On Friday, the Washington Post predictably depicted a Catholic hospital chaplain as the aggressor, after the priest denied an ailing, openly-homosexual patient Communion and the Sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick. The liberal newspaper's Metro-section report on the controversy came less than a week after the section's former editor blasted a Virginia Catholic priest for dissolving his parish's Boy Scout troop over their new pro-LGBT membership policy.
Reporter Michelle Boorstein picked up on the scoop from "America's Leading Gay News Source," the Washington Blade, and hyped how "a Catholic chaplain at MedStar Washington Hospital Center stopped delivering a 63-year-old heart attack patient Communion prayers and last rites after the man said he was gay, the patient said Wednesday, describing a dramatic bedside scene starting with him citing Pope Francis and ending with him swearing at the cleric."
Boorstein lead the article, "Gay patient says Catholic chaplain refused him last rites" (titled "Gay man says a priest denied him last rites" on page B3 of Friday's Metro section) with her "dramatic" summary of the dispute between Father Brian Coelho, who was "born and educated in India before being ordained in 2007," and Ronald Plishka, a "retired travel agent" who, according to his account, "had been in the hospital 24 hours on Feb. 7 and became concerned that he might not make it." She continued by noting that "details of the exchange this month...couldn't be confirmed with the priest," and cited that the story was "first reported in the Washington Blade."
The reporter soon followed the lead of colleague Robert McCartney's Sunday column against Father John DeCelles in spotlighting Pope Francis's much-hyped "who am I to judge?" remarks about homosexuals, and also cited a separate controversy from 2012 between a priest and a lesbian at her mother's funeral:
The question of how members of the clergy minister to gays and lesbians is becoming more explosive in traditional religion as society becomes more accepting of them. This is true in Catholicism, which is why the pope made worldwide news soon after taking office when he told reporters asking about gay people: "Who am I to judge?"
A priest in the archdiocese was chided and then placed on administrative leave in 2012 after he denied Communion to a lesbian in public, at her mother's funeral. Although the church teaches that gay relationships are "disordered," many Catholics — including clergy — believe that it's up to individual Catholics to decide based on conscience how they should approach sexuality in light of church teaching and that there are many details that can make it difficult to answer whether someone is living in sin.
The Post gave Boorstein's February 2012 report on the earlier spat between Father Marcel Guarnizo and Barbara Johnson front-page treatment. The journalist front-loaded the first six paragraphs of her article with a florid and sympathetic account of Johnson's mother's funeral, and included her fire-and-brimstone condemnation of Father Guarnizo.
Boorstein then reproduced Plishka's account of what happened when Father Coelho visited his hospital room:
...According to Plishka, he asked Coelho for Communion and last rites, more commonly called the Anointing of the Sick. Coelho asked whether he would like to say confession first, and Plishka said he began to talk about his history, including his lifelong struggle with his sexuality. Plishka didn't come out as gay until he was in his 50s.
"Then we started talking about the pope, and I said I was so excited about him, because of what he said about gays. I said, 'Does that bother you, that I'm gay?' And he said 'no,'' Plishka said.
The conversation was interrupted by someone coming into the room, which he shared with another patient, Plishka recalled. After that, Coelho 'would not continue' with the specific prayers and acts of Communion and anointing, Plishka said. "He said, 'I will pray with you,' but that's all he'd do. That was it.
"I just saw red. I cursed at a priest. I called him a hypocrite. As he was leaving — I can't repeat what I said, but it was bad. . . . I'm thinking I’m going to rot in hell now,' he said. "But after that, I became scared — fear settled in. I don't have the rites, I didn't get Communion. I believed in the sacraments; this is something we're taught we need before we die....
What the Post reporter didn't mention is that her main source, the Blade, noted in its article that "the hospital sent a Methodist minister to see him in his hospital room shortly after Coelho's visit. 'He prayed with me and gave me communion and all of that,' said Plishka." This is out of the norm for the Catholic Church, which severely restricts the faithful from receiving Communion from most other denominations.
It also took Boorstein 15 paragraphs to cite someone who was sympathetic to Father Coelho: "A few days after the incident, Plishka said, he called the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, where he has attended Sunday noon Mass for at least a decade. He didn't know any priests but asked for one on duty to call him back, Plishka said. The priest agreed with the chaplain, Plishka said. 'He said he can't give you [Communion] if you continue that lifestyle, if you're an active participant,' he said."
That last sentence is key, because if Mr. Plishka indicated that he was an "active participant" and had no intention of repenting of his sinful lifestyle, then Father Coelho had no choice but to deny the patient absolution at the end of Confession, as well as the Eucharist and anointing.
Earlier, the writer also revealed the hospital's left-wing stance on the controversy, where it indicated that it was going to regulate the religious views of chaplains who serve in the hospital:
In its statement, MedStar Washington Hospital Center said officials there have 'taken our patient's concerns very seriously. While the priest is not an employee but rather is assigned by the Archdiocese to provide spiritual care at our hospital, it is our expectation that all who support our patients adhere to our values. This includes offering pastoral and spiritual support to all patients, regardless of their faith traditions,' a hospital statement said. 'Our hospital was recognized last year as a 'Leader in LGBT Healthcare Equality' by the Human Rights Campaign Foundation. We want to hold true to this important commitment to the LGBT community and to all of our patients. Our Department of Spiritual Care has reinforced our expectations with this particular priest and his superiors.'
Phil Lawler of CatholicCulture.org zeroed in on the hospital's statement as an "ominous aspect of the Post story" in a Friday post:
What happens the next time a patient at the Washington Hospital Center complains that a priest urged him to cease his homosexual activities? Will he be removed from his post as chaplain? And if that happens at the Washington Hospital Center, how many months—or weeks, or days—will pass before military chaplains face similar problems?
There will not be a frontal assault on the religious liberty of Catholics in the US. The pressure will be more subtle; the restrictions will come at the margin. But the pressure is mounting, to bring the Church under political control.
Given that the Washington Post is already on the record of hoping that "those with narrow-minded views will be the ones who end up 'marginalized,'" one can expect that they will not object to the removal of hospital and military chaplains who don't cowtow to the far left's social agenda.