The day after Donald Plishka, a 63-year-old retired travel agent, was brought by ambulance to D.C.'s Washington Hospital Center earlier this month for a heart attack, he thought the end was near. So Plishka did what any observant Catholic would do: he asked the nurse to call for a priest.
Soon Fr. Brian Coelho, who works in the hospital's Department of Spiritual Care, entered Plishka's room. Fr. Coelho greeted Plishka and offered to hear his confession, then give him Communion and the sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick -- a set of rituals commonly known as last rites. Plishka agreed, and that's when things went terribly wrong.
The Washington Blade's Lou Chibbaro Jr. writes:
"We started talking and I told him I was so happy with this new Pope because of his comments about the gays and his accepting the gays," Plishka said. "And I mentioned that I was gay. I said it and then I asked him does that bother you? And he said, 'Oh, no, that does not bother me,'" said Plishka.
"But then he would not proceed with administering the last rites or communion. He couldn't do it."
According to Plishka, Coelho, who brought a supply of holy water to his hospital room, never said in so many words that he was refusing to administer communion and last rites.
Asked what Coelho told him, Plishka said, "Well, I mean he stopped. He would not do it. By him not doing it I assumed he would not do it because why was he getting ready to do it and all of a sudden when I say I'm gay he stops?"
Plishka says that Coelho instead offered to pray with him, rather than administering the sacraments. "'He said what he wanted to do,' said Plishka. 'He wanted to pray. That's what he wanted to do. He said well I could pray with you. And I just told him to get the fuck out of here -- excuse me. But that's what I told him.'"
He was so upset that he says doctors warned him that if he didn't calm down he might have another heart attack.
More, after the jump.
After hearing about Plishka's encounter with Fr. Coelho (left), the hospital sent a Methodist minister to his hospital room.
Plishka says the medical care he received at the hospital was excellent and life-saving. When he returned home he lodged a formal complaint against Coelho with the hospital chaplain's office. He also called his church, the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, and asked to speak with the priest on call about his experience at the hospital. Shockingly, that priest agreed with Coelho's abhorrent actions:
"[The priest] called me back and said he agreed with what the priest at the hospital did. He said unless you're willing to change and basically become somebody you're not, then this priest had every right to do that, to refuse you communion and to refuse you the last rites of the church," Plishka said.
Henry Huot, a retired Catholic priest who now chairs the Pastoral Ministry Committee of the D.C. LGBT Catholic group Dignity Washington, called shenanigans. He told the Blade, "Any baptized Christian ought not to be denied the sacraments at his or her request. And that is a cardinal rule of pastoral care. So I don't know what was going through the mind of this hospital chaplain to deny this man the sacraments."
A spokeswoman for Washington Hospital Center told the Blade that they take Plishka's report very seriously and are investigating the allegations. She noted the hospital's commitment to LGBT-inclusive healthcare, pointing out that they were named a Leader in LGBT Healthcare Equality on HRC's 2013 Healthcare Equality Index.
The Archdiocese of Washington, which assigned Coelho to Washington Hospital Center and has jurisdiction over D.C. hospital chaplains, refused to comment on the story.
Asked why he was speaking out now, Plishka told the Blade:
"I think there comes a time when as a gay man you have to take a stand, you know? It's just intolerable to be treated like you're nothing. And I could have died. And all I did was ask for the rites of the church that are due to me. But because I'm gay I'm denied that."
Using the sacraments as weapons to spiritually bludgeon LGBT people? Sadly, it sounds like just another day in the church of "Who am I to judge?".