Clergy Bumble First Communion

Interesting story.

Father Z even backs up the bone-headed notion that human knowledge is ordinarily required for a person to benefit from sacramental life.

It’s even more interesting that the priest offered Anointing of the Sick instead of the Eucharist. Grandmother Irma Castro is also behind the times:

That is the anointing they give you before death. That was very offensive.

An accurate knowledge of sacramental theology isn’t a prerequisite for being a good Catholic. Or even being ordained, it would seem.

Still, it’s a tough situation.

Anointing of the Sick would have been called for when the lad was an infant. Like baptism, the faith of the parents is sufficient for requesting the grace of Christ through the sacraments. If he was in any danger of death, then not only baptism, but confirmation and Eucharist should have been a serious consideration.

The Orthodox, like Catholics, have entirely valid sacraments, and they distribute Communion to infants.

The US Bishops weighed in on this issue sixteen years ago; clergy do not interpret canon law on their own initiative, but consult widely to make a proper discernment:

(T)he criterion for reception of holy communion is the same for persons with developmental and mental disabilities as for all persons, namely, that the person be able to distinguish the Body of Christ from ordinary food, even if this recognition is evidenced through manner, gesture, or reverential silence rather than verbally. Pastors are encouraged to consult with parents, those who take the place of parents, diocesan personnel involved with disability issues, psychologists, religious educators, and other experts in making their judgment. If it is determined that a parishioner who is disabled is not ready to receive the sacrament, great care is to be taken in explaining the reasons for this decision. Cases of doubt should be resolved in favor of the right of the baptized person to receive the sacrament. The existence of a disability is not considered in and of itself as disqualifying a person from receiving the eucharist.

The Catholic blogozone doesn’t seem to be quite sure where to land on this one. Their biggest guru says no and dithers when he’s confronted with what the bishops say. People type, “I guess the priest must be right,” but the subtitle hangs with it, unwritten: but darned if I know why.

Any thoughts? Any actual experiences?

About catholicsensibility

Todd lives in Minnesota, serving a Catholic parish as a lay minister.
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17 Responses to Clergy Bumble First Communion

  1. Joyce Donahue says:

    As the diocesan person responsible for catechesis for children and youth with special needs this appalls me. As you point out (along with one of the commentors), the US Bishops, in their document on sacraments with persons with disabilities clearly state that each person has their own usual signs of understanding something. And, even if there is no way to see a sign of understanding from a profoundly disabled person, the document points out, we are always to administer the Eucharist or even Confirmation anyway… out of love and trust in the grace of the sacraments. When I was a DRE, I worked with two children with Down Syndrome – and believe me, they were ready. I have, in my diocesan position met people with cerebral palsy who regularly attend Mass and receive Eucharist. I have also known some of them who, through the use of voice-technology computers, can even read at Mass. People like that are simply differently-abled. This child offers the community gifts which are being denied. The gift of the presence of those who have no voice is priceless – and needs to be affirmed in the community. This priest who denied him the Eucharist has committed a grave affront to the boy’s dignity as a human person and child of God.

    It pains me that this issue has brought out those who then feel free to judge the catechetical process for “normal” children as inadequate. Catechesis can only do so much. Parents, as the chief catechists, are responsible to teach my example, by participation in the life and liturgy of the Church. When they fail to do that, no amount of classroom instruction compensates.

  2. Joyce Donahue says:

    (Correction – near the end… to “teach BY example” – typo)

  3. John Donaghy says:

    Would he refuse Communion to the elderly with Alzheimer’s or with barely enough energy to speak? Last Saturday I had the privilege to bring the Eucharist to a 92 year old man. As I offered the Eucharist his face was illumined with what could only be called a beatific smile. And then the old bed-ridden woman who could hardly hear or speak. When I held the host before her face her tongue darted out – hungry for the Eucharist.

  4. John Drake says:

    Rather that reflexively condemning him (“appalling”, “grave offense”) give the priest credit for trying to follow his understanding of canon law. It demonstrates his regard for Christ in the Sacrament. It’s easy to take the side of the grandma whining to the media. There is clearly another side which, while one may disagree, does not merit the condemnation above, nor of that seen in the combox of the original news item.

  5. Todd says:

    “Another side” has seriously misread canon law, which doesn’t address the situation of developmentally disabled people, but of children.

    While it might be easy to parrot what a priest says, I have to admit it was a speed bump to ally myself with someone who doesn’t understand the sacraments.

    Canon law doesn’t apply to everything–we live a spiritual realm, in part, not a legal one modeled on the secular world.

