Thursday, March 15, 2012

Thrown Under the Bus?

Was Fr. Guarnizo thrown under the bus by the Archdiocese of Washington?

He makes his statement here, and most importantly, contends that his 'suspension', which the Archdiocese said was due to 'intimidating behavior' was connected with the funeral-lesbian incident after all.

If this is true, is justice being done? Can an Archdiocese withdraw faculties from a priest simply for 'intimidating behavior'? What on earth does that mean? Any kind of conflict in a parish in which a priest asserts himself might be construed as "intimidating behavior". For goodness sake, I can name half a dozen priests off the top of my head about whom reports of "intimidating behavior" are reported weekly.

Even if Fr Guarnizo is guilty of "intimidating behavior" what did he actually do? Did he hit someone? Did he threaten them with violence? Did he threaten to blackmail them? What did the "intimidating behavior" consist of? Were there witnesses? What actually happened?

Will "intimidating behavior" become the new "abuse". Increasingly we hear charges against people of "abuse". "Abuse" used to mean that a man came home, kicked his kids down the stairs, punched his wife and raped his daughter. "Abuse" used to mean a woman got drunk, burned her kids with cigarettes, tortured the dog and locked her son in a cupboard. "Abuse" used to mean a priest was a drunkard, raped little boys and stole the collection money.

Now the term "abuse" is thrown at people, damning them with a vague and unproved accusation. "My husband was abusive!" I hear a woman complain, and it turns out he didn't listen to her enough and forgot to take out the trash on a Tuesday. "My mom is abusive!" a high school kid wails, and it turns out she yelled at him to clean up his room and grounded him because his grades were lousy.

This is the heresy of sentimentalism turned violent. The play is on a supposed victim's feelings. So-and-so was "abusive" or "intimidating" and I'm feeling wounded so the accusation is made, the "abusive" or "intimidating" person is accused, assumed guilty and executed without trial.

I don't know Fr Guarnizo and I don't have enough facts either way to make the judgment in this case, and anyway it's not my job. It's easy to jump to Fr Guarnizo's defense and view the Archdiocese as the Big Bad Wolf (in sheep's clothing) when the fact is, we really don't know all the facts and so we can't make a judgment one way or the other. We have to give both Fr Guranizo and the Archdiocese the benefit of the doubt.

However, in the midst of this fuss, I'm making the more general point that accusations of "abuse" and "intimidating behavior" should not be enough.

Everyone deserves justice and fair play and not only must there be justice, but justice must also be seen to delivered. Let's hope that is what prevails in the conflict between the Archdiocese and Fr Guarnizo.


  1. I wonder a little, Father. Justice can be done without telling us (the folks not directly concerned) anything much. We are not in a position to judge either Fr. Guarnizo or the Archdiocesan authorities, not only because we don't know enough (which you acknowledge), but also because it's quite simply not our job. Canonically, both Fr. Guarnizo and the Archdiocesan authorities have their chains of accountability, and we aren't part of either chain. Theologically, the same is true (except that the "chains of accountability" in that case have only one link, God himself—who is still quite emphatically not us :-).)

    What can't happen without greater transparency is that justice can't necessarily be seen to be done. Which definitely has its own value, but isn't (normally) the same thing as justice being done.

    You might want to make the case that, in this instance, justice has to be seen to be done in order to be done at all. You might be right, if you did. Without that, though, this piece sounds a little like justice is only done if we the general public think justice has been done. That's very democratic, but not necessarily exactly Catholic.

    Am I missing something?


  2. I suggest that the Archdiocese of Washington start reading the Epistles of St Paul.

    In his role as an Apostle, a Bishop of the Church, St Paul had to many times engage in "intimidating behavior" in order to deal with those who would weaken, change or destroy the faith or morals of his people.

    There is no way St Paul would lie down and let the forces of Satan walk over the faith or lead his people astray.

  3. Unfortunately, it's nothing new. More than a few saints were persecuted relentlessly during their lives by the Church itself and canonized afterwords. More than a few Old Testament prophets got the same treatment at the hands of the Jewish priesthood, Christ being only the final example.

    Fr. Guarnizo needs our prayers, but so does his bishop, since he will have to give an account to God for his actions.

  4. I am not a priest, but long ago when my head was on the chopping block in a corporation that has since been in the news for scandalous reasons, one of the reasons for my precarious position was that my fellow managers complained that I was "intimidating." My retort was that these managers were clearly in need of assertiveness training. Oh, and the other reason: I wasn't deferential enough to superiors.

    My heart goes out to Fr. Marcel and his flock. He has been in my prayers since this whole thing broke, but "intimidating behavior" is just about the lamest catchall imaginable. It's clear that he did nothing wrong but we dress up an incident with language that makes it seem like he did. Imagine, he defended the church's teaching. What has gotten into Cardinal Wuerl, et al?

  5. Father G told the story on Catholic radio the other morning. The lesbian took her "partner" to the Sacristy to meet Father. It was a setup from before the funeral ever started. To top it all off, poor Father developed a migraine that disabled him and made it impossible for him to go to the grave site. The family even used this circumstance against him.

