ST. CLOUD, Fla. : The Diocese of Orlando is defending a Catholic priest accused of biting a woman who tried to grab Holy Communion wafers during Mass at a central Florida church.

The confrontation occurred Sunday afternoon at St. Thomas Aquinas Catholic Church in St. Cloud. Police have forwarded a report to prosecutors accusing Father Fidel Rodriguez of misdemeanor battery, but no formal charges have been filed, and the priest wasn’t arrested.

“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 in statement Thursday.

A woman, whose name was redacted from the police report, told officers that Rodriguez initially refused to grant her the ability to participate in Communion on Sunday morning. When she returned that afternoon, she said Rodriguez tried to ram the wafer in her mouth, prompting her to grab another Communion wafer that the priest was holding. She said Rodriguez then grabbed her and bit her arm.

When police went to the church, Rodriguez told officers that he bit the woman to protect himself and the Communion. He said the woman had attended an earlier Mass, but he denied her because she didn’t seem to understand the requirements for participating in the ritual.

When she returned to a later service and once again tried to receive Communion, Rodriguez said she pushed him and grabbed a handful of Communion wafers in a tray he was holding. He said he grabbed her arm to prevent what he considered sacrilege, as the Catholic faith considers the Communion bread to be the body of Jesus Christ. Rodriguez said he bit the woman’s arm when she refused to let go of the bread.

Bystanders stepped in and separated the priest and the woman. Others at the service corroborated Rodriguez’s statement and provided video of the confrontation.

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