Florida priest bites woman during altercation over Holy Communion

Click to play video: 'Florida priest bites woman during Sunday morning mass altercation'
Florida priest bites woman during Sunday morning mass altercation
WATCH: A priest in central Florida is accused of biting a parishioner during a morning mass, and may face criminal battery charges as a result – May 25, 2024

A Florida priest may face criminal battery charges after he bit a woman during an altercation over Holy Communion at a Sunday mass.

The Diocese of Orlando told ABC News the incident occurred at St. Thomas Aquinas Church in St. Cloud, Fla. on May 19 while Father Fidel Rodriguez was leading a service.

The religious authority said an unnamed woman attended the church’s 10 a.m. mass and joined the congregation’s line to receive Holy Communion. Rodriguez said he did not know the woman.

Church officials alleged the woman “appeared unaware of the proper procedure,” and was told by Father Rodriguez to receive the Sacrament of Penance (also called confession) before she can receive the Eucharist, as is commonly encouraged.

Rodriguez gave the woman a blessing.

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She returned for the church’s 12 p.m. mass and again attempted to receive Holy Communion.

When Rodriguez asked the woman if she’d been to confession, the Diocese alleged she responded that it was “not his business.”

“Father Rodriguez offered the woman Holy Communion on the tongue,” the Diocese claimed. “At that point, the woman forcefully placed her hand in the vessel and grabbed some sacred Communion hosts, crushing them.”

Rodriguez allegedly tried to restrain the woman with his free hand. The Diocese said she then pushed Rodriguez.

Believing that he was responding to a “perceived act of aggression,” Rodriguez bit her hand in an attempt to get her to release the Communion hosts, church officials said.

The woman was then asked to leave the church. She later reported the incident to police and said the priest had been forceful in placing the Eucharist on her tongue.

Police told local news station WDBO they’ve recommended the priest be charged with battery. There have yet to be any charges.

The news outlet obtained police body camera footage from the investigation, which featured a live-streamed recording of the incident. In the video, the woman and the priest are seen engaged in a brief scuffle.

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The woman can also be heard calling the Eucharist “a cookie” while speaking to police. She said the priest may have refused to give her Holy Communion because of her “sexuality” or how she was dressed. (The woman was wearing a white button up shirt and black trousers. She did not identify her sexuality.)

Rodriguez told police he did not know the woman and does not care about her sexuality. He maintains he was protecting the sanctity of the Eucharist. He did not deny biting the woman.

“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,” church officials said. “The Diocese of Orlando believes all people of all faiths should be respected and that their religious ceremonies or services should never be disrupted.”

“The priest was trying to protect the Holy Communion from this sacrilegious act,” the Diocese continued. “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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