MSNBC Lectures: Lesbian Denied Communion Explains Why Religion 'Turns Off' the Young

According to MSNBC's Tamron Hall on Wednesday, a Catholic priest denying Communion to a lesbian in Maryland is an example of "the very reason so many young people are turned off or are cautious about religion when you see moments like this."

The News Nation program featured a one-sided take on the story, which was given front page play by the liberal Washington Post. Hall interviewed Barbara Johnson, the woman involved and then featured Michael Smerconish to criticize the Priest for only choosing to deny Communion to the gay woman: "What about someone who’s in the church who’s utilizing contraception, someone who is supportive of the death penalty, someone who is prone toward profanity or maybe even living in sin?"

Hall asked Johnson to simply narrate her story: "Take me back to when you first realized that the priest had an issue with you being a lesbian."

The woman was denied Communion at her mother's funeral. The journalist mentioned this, and the fact that Johnson wants the priest removed. However, she didn't cover the details of the woman's angry letter to Marcel Guarnizo:

"You brought your politics, not your God into that Church yesterday, and you will pay dearly on the day of judgment for judging me," she wrote in a letter to Guarnizo. "I will pray for your soul, but first I will do everything in my power to see that you are removed from parish life so that you will not be permitted to harm any more families."

[Thanks to MRC intern Jeffrey Meyer for the transcript.]

A transcript of the February 29th News Nation segment can be found below:


2:15 p.m.

TAMRON HALL: A woman denied communion at her own mother's funeral is now demanding the priest who turned her away be removed. Barbara Johnson says the Washington D.C. priest told her "I can't give you communion because you live with a woman " According to the Washington Post, family members said the priest left the altar while she delivered the eulogy for her mother and even skipped the burial, leaving the family without a priest. Barbara Johnson joins me by phone and contributor Michael Smerconish will also speak with us about this. Barbara thank you so much for your time.

BARBARA JOHNSON: Thank you for having me.

HALL: Take me back to when you first realized that the priest had an issue with you being a lesbian.

JOHNSON: The first moment that I realized that the priest had an issue was with me being a lesbian was when I was standing in front of him with my hand out to receive communion. And when he said those words that you just spoke and I was shocked. And it took me several seconds before I walked away in disbelief.

HALL: And I would imagine there were others around who maybe perhaps did not hear the priest's words to you but I'm sure saw your reaction to whatever he was saying at the time.

JOHNSON: Yes, several people in the front couple of pews did hear what he said, and the entire church, save for perhaps a few people in the back rows saw what happened. And I was greeted after leaving the church by several people who embraced me and apologized and were very saddened and upset by the event.

HALL: Now, the Archdiocese of Washington has indicated that this is against their policy, they have a statement and it says in part, when questions arise whether or not an individual should present themselves for communion, it is not the policy of the archdiocese of Washington to publicly reprimand the person. Any issue regarding the suitability of an individual to receive communion should be addressed by the priest with that the person in a private pastoral setting. When you walked up to receive your communion, did it ever cross your mind that he would not provide you with this moment at your mother's funeral?

JOHNSON: It never, that, never crossed my mind. There was no reason for me to believe that anything like this would happen.

HALL: As I've understood it and from what I've read, you are heartbroken and you are demanding even with the apology from the Archdiocese, you want this priest gone. Why does that mean so much to you at this point?

JOHNSON: My family would like two things: One is an apology from Father Marcel directly in accordance with scripture.  Something like this is between the individuals, in addition to that, we would like him removed from parish life. Not removed from the priesthood per se, but removed from parish life so that no other family has to experience the tragedy that we did on the saddest day of our lives.

HALL: Barbara, our thoughts are with you as you continue this. I greatly appreciate it.  I know you are traveling and we appreciate your time in pulling over to talk with us. Let me bring in Michael Smerconish. Michael, I first saw this story actually yesterday. You tweeted this out. This hit home for you, why?

MICHAEL SMERCONISH: Well, I just had a conversation for an hour about this on radio, and I think the common denominator, the consensus here is everybody thinks it was poorly handled, even those who are supportive of church doctrine say there had to have been a more street smart way of handling this so that a woman grieving the loss of her own mother wasn't subject to the emotional harm that she just described for you. The other thing that everybody can agree on is that he should have presided over the burial because Tamron, as you pointed out at the outset, he denied her communion, wouldn't allow her to receive the sacrament and then he disappeared and he didn't participate in the burial service. And that really seems egregious.  The defense you'll hear of the priest, however, is one of, well, he didn't write the rule. And to the extent that is the rule or that is the doctrine, he shouldn't be held accountable for it, the church should.

HALL: Yeah and the Archdiocese says they are sorry what should have been a celebration of her mother's life in light of her mother’s faith in Jesus Christ, was overshadowed by this lack of sensitivity. And if you can't have a priest or a pastor or a reverend be sensitive, who is in this world? And I say that broadly because this is the very reason so many young people are turned off or are cautious about religion when you see moments like this. This was her mother's funeral. You can't go back and do that.

SMERCONISH: Right. I think there's a disconnect here, a generational disconnect. And another point that it raises Tamron is that Barbara's not the only, and I'm going to use their word, it's not mine. That she's not the only sinner I'm sure who was in the church that day. What about someone who’s in the church who’s utilizing contraception, someone who is supportive of the death penalty, someone who is prone toward profanity or maybe even living in sin? Should those individuals not be receiving communion and would they be similarly denied. I doubt it.

HALL: And this is obviously the issue of her not getting communion, the church is clear on where they stand on homosexuality, but the Archdiocese separate and apart from that, clearly says their policy is that this should have been handled in private, not there for everyone to see what she was experiencing during her grief. And I think that's what we're hitting home, not the church's stance on how she lives her life. It is though  not the policy to humiliate her as she says she was that day. So Michael, thank you so much.  I appreciate your time. 

Scott Whitlock
Scott Whitlock
Scott Whitlock is the senior news analyst for the Media Research Center and a contributing editor for NewsBusters.org