Priest Criticized For Refusing Last Rites to Homosexual Patient


The Washington Post continues to go after priests who uphold Catholic sexual teaching. Last week, it was the smear of Fr. John DeCelles for not renewing his contract with the Boy Scouts of America following their decision to allow openly gay scouts into their membership. Now it’s an attack on Fr. Brian Coelho, a chaplain at MedStar Washington Hospital in DC.

The story begins with Ronald Plishka, a 63-year-old man who was undergoing treatment for an undisclosed condition this month at the hospital in question. According to Plishka, after being in the hospital for 24 hours, he “became concerned that he might not make it.” And that’s when the trouble started.

An altar boy until he was 18 and a weekly attendee at Mass, Plishka asked to see a priest.

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, he 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.”

“I’ve tried to be a decent person all my life. I’m not perfect, believe me. And I wouldn’t wish [being gay] on anyone. But you can’t be somebody you’re not. Otherwise you’ll end up 63 and alone,” he said.


Plishka said that a few days after the incident he called the Basilica of the National Shrine, 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.

This story avoids the issue of Plishka’s own involvement in the gay culture, which forces us to read between the lines. It’s one of the problems with the usage of the term “gay”, which to some indicates merely a same-sex attraction, and to others, an active homosexual lifestyle. Plishka’s admission that he was gay did not, if his story is to be believed, “bother” Fr. Coelho.

But something else did. And this something, it appears to me, was Plishka’s unwillingness to see that he was doing anything wrong.

You’ll note that when he was asked to confess his sins, he chose instead to talk about his history. Instead of a spirit of penance, he talked about his excitement at his perception that the pope was embracing gays. Instead of saying that he condemned the homosexual lifestyle, he said that “you can’t be somebody you’re not…otherwise you’ll end up 63 and alone.” The implication is that Plishka chose the opposite – not to be alone.

Finally, Fr. Coelho’s decision to deny communion to Plishka was reinforced by the priest at the Basilica, who also warned that he could not give the sacrament to someone who is an “active participant” in the lifestyle.

Clearly, there is a fine line here. A person who struggles with same-sex attraction but remains chaste is not living in sin. In such a circumstance, there would be no grounds to deny sacraments. We can’t know for sure, but it certainly sounds like Plishka was more involved than that.

If so, it appears that Fr. Coelho’s actions were justified. A person who is living in sin and refuses to repent is not eligible to receive certain sacraments. They cannot be forgiven through confession, because they lack contrition. A priest has the right to withhold absolution to anyone he believes is not making a sincere confession.

And of course a priest is obligated not to provide a person he knows to be in grave sin with the Most Holy Eucharist.

The one oddity in this story is the alleged refusal to provide the Anointing of the Sick. This sacrament is not a “sacrament of the living” — one which requires that the recipient be in a state of grace to receive it — and can, in circumstances where a person is unable to confess their sins due to some physical or psychological impediment, effect the remission of sins. In the case of Plishka, who appears to have been fully conscious and capable of making a confession if he so chose, the sacrament would not have had this effect, but may have offered some of its other salutary benefits.

Still, nothing about Plishka’s account indicates that Fr. Coelho was in any way uncharitable toward him, only that he refused to offer sacraments which (with the possible exception of Anointing of the Sick) should have been refused by any Catholic priest in his situation. In that regard, it looks to the outside observer as though he made precisely the right call.

For his part, Fr. Coelho’s reticence to be interviewed is understandable. This is a minefield for any Catholic priest. Just two years ago, the case of another DC-area priest, Fr. Marcel Guarnizo, gained national attention when he was placed on administrative leave and had his faculties withdrawn after refusing to give communion to a woman who had revealed to him that she was living in a same-sex relationship. It was later claimed that he was placed on leave not for denying communion, but for intimidating behavior – a claim that Fr. Guarnizo has flatly denied.

As the story of Fr. Coelho’s actions continues to make waves, I hope he will respond to the accusations with his own side of the story. It’s not going to go away, and it’s becoming increasingly apparent that the media will capitalize on every story like this to further their agenda. Sadly, this likely means that fewer priests will be willing to protect Our Eucharistic Lord from sacrilege, for fear of the fallout.


Categories:Culture Religious Liberty

  • Donna

    God is indeed the ultimate decision maker. Gratefully, he has given us the Holy Catholic Church with her timeless wisdom to guide us home to Him, for those who choose to do so. Excellent piece that reveals the lack of understanding of what truth and our faith actually is. On second thought, perhaps it reveals the rejection of truth and our faith.

