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Florida priest bites woman who grabbed communion wafers

Cristóbal Reyes, Orlando Sentinel on

Published in Religious News

ORLANDO, Fla. — A Catholic priest saying Mass in St. Cloud bit a woman as she grabbed Holy Communion wafers from him, and the Diocese of Orlando defended his actions Thursday as an attempt “to prevent an act of desecration.”

St. Cloud police arrived Sunday afternoon at St. Thomas Aquinas Catholic Church to speak with Father Fidel Rodriguez, who admitted he bit the woman.

He told officers the woman, whose name was redacted in the police report, looked unaware of the requirements to receive Communion at the 10 a.m. service. She returned for the second Mass at noon to again demand the sacrament.

Body-worn camera video from the St. Cloud Police Department shows footage shown to police by a church representative. It appears to show the woman exchanging words with Rodriguez. It’s not clear from the video what was said.

When the priest attempts to place a Communion wafer in her mouth, she aggressively reaches into the bowl. During the struggle, Rodriguez bit her, and the two were broken up by bystanders.

“While the Diocese of Orlando does not condone physical altercations such as this, in good faith, Father Rodriguez was simply attempting to prevent an act of desecration of the Holy Communion, which, as a priest, Father Rodriguez is bound by duty to protect,” a statement from the diocese read, adding that priest did not know the woman. “The full video and the police report show the woman initiated physical contact and acted inappropriately. The priest was trying to protect the Holy Communion from this sacrilegious act.”

A communion wafer “is not something a person can arbitrarily demand and is certainly not a mere ‘cookie’ as the complainant called it,” the statement continued, referring to how the woman described the wafer to police, according to the report. “… The woman forcefully placed her hand in the vessel and grabbed some sacred Communion hosts, crushing them.”

 

The video apparently came from a live recording posted on the church’s YouTube page that has since been deleted. Another live recording posted that day showed the initial encounter between the woman and Rodriguez, who appeared to explain why she could not receive Communion before she walked away.

According to the police report, the woman accused Rodriguez of discriminating against her “based on her sexuality and attire,” which Rodriguez denied. Rather, he added, she was denied because she appeared unfamiliar with the procedure.

“You can be gay or homosexual or trans, whatever you want — I’m not judging for appearances,” Rodriguez told police, according to body camera video. “If they know how to do the things, I can give them Communion.”

Rodriguez was not arrested, but St. Cloud police forwarded a report accusing him of misdemeanor battery to the Orange-Osceola State Attorney’s Office for review. As of Thursday, no charges were filed.

A spokesperson for State Attorney Andrew Bain did not immediately respond to a message seeking comment.

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