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Gay woman wants priest relieved of duties after communion

By Joe Danielewicz

WASHINGTON, D.C. (Reuters) - A lesbian woman from the nation's capital wants a Catholic priest relieved of his duties after he denied her communion at her mother's Maryland funeral because she lives with another woman, she said on Wednesday.

The local archdiocese has apologized for the actions of Father Marcel Guarnizo, but Barbara Johnson, who is gay and lives with her lesbian partner, said that was not enough.

Guarnizo officiated at a funeral mass for Loetta Johnson on Saturday at Saint John Neumann Catholic Church in Gaithersburg, about 25 miles northwest of Washington. He told attendees that only church members in a "state of grace" would be allowed to receive communion, Johnson said.

Johnson said that when she approached, the priest covered the communion chalice with his hand, "looked me in the eye and said 'I cannot give you communion because you live with a woman.'"

The priest told her "in the eyes of the church, that is a sin," she said. She and her family told the Archdiocese of Washington, which has issued an apology.

Catholic church teachings condemn homosexuality, and the church considers homosexual acts to be sinful. But the Archdiocese said in a statement that questions about a person's right to receive communion should be addressed privately and it was not policy to "publicly reprimand" worshipers.

The Archdiocese would not comment on Guarnizo's status, citing the matter as a personnel issue. Johnson said she does not want to focus on the incident as a gay-rights issue but wants the priest to stop doing pastoral work for the way he handled her mother's service.

"We're urging the church to make that decision, so that this doesn't happen to anyone else, to any other families," Johnson said. "It's the right thing to do."

"I think everyone has their gifts, and my family believes performing the responsibilities of a parish priest does not fall under his list of gifts," she added.

(Editing By Ellen Wulfhorst and Cynthia Johnston)

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