    • Antonio A. Badilla

      “On second thought, perhaps it reveals the rejection of truth and our faith.” That’s exactly what many commentaries reveal here.

  • morganB

    Let he who is without sin… How can we rely on any priest in post pedophilia reality to make these judgments? Did Pope Francis not say hate the act, but love the person?

    • Antonio A. Badilla

      Come on Morgan, are you suggesting that in similar circumstances the Pope would do the opposite to people who continue to say. “I am comfortable with my lifestyle” even if that lifestyle is in direct conflict with what we believe? Whatever happened to the words of Jesus, “Go and SIN no more?”

      • morganB

        Antonio, do you know if the gay gut ever went to hell? It had to be for one of two “sins”. The sin of being born homosexual or the “sin” of dying without receiving extreme unction.

        Church officials offer some compromise on gays. They are “welcome” if they remain celibate for life. A rule that can’t be verified. I ask simply… what would Jesus do with this dying soul?

  • Brian MacFarland

    And the Roman Cult wonders why their pews are empty. The Episcopal Church Welcomes ALL!

    • Steve Skojec

      Yeah. That’s been working out fantastically, hasn’t it?

    • Brian

      Hahaha!!! The Episcopal Church is shrinking so fast that it may not exist in 50 years!!!

    • Antonio A. Badilla

      Good, maybe he should become an Anglican and betray the principles of Christianity just to feel comfortable. As for the pews being empty, it always amuses me when people say that of a 1.5 billion Catholic Church as opposed to 70 million Anglicans who have embraced the world instead of the Gospel.

  • SM2504

    We all live in sin. Every single one of us. We all know that most of the people who receive the Eucharist have not confessed their sins before approaching. Priests know this too.

    By your logic, Steve, Priests should deny communion to almost everybody who approaches. Of course they do not do so because that would be chaos. Unfortunately, some in the Church have used the Eucharist as a political tool, calling on it to be denied to politicians, gay Catholics, and others. The sad truth of it is that you, Steve, and this Priest, have decided that it is ok to elevate the sin of practicing homosexuality above other sins.

    What about the Catholic who has let greed control him? What about the Catholic who has become the victim of his own pride? I am guilty of both of these sins constantly. But I get to stroll up there and receive the Eucharist because my natural desires led me to be attracted to my wife.

    It’s ok to admit that you place homosexual actions above other sins. It’s ok to admit that some of our clergy use the Eucharist as a political weapon. Just don’t get upset when an LGBT catholic is hurt by this. Instead, try being charitable towards the person and understanding his/her point of view.

    • Steve Skojec

      When I am not in a state of grace, I don’t receive communion. It’s a very simple concept. If I can’t make a sincere confession, that’s my problem to work out. If I’m too attached to a sin and not really contrite, I spend a lot of time praying and asking God to help me get back on track so that I can really confess it with a “firm purpose of amendment.”

      This is what being Catholic is. Not holier, not better, just constantly working to shore up our human weakness and conquer sin by God’s grace.

      The problem here is that this man, by every indication, is unwilling to give up his lifestyle. It’s a sinful lifestyle, and it has to be given up. And in a struggle to give it up, one expects that a man would fall, repent, and probably fall again.

      But to refuse to confess one’s sins on what one believes is their death bed? I don’t know why such a person would care about receiving the sacraments at all. It seems pretty clear that being Catholic means something very different to a person like that than it does to the saints. And isn’t that precisely what we are called to be through our sacramental life?

      • SM2504

        I hear your points and applaud your discretion in approaching the Eucharist. But I believe that denial of the Eucharist is a subtle form of excommunication and should only be used in the gravest of circumstances. We have to show our gay brothers and sisters love and welcome them with open arms. Waving a finger in their faces or uses the Eucharist as a political tool will simply not get that done.

        • Steve Skojec

          The only people who can truly exclude us from communion is…ourselves. If we are in sin and we receive, we “eat and drink condemnation unto ourselves.” When a priest doesn’t know that we are in sin and gives us communion, we are still cutting ourselves off from the life of grace by committing the further sin of sacrilege.

          If a priest does know, however, he has a duty to protect the sacrament. Even Christ said, “Do not throw your pearls before swine.” When we are in grave sin, that is an apt analogy for what we are doing when we approach the Eucharist.

          Imagine I tell a priest right before Mass, “I cheated on my wife last night. This woman was AMAZING. I know it was wrong, but I had such a great time. It was worth it!” What do you think he should do if I come up for communion?