  6. It might be worth looking at a canon lawyer's take on this--Edward Peters has a well reasoned commentary out. Central to that is the notion that Catholics have a right to the sacraments and to deprive them of sacraments requires a well supported (in advance) and clear reason. I believe that Fr. Marcel was well intentioned--and I might even applaud his actions because I am so tired of activists making trouble--but it doesn't mean he was correct in them. I am always surprised at how quick folk are to believe a Bishop has erred--no matter what he does....

  7. As a former police officer - the legal standards for "abuse" are quite clear.

    Speaking clearly and directly don't quite cut the legal definition of "abuse".

    God Bless Fr. Guarnizo.

  8. the fact is, we really don't know all the facts and so we can't make a judgment one way or the other

    We know enough of the facts to know that the Archdiocese has taken a very public act against the reputation of this priest, thereby inviting people to make judgements without all of the facts being known.

    We know enough of the facts to conclude that the Archdiocese has done a disservice to justice by taking such public action without disclosing all of the facts and in actively withholding some of the facts.

    And we know enough of the facts to know that this must make all of the priests of the Archdiocese uneasy, to know that their bishops are now in an adversarial position, rather than a paternal one.

    Father Guarnizo should demand an open and public trial on these matters.

  9. They haven't actually said whether the suspension was due him refusing communion to that woman. There may be other things going on.

  10. I trust the Church better than the bar of public opinion or even secular courts. There are enough good people within the Church who can bring about justice. If no one does, then there is One who will bring justice in the case of Fr. Guarnizo and to all those who did nothing. The shepherds are more accountable than the sheep. I fear the public will only turn this into a circus--this will only hurt the Church.

  11. Bender puts it all in a nutshell. There's the bus, there's the good priest under it with the bishop's handprints all over his back. We don't know enough only if we disbelieve a priest who we know to be of uncommon honesty by his dealings with the lady in question.

  12. Father, as a very frustrated lay Catholic, I'm very concerned about how my diocese and many others treat their priests who are "suspended". A very, very public statement of allegations is read to the parishioners. Sometimes in gets the press. But the diocese never tells you the outcome of the investigation. I understand privacy concerns to protect all involved and we don't need to know the gory details. However, we never learn if the priest was exonerated. Parishioners just left with an image the priest walking around with a scarlet letter on his chest.

    Now I realize civil law and canon law are not the same thing, but again, as a lay Catholic, civil law is what we know. Slander and libel are ugly words but sometimes I think they adequately describe how our priests are treated. The definitions are: Libel and slander are both forms of defamation. Defamation is a common law tort, governed by state law, in which an individual makes a "publication" of a defamatory statement of and concerning the plaintiff that damages the reputation of the plaintiff. The distinction between slander and libel comes in the form of the publication.

    Slander involves the oral "publication" of a defamatory remark that is heard by another, which injures the subject's reputation or character. Slander can occur through the use of a hand gesture or verbal communication that is not recorded. Libel, on the other hand, is the written "publication" of a defamatory remark that has the tendency to injure another's reputation or character. Libel also includes a publication on radio, audio or video. Even though this would be considered oral, or verbal, communication to someone it is actually considered to be libel because it is published in a transfixed form.

    We can look up the outcome of a civil or criminal case but we never know what happens to our priests. We only hear the bad. I think this is a huge disservice to the priest and the faithful who have concern for them "and" their accusers.

    Maybe the bishops know what they're doing, I don't know. There just has to be a better way of handling the removal of priests for something non-criminal.

    Not being an attorney, I may be wrong about all of this, I get that. Thanks for letting me vent anyway.

  13. Two (good) reasons for the ambiguous use of certain terms:

    1) We naturally avoid naming bad things. It is much easier to say, "sexual abuse" than to describe in detail what the perp did.

    2) The steps leading up to abusive behavior are often disguised by the perp as legitimate -- "I just want to ________". The difference between "poor judgement" and truly offensive behavior is not, at the beginning, easy to objectively describe, even though you know it when you experience it.

    That said, I agree 100% with the misuse of the A-word. But wanted to further the discussion.

  14. I don't know.. it just seems that the Church is being persecuted from without and within..It seems good and holy priests are having their faculties taken away so very easily... The Archdiocese will make a very public announcement which I think is not only wrong but also causes untold embarrassment to the 'accused' and then they say" And thats all we are going to say on the matter" leaving people to have their minds run amok.. Something is definitely flawed with this whole process from beginning to end..

  15. Several comments.

    No one is mentioning that she received the Eucharist from an EM without a problem. So Father was not that obvious about the refusal.

    Second, about the abuse of staff. I have not worked with a native Russian, but I have with an Egyptian Copt. His body language and voice volume could be construed as intimating, even though he wasn't meaning that. I wonder if that could be part of the problem with the staff.


  16. Even if the priest was wrong according to Canon Law; he made a decision under pressure, does that justify removing his faculties as a priest?
    We don't know all the facts it is true, but I agree with "informed and free" there should a better way to deal with these things.
    I've also read the letter from the Bishop and it did seem overly "appeasing".
    Was it just fear of intimidation by the homosexual lobby?
    At any rate the woman must be very pleased with the outcome, she got what she wanted.
    Justice may have been done, but it was not seen to be done,the diocese seems to be siding with the wrong people.