.
6. The letter expresses the hope that Guarnizo will be able to return to priestly ministry.
There. As you arm-chair observers itch to weigh in, that is the analysis by a canonist of the law involved.
Finally, I will only note that there are a lot of priests out there doing some pretty crazy things and teaching oddities from their pulpits and they are not on administrative leave. I’m just sayin’