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

  • Norminha

    Since when, these new agendas can be imposed on the Church?
    No ONE can receive our Blessed Lord in the state of moral sin. This is not a command from the Church, but from Christ, who is the Head of the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church. Whoever eats and drinks the Body and Blood of Christ faces eternal condemnation. Holy Mother Church MUST, to the end, be faithful to the commands of Her Head, for She exists to procure the salvation of ALL humanity. This person has forgotten the proper reception of the Holy Eucharist; only if he was unconscious, the priest could perform the rite of extreme unction. He lost the opportunity to be cured in soul and body with his lukewarm attitude toward the Church. Let’s pray the Divine Mercy Chaplet for this brother of us and all those who reject Christ and His Church.

  • Casey

    “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…” How can you attend Mass somewhere for 10 years and not know the name of one of the priests???? Sounds fishy.

  • Jonah Hill

    Badilla you are wrong in every adpect, homosexuality for all. You could not be more wrong.

    • Antonio A. Badilla

      No Jonah, I am not incorrect about this issue. Unlike you, I know what Catholicism teaches and I either agree with it and remain within the boundaries of the Church, or I don’t, and have the integrity to leave. The issue happens to be homosexuality in this case, but if it were adultery, stealing from the poor, etc, the same teaching remains. You want to have the cake and eat it too.

      • Norminha

        Antonio Badilla, stop fighting God, He is too big for you. But, paradoxically, He is very humble to the point to die so that you can live in light.
        Badilla is a very Latin name, shame if not obey ALL Holy Mother Church teaches for the salvation of your soul; never is too late, hurry, for your end could be in a few days/hours/minutes. St. Michael the Archangel, come to the rescue of Antonio!

        • Antonio A. Badilla

          Read my replies to Jonah and company. I think you totally misunderstood what I wrote. I’m on your side on this one and how you missed it, is beyond me.

  • Bill Monteith

    Eric and Sheesh and others: you are certainly welcome to disagree with Catholic teaching on the Eucharist, but please stop with the old standby pedophile priest/billion dollar republican church moral equivalency garbage. Steve and others have made perfectly valid points on why we consider the Eucharist to be the source and summit of our faith and that to receive it unworthily is not an option. Try to make a valid argument without casting aspersions or using the same old tired insults against Catholicism. And Jimbob, me thinks you might ask your priest about your communion question, but you might not like the answer you get. And as Bishop Paprocki once said, if you don’t like what the Catholic Church teaches, go be a Protestant, they do good things too.

    • jimbob

      I had an interesting conversation with Bishop Paprocki’s office back in November after his exorcism stunt. I don’t reside in Springfield, IL. I plan to receive Communion this Sunday. I own property in a summer, mostly gay, community where a wonderful retired priest celebrates Sunday Mass. I would say 75% of congregants at these Masses are gay. I have never known the priest to deny Communion to anyone.

      • Bill Monteith

        Jim, that’s wonderful, and the priest shouldn’t deny communion to someone who is gay, only if he has direct knowledge that the gay(or straight) would be communicant is engaging in an active sexual relationship outside the sacrament of marriage. What this priest or any priest knows is between him and God. Same goes for the person receiving the Eucharist. As for the Paprocki quote, he said that at a debate called “Two Catholic views on Marriage”, which he was quick to point out was a misnomer as there is only one true Catholic view on so called gay marriage, and I don’t think you agree with it. He also said “the Church’s teaching on homosexuality and marriage is Catholic because it is true, not true because it is Catholic.”

      • Antonio A. Badilla

        “I would say 75% of congregants at these Masses are gay. I have never known the priest to deny Communion to anyone.” And of course he would not deny communion to anyone even if he knew 100% of his congregation is gay, because having a gay orientation in our church is not sinful, and because no priest stands out there, at communion time, and asks a person what sort of sins he has committed before he gives him or her Holy Communion, so your point, makes no sense, at least from a Catholic perspective. The Catholic Church is to be like her founder, a “Sign of Contradiction.” It is not supposed to flow with the culture because pure sentimentality does not trump doctrinal truth,

        • Norminha

          Where it appears, “Sign of Contradiction” to be applied or has to do with the gay agenda?
          Holy Mother Church does not act based on sentimentality, but she uses reason to exercise the faith of the Body of Christ.
          I believe, it is time for common sense, especially from the Hispanic community that was born Catholic and obedient to the Magisterium of the Church.

          • Antonio A. Badilla

            Norminha, are you really READING anything I actually wrote. I have defended the two priests being persecuted by The Washington Post. I have defended the Church. I have agreed with Steve in the writing of his article. I have agreed with your initial reaction, and YET you are treating me as if I had said the opposite, Go back to what I wrote and then react accordingly.

  • C Duncan

    let start by saying I am close friend of Ron. I’m straight, was brought up in the catholic church, and was with Ron at the hospital. Please know this is not a smear campain, rather, its another question that we have to ask ourselves. Ron will do anything for his church, his faith, and the other members around him. Is it not it reasonable to ask for that same love and support? These are difficult times of change. Please remember we are all in it together.

    • Steve Skojec

      If it is not a smear campaign, why go to the press with this? Why not keep it a private matter?

      • jimbob

        Steve, Did it not happen? has the press made something up? How is this a smear campaign? Why do you say the article represents an “attack” on Coelho and why do you use that poorly used catchphrase. “The War on Religious Liberty”. Are you waging war on the freedom of the press? I guess I should not expect much from a man like yourself who sees his gay brothers and sisters in the Lord as participants in some evil “agenda”.

