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Priest Defends Denying Communion To Lesbian Mourner

The priest who was put on administrative leave by the Archdiocese of Washington following a much-talked-about incident in which he denied communion to a lesbian woman attending her mother's funeral, has issued a long defense of his action and has said the church isn't being candid about the reason for its decision to put him on leave.

Rev.Marcel Guarnizo, in a statement posted by CNSNews.com, says:

-- Of the denial of communion to Barbara Johnson on Feb. 25 that he is "confident ... that I did the only thing a faithful Catholic priest could do in such an awkward situation, quietly, with no intention to hurt or embarrass."

-- "I quietly withheld communion, so quietly that even the Eucharistic Minister standing four feet from me was not aware I had done so. (In fact Ms. Johnson promptly chose to go to the Eucharistic minister to receive communion and did so.) There was no scandal, no 'public reprimand' and no small lecture as some have reported."

-- Though the diocese has said he was put on leave because he had "engaged in intimidating behavior toward parish staff and others that is incompatible with proper priestly ministry," not because of the communion incident, the "allegations of 'intimidation' are circumscribed to two conversations ... [and] both instances have everything to do with the Eucharistic incident." He also makes the case that "my personal conversation[s] with both parties in question were in my view civil, professional and in no way hostile."

We have reached out to the archdiocese for comment.

The Washington Post reports that "Johnson's brother, Larry, said the family is livid," about Guarnizo's statement. It adds that:

"Larry Johnson's voice shook as he described Guarnizo's version of events. 'His premise of the whole thing is the most remarkable. . . . I witnessed the coldness of this man, the arrogance of this man,' he said."

Update at 9:35 a.m. ET. The Archdiocese Says It Can't Comment:

"The communion incident and the allegations of intimidating behavior are both currently under review as a personnel issue so the archdiocese can't say anything more about Fr. Guarnizo," director of communications Chieko Noguchi Scheve says in an email she just sent to us.

Copyright 2012 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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