A heart-attack victim who believed he was close to death says he was denied communion and last rites by a Roman Catholic priest in Washington, D.C., earlier this month after he disclosed that he's gay, according to a story published this week in the Washington Blade.
Ronald Plishka, 63, told the Blade that Rev. Brian Coelho, a Catholic chaplain at MedStar Washington Hospital Center, offered to hear his confession before administering the sacrament of holy communion and anointing of the sick. After Plishka noted that he was a fan of Pope Francis because of the pope's seeming openness to LGBT people, the priest changed his mind, stopped administering the sacraments, and offered instead to pray, Plishka said.
“We started talking and I told him I was so happy with this new pope because of his comments about the gays and his accepting the gays. And I mentioned that I was gay. I said it and then I asked him, ‘Does that bother you?’ And he said, ‘Oh, no, that does not bother me,’” Plishka told the Blade. “But then he would not proceed with administering the last rites or communion. He couldn’t do it.”
The hospital distanced itself from Coelho, noting that the priest was assigned by the Archdiocese of Washington and that the hospital had been heralded by the Human Rights Campaign as a “Leader in LGBT Healthcare Equality.”
According to the Archdiocese of Washington, Cohelo was “born in India and attended seminary there prior to entering the Archdiocese of Washington’s Redemptoris Mater Seminary."
The Washington Post reports that Plishka reached out to the Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in northeast Washington, where he has attended mass for a decade. He said a priest told him in a phone call that he agreed with the hospital chaplain's decision.
“He said, he can’t give you [communion] if you continue that lifestyle, if you’re an active participant,” he told the Post.
Rev. Henry Huot, the chair of the pro-LGBT Catholic group Dignity Washington, told the Blade the church recommends that priests provide communion and anointing to sick people regardless of their circumstances.
“Any baptized Christian ought not to be denied the sacraments at his or her request,” Huot told the Blade. “And that is a cardinal rule of pastoral care. So I don’t know what was going through the mind of this hospital chaplain to deny this man the sacraments,” he said. “It violates this cardinal rule.”
The director of the national pro-LGBT Catholic group New Ways Ministry also lamented the situation and called on the archdiocese to clairfy the events.
"There is no reason that an LGBT person should be denied pastoral care," Francis DeBernardo wrote on the group's website. "This whole episode illustrates why so much education of priests and pastoral staff in regards to LGBT people is still sorely needed. And the Archdiocese needs to be swift in making some public statement either that an error was committed by the priest or that the Archdiocese is committed to fairness and equality in administering the sacraments."
Both the Archdiocese of Washington and Coehlo declined comment to the Blade and the Post.