        • Steve Skojec

          You’re telling me that his complaints went through diocesan channels first in an attempt to seek resolution? Or was the Washington Post and the Washington Blade on speed dial?

          This was brought to the press so that Fr. Coelho could be tried in a court of public opinion. Yes, there is an agenda seeking societal legitimization of homosexual behavior and relationships, and yes, the Alinskyite tactics are in full force.

          Rules for Radicals:

          “RULE 12: Pick the target, freeze it, personalize it, and polarize it.” Cut off the support network and isolate the target from sympathy. Go after people and not institutions; people hurt faster than institutions. (This is cruel, but very effective. Direct, personalized criticism and ridicule works.)”

          • Eric Johnson

            Steve, definition of paranoia; ” a thought process believed to be heavily influenced by anxiety or fear, often to the point of irrationality and delusion. Paranoid thinking typically includes persecutory beliefs, or beliefs of conspiracy concerning a perceived threat towards oneself.”

          • Steve Skojec

            Congratulations, you can read a dictionary. For your next lesson, we’ll be working on applying those definitions contextually…

        • Antonio A. Badilla

          Jim, I would thing the media has better things to report on, but going against two catholic priests because they do THEIR job, it’s much easier to report than to talk about the main issues of the day.

          • jimbob

            Coelho did not do his job. Whatsoever you do to the least of my brothers? Where charity and love prevail, Coelho’s nowhere to be found.

    • Pamela

      You say ‘Ron will do anything for his church…”, but will Ron give up his sinful lifestyle? Will he do anything for his own immortal soul? Rather than asking will the Church ‘love and support’ him in his sin, you should be asking him to accept the true love the Church, through her priest, is showing him by preventing him further separating himself from Christ, Truly Present. He who eats unworthily ‘eats condemnation’.

      And I don’t know what you mean by ‘difficult times of change’, but Christ does not change, nor does His truth.

    • http://CatholicVote Patty Bennett

      So Ron will do anything for the Church?
      Except maybe refrain from cursing at the priest? There are too many vague points here. Did Ron TELL the priest to leave while he was cursing at him? Did the priest stop when the visitor entered in order to protect privacy and the seal of confession?
      Ron obviously doesn’t understand the sacraments very well. He called this his “due”, as if the sacraments are some type of commodity. Holy Communion is the Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of Jesus Christ, not an object to be demanded.
      The priest’s suggestion to pray together is very appropriate, especially since Ron was so agitated. Prayer is good. Ron should not have cursed in reply. We should all learn not to take offense when none is intended, but there is a pattern of behavior here. Certain people use “I’M SO HORRIBLY OFFENDED–EVERYBODY WATCH!” as a way to browbeat everyone else into caving into their agenda. Could that possibly have happened here? Maybe it’s stress, but he seems kind of touchy. I honestly care about the guy, and hope he doesn’t agitate himself into another heart attack.
      He said the episode of not receiving what he wanted from the priest (even though he said he felt comforted by the Methodist chaplain who brought him Methodist communion) felt like it ruined him. My goodness! As much as I love the Catholic Church, if you are that unhappy here, wouldn’t you feel better going where you are comfortable? Since you don’t understand the sacraments anyway, I was just wondering why you would want to stay. Something’s fishy.
      One basic question: Why do people who have no intention of actually BEING in communion with the Catholic Church, keep DEMANDING Communion from the Catholic Church?
      Please pray for me; I’ll pray for you. Really. No offense intended.

    • Caro

      The church supports your fire d and the Priest did treat him in a loving way by listening to him and being at his bed-side. There is nothing else the Priest could do that would be right with God. One should not participate in the sacraments when in mortal sin is beig committed or has been and that goes for EVERYONE not just an active-gay person.

  • Aaron Taylor

    It is simply not true to say that “a priest is obligated not to provide a person he knows to be in grave sin with the Most Holy Eucharist.”

    The reality is a lot more complicated than this. I would suggest the author does a little reading on the canon law of the sacraments. He might want to start here, with a nice commentary by the noted and orthodox canonist Edward Peters:

    That’s not to say that the man in question should have been given the Eucharist. I couldn’t possibly comment, since nothing is known about his case apart from a few snippets in a newspaper article. Perhaps it would have been better if the author had declined to comment, too, unless he knows something about the case that the rest of us do not.

    “The Eucharist isn’t a game to play with to advance agendas.” Well, quite, But that goes for Catholic Vote’s Republican agenda just as much as the liberal mainstream media’s agenda.

    • Steve Skojec

      In the case of a man who is living an active homosexual lifestyle, knows what the Church teaches, and refuses to confess his sins because he disagrees with Church teaching, the conditions Peters cites (Sinful, Grave, Manifest, and Obstinate) all apply. Every indication in this story points the reader to believe that this is the case.

      As for me, I’m no Republican. And I frankly have no idea what bearing that has on any of this. I’m talking about sacrilege, not politics.

      • Antonio A. Badilla

        Good for you Steve, and I am amazed at how little so many Catholics understand the teachings of the Catholic Church. The priest not only has the power to forgive sins in the name of Christ, but he also has the power to retain them, How can any priest give absolution when a penitent is clearly saying, I do not have a firm purpose of amendment?

        • Eric Johnson

          It’s fortunate that God has the last word regardless of whatever some religion says. Just a reminder; neither God nor Jesus created religion; man did.

          • Steve Skojec

            Sounds like you’ve created your own version of religion with its own set of facts. How neat.

          • Pamela

            Jesus may not have ‘created religion’, but He sure did create the One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church and He sure did give it the authority to go and teach all nations.

            Deo gratias!



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