Priest accused of biting parishioner after denying her Holy Communion


ST CLOUD, Fla. — A Catholic Mass service in Central Florida took a bizarre turn when a priest allegedly bit a parishioner during a dispute as Holy Communion wafers were being handed out.

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According to the Diocese of Orlando, the incident occurred at St. Thomas Aquinas Catholic Church in St. Cloud on May 19, WFTV reported.

The St. Cloud Police Department forwarded a report accusing Father Fidel Rodriguez, 66, of misdemeanor battery, according to the Miami Herald. No formal charges have been filed, and no arrests have been made, according to the newspaper.

The incident had its roots in the church’s 10 a.m. service.

Rodriguez reportedly told police that the woman, whose name was redacted from an affidavit, did not seem to understand the process of receiving the sacrament of communion, so he denied her the wafer, WFTV reported.

The priest told police that the woman returned to a later service at noon and attempted to receive communion again, but the parishioner allegedly tried to grab the wafer from his hand, according to the television station.

According to an affidavit obtained by the Herald, the woman “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 woman accused the priest of becoming upset and trying “to ram the ‘cookie’ into her mouth,” the affidavit stated. “In response ... she attempted to grab another communion bread which (the priest) was holding. However, (he) grabbed her and bit her arm.”

According to police-worn body camera video, the woman said the priest “wouldn’t give me the cookie,” WFTV reported.

“I don’t know if it was the way I was dressed, or if it is what I like,” the woman added, according to the television station.

Rodriguez told officers that he bit the woman to protect himself and the Communion service, The Associated Press.

“I am not judging you; I am asking you; did you confess after mass? If you did not confess, I cannot give you Communion,” Rodriguez told officers, according to WFTV. “I bit her, I am not denying that. I am defending myself and the sacrament.”

Police said the woman refused medical attention for the bite, but said she wanted to pursue charges, the Herald reported.

In a statement to the television station, the archdiocese said that Rodriguez initially refused giving the woman the sacrament and advised her to go to confession. It also defended the priest’s actions.

“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 statement read. “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.”

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