Was he right?

I’m angrier than a Catholic who’s noticed that Mass hasn’t started and it’s fifteen minutes past.  It always makes me, a practicing Catholic, angry when someone in authority misrepresents the Catholic Church, the only true church in all of history, because it was formed in 33 AD by Jesus Christ Himself.  But in this case, there’s more than meets the eye.

There’s a crazy story out of Florida where a priest allegedly bit a parishioner.  On the surface, before reading the story in its entirety, that’s conduct unbecoming a priest and it is absolutely not acceptable no matter what the reasoning was.  Father Fidel Rodriguez was questioned by the police for allegedly ramming a cookie, as she called it, into a woman’s mouth and then, allegedly, biting her hand.

In the Catholic Church, right before serving Mass, the priest requests that we all show each other the sign of peace.  Before COVID, that meant shaking hands.  Post-COVID, however, the sign of peace, at least in my parish, is signified by waving to one another.  As an aside, our parish does not have the people sing hymns.  The hymnals are there in the seats, but since joining in 2022, I haven’t seen the congregation sing once.

Anyway, what would possess anyone, especially a priest, to bite someone during Mass, or at any other time for that matter?  Of course, there are always exceptions and, in my opinion, this is one of those exceptions.

It all went down at the St. Thomas Aquinas Catholic Church in St. Cloud on May 19.  The alleged victim was captured on police bodycams, which anyone can request to see, detailing what she said happen.

According to the accuser, Fr. Rodriguez (seen left) shoved a “cookie,” as she put it, even though we all know that it’s always a wafer, into her mouth and she doesn’t know why.  She thinks it could be her sexuality or her attire.  If she’s a homosexual, she shouldn’t be receiving Communion, although without knowing what attire she was wearing, I cannot say whether she should have been denied.

It sounds like denying her was justified, and, if the allegations are true, in this case, the alleged biting would have been absolutely the right thing to do, especially after she apparently shoved him.  She initiated physical contact and the priest had every right to protect himself the wafers.

If what the women say is true, then Rodriquez did the right thing.  He was duty-bound to protect the wafer because it’s literally the body of Christ.  That’s why the priest says, “the body of Christ” before serving the wafer to each person.  The person then says “amen!” and does the sign of the cross, at least in my parish.  Not that it’s relevant, but I take Communion by hand while there are still those who, for whatever reason, still take it by mouth.

According to the purported victim and a witness, he shoved the cookie in her mouth.  She stepped back and said, “No!  Don’t do that!”  According to them, that’s when things went sideways.  As for the Father himself, he told a different tale when questioned by the police.

He said that the accuser showed up to 10:00 Mass but did not complete the steps required to receive the wafter.  This is where the news report conflicts.  Was it a cookie or was it a wafer?  It was probably a wafer as I’ve gone to several parishes and in every single one, a wafter was used.  I’ve prepared Communion and there’s never been a cookie in the sacristy.  But I digress.

Apparently, she came along again to the 12:00 Mass and advised that she had in fact completed the steps.  The priest apparently became enraged and that’s when he allegedly forced the cookie or wafer in her mouth.  At this point, the woman tried to grab onto a wafer and at that point, the priest probably saw red.

The Father was concerned, apparently, because she did not go to Confession.  He told the police that he was merely trying to protect the wafers and that’s where any validity to her allegation ends, according to him.  He apparently asked if she’d gone to Confession, and she answered in the negative.  He then advised that because she hadn’t, he had to deny her Communion.

Allegedly, at some point she pushed the priest and then apparently would not let go of the tray.  The only way out, he thought, was to allegedly bite her arm.  He did what he had to do.

The priest said that he was unaware of her sexuality (she’s probably a lesbo!) and doesn’t care.  That’s a problem.  In my opinion, a homosexual should not receive Communion, so he should have cared.

There are conflicting reports as to whether he was actually arrested or not, but WFTV, the local ABC affiliate, has reported that the police feel he should be charged with battery.  That’s a shame, because the accuser, by all accounts, assaulted him and so she should be the one in jail on no bail.

In all the parishes I’ve gone to Mass at, I’ve never once seen someone assault a priest as she allegedly did.  Never.  What would possess this woman, if she really is one given her apparent sexual orientation, to initiate physical contact with a priest of all people?

Although on first blush the priest seemed the aggressor, it is clear to me that he was justified and that the woman should suffer grave consequences, including excommunication.

I’ve reached out to the parish and to Rodriguez himself and as of the time this article was published, neither of them responded.

UPDATE 5/24/2024 at 12:08 p.m.

The parish responded this morning with a referral to the diocese’s statement on the matter.  It’s a lengthy one, but here we go:

“On Sunday, May 19, at the 10 a.m. Mass at St. Thomas Aquinas Church in St. Cloud, a woman came through Father Fidel Rodriguez’s Holy Communion line and appeared unaware of the proper procedure. After a brief exchange with the woman, it was determined that she was neither prepared nor disposed to participate in Communion. Father Rodriguez gave the woman a blessing and advised her to receive the Sacrament of Penance (Confession) before coming back to receive Holy Communion (Eucharist).

The same woman arrived at 12 p.m. Mass on Sunday and stood in Father Rodriguez’s Communion line. Father Rodriguez asked if she had been to the Sacrament of Penance (Confession), to which she stated it was not his business. At that time, Father Rodriguez offered the woman Holy Communion on the tongue.

At that point, the woman forcefully placed her hand in the vessel and grabbed some sacred Communion hosts, crushing them. Having only one hand free, Father Rodriguez struggled to restrain the woman as she refused to let go of the hosts.

When the woman pushed him and reacting to a perceived act of aggression, Father Rodriguez bit her hand so she would let go of the hosts she grabbed. The woman was immediately asked to leave.

It should be noted Father Rodriguez had no prior knowledge of the woman’s background. Further, 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.  

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.

In the Catholic Tradition, the Eucharist is considered “the source and summit” of worship and faith. The act of participation in Holy Communion therefore calls for a proper understanding, reverence, and devotion. It is not something a person can arbitrarily demand and is certainly not a mere “cookie” as the complainant called it.

The Diocese of Orlando believes all people of all faiths should be respected and that their religious ceremonies or services should never be disrupted.  

NOTE: There will be no comment on the campus of St. Thomas Aquinas Church in St. Cloud. We kindly ask all members of the media to remain off property.”

The request for media to not step onto Church property is telling.  It’s telling me that some media outlets don’t know how to respectfully treat a church’s property.

I agree fully with the statement.  Fr. Rodriquez had a right and a duty to protect the host and the wafers as they are literally the body of Christ.  Was biting her the best decision?  For the most part, and in most cases, no.  But this was a different situation altogether.  He had no other choice.

Hopefully, there are criminal charges pending against his accuser and hopefully, the charges against him will be immediately dropped.  To that end, I have reached out to the St. Cloud Police Department to see what, if anything, they’ll tell me.  In addition to a comment, I have requested a copy of the bodycam footage as Florida’s freedom of information laws are journalist-friendly.

Almost immediately, I received a response that stated that my request has been forwarded to the police department’s Public Information Officer.  Will he or she play ball?  Let’s see what happens!

UPDATE on 5/24/2024 at 12:49 p.m.  A lot of information that I requested has come in, so please read this follow-up article.