          Let’s act like adults. We’re not entitled to the Eucharist. Taking it when we are in sin is a direct violation of God’s will. It’s an abuse of the sacrament.

          Anyone who loves Christ in the Eucharist would never desecrate Him in this way.

        • Antonio A. Badilla

          “We have to show our gay brothers and sisters love and welcome them with open arms.” Absolutely, we should welcome them with open arms but not their sinful lifestyle, and it is precisely because those priests love them, that they are concerned about the state of their souls. Could there be greater charity?

    • Antonio A. Badilla

      “By your logic, Steve, Priests should deny communion to almost everybody who approaches…” No, the priest can’t grant absolution in the name of Christ when a person is not contrite for what he or she is doing. That’s Catholicism 101!

    • Caro

      My friend, going to confession shouldn’t be treated like a check-mark on the list of things to do because I am catholic. We are a church of sinners, what makes it valuable is that many of us want to move away from sin. We know what sin is from catholic teaching, all sin will ultimately lead us to death if we don’t repent. There are five steps to a good confession: examination of conscience, sorrow for our sins, firm purpose of amendment, confession, and penance. If we lack any of these, we are only cheating ourselves. Our society might disagree with our point of view of what sin might be, but that is ok because it is OUR church. All sinners are welcomed, and I am the geatest sinner of them all. I choose to live my life as it is asked by the church through catholic teaching and I choose to believe that it is the truth. If I didn’t I know that I would not be able to participate in Holy Communion, no one would condemn me, I would condemn myself.

  • Sheesh

    Wow, I’m glad Republican “Catholic” Vote has the ability to see into the soul of the poor man in the hospital and determine he was a vile individual unworthy of the sacrament or the grace. Shame on you, Steve, for this pathetic hit piece.

    • Steve Skojec

      Is this what passes for thoughtful commentary now? If the man was living this lifestyle – which it appears two priests determined was true – then he absolutely should have been denied communion if he wouldn’t make a good confession. End of story.

      The Eucharist isn’t a game to play with to advance agendas.

      “Therefore whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner, shall be guilty of the body and the blood of the Lord.” – 1 Corinthians 11:37

      • jimbob

        Even the Pope has said, “Who am I to judge?” Does a priest ask each person about his or her private/sex life prior to anointing? I don’t recall ever having to go through an Inquisition while on a Communion line. I also see Mr.Skojec is a bit obsessed with homosexuality as this is his 3rd straight blog about the subject. For the record I attended a civil same sex marriage ceremony today for 2 good friends. Family members, some Church going Catholics, embraced the couple and shed tears of joy. Should I not take Communion on Sunday?

        • Brian

          The Pope said more than, “Who am I to judge?” You left out the first part, “If someone is gay and searches for The Lord and has good will.” To participate in the homosexual lifestyle or approve of it through participating in an attempted marriage is contrary to the gospel. To search for The Lord means to live according to the gospel. Someone who lives contrary to the gospel is not searching for The Lord.

        • Antonio A. Badilla

          You misunderstood what the Pope said, he certainly did not mean, “don’t repent from your sinful lifestyle and do receive absolution because the priest, in the confessional, can’t make judgments.” STOP twisting the words of the Pope for your convenience.

        • Antonio A. Badilla

          “I also see Mr.Skojec is a bit obsessed with homosexuality as this is his 3rd straight blog about the subject” And apparently so are you since you have noticed he has written three articles on the subject. This is not about obsession, it’s about the proper attitude to be forgiven in the Sacrament of Penance.

  • Eric Johnson

    Fortunately this is a moot point since God is the ultimate decision maker.

    • Antonio A. Badilla

      Not when God has given his priests the power to absolve sin in His name!

      • Caro

        We must stand by our Priests so that when there is a fall out, they shall not be left standing alone. We must protect the Eucharist from those who truly don’t believe, don’t adore, and don’t trust. And pray for the coversion of our world.

      • Eric Johnson

        God didn’t give priests this power. The Catholic Church did and they also did a great job of interpreting the New Testament in such a way as to make them the only path to heaven. They’ve made billions and billions of dollars because so many fell for it.

        • Antonio A. Badilla

          Wrong Mr. Johnson. You can believe whatever you want to believe, but in Catholic teaching, the priest has the power not only to absolve sins but to retain them. Obviously you are in the wrong Church if you don’t know this. As for the Church making billions, what does this have to do with the subject? Dumping on the Church because you don’t like her teachings doesn’t say much for your integrity as a person. The issue is simple. Either one is willing to repent to be absolved from one’s sin, or one is not. What part of this teaching don’t you get?



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