TWO’s John Becker wrote yesterday about the Rev. Marcel Guarnizo, the Maryland priest who denied Communion and disrupted a parish funeral on Saturday because the deceased woman’s daughter, Barbara Johnson, happened to be a lesbian.

Today the Washington Post reported that “the Catholic Archdiocese of Washington is commenting only with a brief statement that says the priest’s actions were against ‘policy’ and that officials would be looking into the incident as a personnel issue.”

As if to pre-empt possible hope for compassion and inclusion, the archdiocese implied that Guarnizo’s mistake was merely in being so public:

“In matters of faith and morals, the Church has the responsibility of teaching and of bringing the light of the Gospel message to the circumstances of our day,” the archdiocese said in a statement. “When questions arise about whether or not an individual should present themselves for communion, it is not the policy of the Archdiocese of Washington to publicly reprimand the person. Any issues regarding the suitability of an individual to receive communion should be addressed by the priest with that person in a private, pastoral setting.”

Johnson’s brother Larry cautioned against turning the incident into a discussion about gay rights or Catholicism.

“We agreed this is not a discussion about gay rights, or about the teachings of the Catholic Church,” he said. “We’re not in this to Catholic-bash. That’s the farthest thing from our minds. We just want the public square to have knowledge of what this priest did.”

Larry asked whether some church priests are becoming “state of grace” police, and whether that trend is “consistent with the teachings of Christianity.”

At least one Washington-area Catholic conservative came to Guarnizo’s defense, stating, “The blame here is not on the priest, but on Barbara Johnson.” This blogger asserts that antigay forces are “losing the battle over same sex marriage” because the church hierarchy is too charitable toward homosexuals — and too harsh toward “faithful” priests.