Dramatic Front Page WashPost Story of Lesbian-Scarred-by-Priest Scandal Begins to Fall Apart

On February 29, The Washington Post created a scandal for the Catholic Archdiocese of Washington by dramatizing the denial of communion to lesbian activist Barbara Johnson at her mother’s funeral. Reporter Michelle Boorstein painted an emotional picture of a Catholic daughter being publicly shamed by a priest at her lowest moment.

But new details keep ruining the Post’s report. Thomas Peters at Catholic Vote today reveals that Johnson has publicly declared she is a Buddhist, and not a Catholic! The Post is going to need to fill the Corrections box.

In a paper for a master’s degree she’s pursuing at Kutztown State University, Johnson wrote of interviewing with a principal at a Catholic school in Maryland in which “we talked openly about my being a lesbian and a Buddhist.” (She also declared she took the job “with all the zeal and enthusiasm of any natural born agitator who every now and again enjoys challenging the status quo.” This status quo she also called the “socially constructed heteronormative culture” and an “insidious heterosexist paradigm.”)

This is what Boorstein alluded to in her story:

At the funeral Mass, Barbara Johnson was awash with spiritual memories of her mother: The 85-year-old waking from a heart attack this month and immediately crossing herself. The two women curled up in an ICU bed a few days later. Johnson reciting the "Hail Mary" and "The Lord's Prayer" as her mother slipped away.

Johnson's mother and late father were lifelong churchgoers who scraped to send their four children to Catholic schools, said Barbara and her brother, Larry Johnson, a forensic accountant who lives in Loudoun County. Barbara lives in Northwest Washington and for years taught art at Elizabeth Seton High School in Bladensburg, her alma mater.

This implies Johnson saw herself as a gay Catholic. But her Art Works website proclaims “She considers herself a student of many things from Buddhist philosophy to nutrition and alternative medicine and she is a total believer in the notion that art works.” Now recall how Boorstein falsely painted Johnson in Catholic terms from the first sentence:

Deep in grief, Barbara Johnson stood first in the line for Communion at her mother's funeral Saturday morning. But the priest in front of her immediately made it clear that she would not receive the sacramental bread and wine.

Johnson, an art-studio owner from the District, had come to St. John Neumann Catholic Church in Gaithersburg with her lesbian partner. The Rev. Marcel Guarnizo had learned of their relationship just before the service.

"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.

Does a Buddhist who's rejected Catholicism stand in line for communion? Does a Buddhist who's rejected Catholicism call what she's going to receive "the body of Christ"? (The Post called it the "wafers.")

Boorstein was played like a fiddle by Johnson. She didn't seem to do any homework on Johnson's easily identified websites (including politicized Facebook and Twitter pages). In the Post's propagandistic narration, she was the aggrieved victim, while the priest was playing politics:

When Guarnizo covered the wine and wafers with his hand during Communion, Johnson stood there for a moment, thinking he would change his mind, she said. "I just stood there, in shock. I was grieving, crying," she said. "My mother's body was behind me, and all I wanted to do was provide for her, and the final thing was to make a beautiful funeral, and here I was letting her down because there was a scene."

Wouldn't this seem at odds with the self-proclaimed "natural born agitator" who took a Catholic-school job to work against the "insidious heterosexist paradigm" of education? But it was the priest who was playing politics:

She reacted with stunned silence. Her anger and outrage have now led her and members of her family to demand that Guarnizo be removed from his ministry.

Family members said the priest left the altar while Johnson, 51, was delivering a eulogy and did not attend the burial or find another priest to be there.

"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.

Peters added that he smells gay politics in the whole campaign:

Just days prior to it, Maryland (the state where this incident occurred) voted to legalize gay marriage through its legislature. That bill is going to be appealed this November at the Maryland ballot box and the Maryland Catholic Conference (which we saw Johnson’s twitter account attack) is going to play a significant role in ensuring that gay marriage is voted down there.

Is it any sort of stretch to see this attempt to malign Fr. Marcel and by extension the Catholic Church in Maryland as a blatantly political attempt by Johnson to generate sympathy and support for gay marriage and to foment public judgement against the Church? I think not.

In another blog, Deacon Greg Kandra reprints an e-mail that insists the priest is being maligned for being a staunch activist against the late-term abortion clinic of Dr. Leroy Carhart in suburban Maryland.

Tim Graham
Tim Graham
Tim Graham is Executive Editor of NewsBusters and is the Media Research Center’s Director of Media Analysis