The Inexplicable

Priest Who Bit Woman During Mass Says She Had It Coming

Not how it normally goes, I think

You won’t be surprised to hear that the parties to this altercation, which took place in Florida on May 19, are disputing some important facts. But not the bite itself.

According to this report, based on an affidavit that police submitted to the prosecutor’s office, the incident happened at a church in St. Cloud, about 25 miles south of Orlando. The priest told police the woman he bit had been turned away from the 10 a.m. Mass that day, on the grounds that she “had not fulfilled all the requirements for receiving communion.” She came back for the noon service, but was apparently denied again. All this appears to be undisputed, but the stories diverge after that.

The affidavit says that according to the woman, “[s]he informed the priest she did in fact do the steps necessary and is now accepted by God, thus granting her the ability to participate.” The priest then “became upset and tried to ram the ‘cookie’ in her mouth,” she claimed. “In response … she attempted to grab another communion bread which [the priest] was holding. However, [he] grabbed her and bit her arm.”

But according to the priest, the woman “attacked” him first and grabbed the bowl of communion wafers out of his hands. The affidavit notes that this “is considered sacrilege, as the Catholic faith consider[s] the communion bread the body of Christ, and [the priest said] he was trying to protect it.” In the heat of the moment, he said, “[t]he only way he thought to extract her from [the situation] was to bite her arm.” The woman refused medical attention, but insisted on pressing charges.

I’m going to take a flyer here and guess that the officer who drafted the affidavit isn’t Catholic, mainly because he or she felt the need to explain why these people felt the matter was important. I’m far from an expert in this field, but even I know the answer to this one. To the officer’s credit, though, he or she did put quote marks around the word “cookie.”

And if that’s actually the word the woman used, it does tend to support the idea that maybe she hadn’t “fulfilled all the requirements for receiving communion,” like the priest said. According to the Orlando Sentinel, the woman claimed she was turned away “based on her sexuality and attire,” but the priest said it was only because “she appeared unfamiliar with the procedure.” He’s “not judging for appearances,” he told police. “If they know how to do the things, I can give them Communion.” Other parishioners—and a cellphone video one of them took—evidently support the priest’s claim that the woman did not, in fact, know how to do the things.

That isn’t really clear from the video, at least the one posted by the Sentinel. The original was on YouTube at one point but has since been deleted. So (as the image above shows) the Sentinel could only post footage from an officer’s bodycam of someone showing him the video on a phone. There’s also no audio (only some elevator music I’m guessing the Sentinel added). But the video does appear to show the woman acting aggressively first by grabbing for the bowl or its contents, and witnesses supported this as well.

Partly for those reasons, the local diocese issued a statement defending the priest, though not the biting itself. “While the Diocese of Orlando does not condone physical altercations,” it said, “Father Rodriguez was simply attempting to prevent an act of desecration of the Holy Communion” when he bit his parishoner. 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. The woman had grabbed and crushed some of the wafers, it claimed. Which, again, supports the view that she was unfamiliar with the procedure to begin with.

As of this morning, the state attorney’s office had not decided whether to pursue misdemeanor battery charges, but I’d be willing to bet lots of money that they just haven’t gotten around to reviewing this yet. Hell, I’d bite someone who grabbed a tray of regular cookies out of my hand, and I wouldn’t expect to be charged for that, either. So I don’t think this claim is going anywhere.

Of course, religious disputes are rarely amusing, but I have come across the occasional exception. See, e.g., “High Court Vomits Truth in Frozen-Guru Case” (July 6, 2017); “Pagan Allowed to Wear Horns in License Photo” (Dec. 22, 2016); “Muslim Police Break Up Christian Broomstick Fight in Bethehem” (Dec. 29, 2011); “Monks Brawl Over Jurisdiction at Tomb of Christ” (Mar. 13, 2009); “Buddhist Monks Fined After All-Out Monk Brawl” (June 1, 2005). I guess I’ve come across a lot of those exceptions, actually, but then maybe these don’t really qualify as “religious disputes.” It does look like I’ve been non-denominational in my choices, at least, so I’m proud of that.