It’s happened again. Another gay woman has been denied communion at her mother’s funeral.
On December 26, 2013, Carol Parker’s mother died. The obituary listed Ms. Parker as a surviving daughter and also mentioned her partner of 20 years, Josie Martin. The two women live in the small town of Chula and had been attending services at St. Columban Catholic Church in Chillicothe, MO for 12 years.
Later that week, Ms. Parker received a call from Fr. Kneib informing her that she and her partner would not be allowed to receive communion at the December 30 funeral service.
“It was a shock to hear him say that. I never expected that, especially at my mother’s funeral,” Ms. Parker said. “That was our faith community. It really took a lot away from us. He (Fr. Kneib) would still like to see us there, but I don’t feel like I’m welcome if I can’t take part in the main focus of the Mass.”
Father Kneib sent her a follow up letter, dated January 1, to explain his position, which she provided to PROMO, a Kansas City-based advocacy organization for the LGBT community. In a press release, the organization quotes the letter as stating that “having a same sex attraction is not sinful in and of itself … it is only when a person moves from attraction to willfully acting upon it that the situation becomes a sinful matter.”
Fr. Kneib apologized to Ms. Parker, expressing regret that the events took place in the context of her mother’s funeral. When contacted by the press, the priest had no comment.
This incident brings to mind something that transpired within my own sphere two years ago. My ex-husband’s cousin, Barbara Johnson, was denied communion at her mother’s funeral because she is a lesbian. I will say that at least Fr. Kneib had the courtesy of calling Ms. Parker prior to the funeral to advise her that communion would be denied, sparing her of the ordeal of a public shaming of the sort that was dealt to Barbara. The priest who shamed Barbara, Fr. Marcel Guarnizo, was subsequently removed from his position in the Washingon D.C. Archdiocese and is now serving in the Archdiocese of Moscow, Russia where I would assume he feels more comfortable, given that nation’s stance on homosexuality.
There are those who would say that if you are gay, then you should understand that the teachings of the Catholic Church are that homosexuality is a sin and if you indulge in it, then you are not in a state of grace and therefore, should not receive communion. I will not argue that point.
I will, however, argue that no one – not a priest, not anyone – can look into the heart of another and see what resides there. That is something only that person and their God can do.
Barbara and her partner just celebrated 21 years together by making their relationship official in the aftermath of Maryland’s ruling on same sex marriage. Ms. Parker and Ms. Martin have been together for two decades. Each of these couples has made lives together. They’ve gone to work, paid their taxes, laughed together, cried together, gone through good times and bad together. They are creations of the God the Church insists views them as an “abomination.” To deny that they are any less equal in the eyes of God is hubris in the first degree.
If those women were roommates, would they be denied communion? No. It is the fact of their sexual orientation that determined the denial of the sacrament. Even though neither priest had any knowledge of whether or not they actually engaged in the “forbidden” sexual activities, or had been to confession and purged themselves of the “taint” of such activities, the decision was made that they were dirty lesbians and therefore unfit to receive communion.
I can guarantee that at every Sunday Mass, there are men and women who are adulterers, who are divorced (a no-no in the Catholic Church), people who beat their spouses, who do all sorts of things that may or may not be known by the officiating priest, and you will never hear of any of them being denied communion.
Last summer, after visiting Rio to participate in World Youth Day, Pope Francis was fielding questions from reporters aboard the papal aircraft on his return flight to Rome. One of the questions was in regard to gay priests and how the pontiff would react to learning that one of the clerics in his ranks was gay, but not sexually active.
“Who am I to judge a gay person of goodwill who seeks the Lord? You can’t marginalize these people,” was the answer that then went viral.
Fr. Benjamin Kneib apparently didn’t get the memo.
It is the job of a priest to teach Jesus’ message of love, acceptance and forgiveness. It is the job of a priest to give comfort in times of distress. It is the job of a priest to minister to the sick and the dying. It is not up to a priest to judge another. That, as pointed out by the pope, is a task best left to God.
I asked Barbara how she felt, given her experience. This is what she had to say: “It’s time that all priests take heed, if not in the Gospels themselves, surely in the clear and compassionate wisdom of Pope Francis.”