Florida priest charged for biting arm of woman he says was desecrating Eucharist

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CNA Staff, May 23, 2024 / 18:21 pm

A priest in Florida bit the forearm of a woman he says was desecrating the Eucharist in a Communion line at church this past Sunday and has now been charged with one count of battery.

Father Fidel Rodriguez, 66, admitted to police that he bit the woman but said he did so only after she reached into the ciborium and tried to grab a host from it, damaging other hosts as she did so.

“The only defense that I found to defend something that for us, for all of us, is sacred, was biting her. I have recognized that I bite her. I’m not denying that,” Rodriguez told police, according to body camera video obtained by CNA.

“I recognize that I bite her, as a defense, and as defending myself and defending the sacrament,” he said in English with a Spanish accent.

The woman told police the priest denied her Communion after she refused to answer his questions about whether she had been to confession recently.

“I just wanted a cookie. That’s all,” the woman told police, according to body camera video.

Firefighters treated the arm of the woman at the police station. She refused to go to a hospital, according to police video.

Police in St. Cloud, Florida, have charged Rodriguez with one count of battery stemming from the incident, which occurred during the noon Mass at St. Thomas Aquinas Church.

St. Cloud is a city of about 65,000 located about 21 miles south of Orlando.

First Communion leads to scenes

The woman told police she went to the 10 a.m. Mass on Sunday, May 19, with her same-sex partner because it was the woman’s niece’s first Communion.

The parish’s video of the 10 a.m. Mass shows an interaction between the priest and the woman, who neither presents her hands to receive the host nor opens her mouth to receive on her tongue. The priest and the woman speak for about 45 seconds, holding up the Communion line, though their conversation can’t be heard over the music and singing.

The woman later told police she suspected the priest wouldn’t give her Communion because of the way she was dressed and because of her sexual orientation.

“I believe that his excuse was that I wasn’t super-holy, in his eyes,” the woman, who was wearing a white shirt and pants, told police.

But the priest told police sexual orientation had nothing to do with it.

When the woman didn’t hold her hands out one on top of the other or open her mouth and didn’t say “Amen” after he said “body of Christ,” he said, he knew she didn’t know what she was doing.

He said he asked her when the last time she received Communion was, and that she said it was many years ago. He said he asked her if she had gone to confession, and she replied, “I don’t need to explain you that.”

He said he told her that he has the authority to ask her that question and that he could not give her Communion, but he could give her a blessing instead, which he said he did.

Second Mass

The woman and her partner then went to the noon Mass in Spanish, which Rodriguez celebrated, and the woman again went to him to receive Communion.

He told police he asked her if she had gone to confession in between Masses.

According to him, she replied: “No, I don’t need to explain to you, I don’t need to give an explanation, you don’t have authority, you don’t need to judge me.”

To which he says he said: “I’m not judging you, I’m asking you only, did you confess after the other Mass [to] received the Communion now? Because if you did not confess, I can’t give you the Communion.”

“And she grabbed all the hosts in the hands, because she wants to receive for herself. She is not permitted. And she break all the hosts, spreading them,” the priest said.

(Story continues below)

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The priest said he was worried that she would spill the hosts on the floor.

The Catholic Church teaches that the Eucharist is the actual body and blood of Jesus, whom Catholics worship as God. The Church also teaches that to receive Communion a person must be a Catholic in a state of grace, meaning not being mindful of having committed a serious sin without getting absolution from a priest in confession.

The woman told police that during the second Mass the priest “forced it in my mouth,” which she didn’t want.

“He wouldn’t give me a cookie. I don’t know if it was how I’m dressed. You know, what it is that I like,” the woman said. “He said basically I needed to do confession and do all of this, I need to go to Mass every Sunday or whatever. And I said, ‘That doesn’t matter. I’ve done everything I needed to do as a kid. I’m just here to accept the bread.’ And he wouldn’t give it to me.”

“And I’m not gonna front. I tried to just grab another cookie, and that when he grabbed my hand and he just bit me,” the woman said.

Video of the incident published by WFTV Channel 9 in Orlando shows the woman’s hand in the ciborium, which is the bowl that holds Communion wafers, while the priest holds onto it with both hands. It also shows the priest moving his head down toward the woman’s right arm but does not show the actual bite.

The Diocese of Orlando released a statement Thursday supporting the priest’s efforts to defend the Eucharist while not endorsing the bite.

The statement notes that during the noon Mass the priest offered the woman 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,” the diocese said in a written statement.

“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 diocese said.

The statement continues: 

“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.”

A police spokesman told CNA on Thursday that the state attorney’s office will determine the next steps in the case.

Rodriguez did not respond to a request from CNA for comment.


Matt McDonald

Matt McDonald is a staff reporter for the National Catholic Register and the editor of the New Boston Post.

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