    I think Joyce’s word “appalling” is pretty accurate.

    Where canon law has not addressed this matter, the US bishops clearly have. My question is simple enough: why have this pastor and his apologists chosen to reject the bishops in favor of being armchair canonists?

  6. Jimmy Mac says:

    Ah, yes – he felt he was following canon law. Isn’t that so very speshul!

  7. Joyce Donahue says:

    UPDATE: The National Catholic Partnership on Disability has posted this response – that they have spoken to the pastor…

  8. Harry says:

    Here’s the problem with today’s Internet age. A story like this will happen in Floresville, Texas, and it gets slapped up on blogs.

    Then people on both “sides” start throwing around words like “appalling” and “whining” on both sides, basing their final judgments on a couple of paragraphs on the Internet, without knowing anybody involved nor anything close to the totality of the situation.

    It is quite possible that one side or both simply did not fully understand either the “rules” or each other, and that further, adult dialogue and education would resolve that problem.

    So I’m not going to condemn Father Henning as a hide-bound absolutist who waves around convenient sections of canon law like a club, nor am I going to condemn a grandmother for her reaction to the denial of communion for her grandson.

    Judging from Joyce’s last link, it looks like cooler heads will prevail, that this particular situation will be resolved, and this might become a teaching moment for all of us in more ways than one.

    Meanwhile, the snap judgments and name-calling from the blogosphere is once again of absolutely no help or value at all.

  9. Todd says:

    It is very possible–likely perhaps–that one or both sides did not understand what was involved. Pastors of souls are entrusted with grave responsibilities. For a family to prepare a child for First Communion for over the better part of a year–that would seem to indicate the priest himself had ample time to study and prepare.

    My criticism is that he went with canon law over liturgical law. But the one good thing about internet publicity: he had an opportunity to be corrected.

    I think that yes, some people are under pressure these days to make the right call in a situation like that because of the nature of blogging and other aspects of modern media. Hopefully that’s motivation to do the right thing, rather than do nothing.

    For the record, I don’t name-call. But I will label actions as bone-headed. Or other critical adjectives.

  10. Harry says:

    Todd, that’s clever, but when you call an action “bone-headed” aren’t you at the very least saying something about the person who performed said “bone-headed” action?

    The English language is quite broad and filled with words besides “appalling” “whining” and “bone-headed.” Perhaps in our cleverness, we should reach for words that actually encourage and further dialogue rather than those dead-end judgmental words which stops dialogue in its tracks.

    • Todd says:

      Harry, it’s not clever. It’s accurate.

      At any rate, this blog exists in part to report and comment on liturgical news. The commentary is often frank; I make no apologies for that.

      People are free to associate themselves with their actions to the point where if actions are criticized they can feel “whined” at.

      I think it’s rather easy to dialogue around the labels. A person says, “Bone-headed is wrong–and here’s why.”

      At any rate, Joyce has outlined the likely path of dialogue. Too bad the parents or grandparents didn’t have access to a competent faith formation director. Anybody I’ve ever worked with would have uncovered a path of communication.

      • Harry says:

        “Too bad the parents or grandparents didn’t have access to a competent faith formation director.”

        How can you possibly know that, Todd?

        This is what I am getting at. We read a few paragraphs on a blog, perhaps even read a few more when we click onto a link, then we think we know everything there is to know about any given situation, and are thus free to reach any conclusion we wish, including the quality of faith formation of people we never meet, or their access to it in their parish and archdiocese.

      • Todd says:

        Harry, from the article I get the idea the lad’s preparation was done at home. I find that curious.

        It might mean they went completely independent of the parish–that they didn’t have access to the parish’s competent faith formation director. Most parish professionals are aware of the existence of a diocesan commission/department that deals with ministry with/for people with disabilities.

        It could be that they were rebuffed in their initial efforts and couldn’t “believe” they would be denied.

        I’ve worked in seven different parishes that have ranged from very small to suburban spreads, and in every one, we’ve had parishioners with cerebral palsy or similar serious conditions, and in every one, parishioners were accommodated in their formation for and participation in the sacramental life.

        Somebody on the church end–and it might have been in addition to the pastor–wasn’t doing their job. The pastor was responsible. Other blogs have taken different tacks on this, and even a self-professed know-it-all has been shown up for not knowing much.

        However, my speculations seem to have started a lively discussion, haven’t they?

  11. Harry says:

    And another point: Do you really think that a positive outcome was made more likely or less likely by the “Internet publicity”?

    Do you really think that the priest’s “opportunity to be corrected” existed only because the shouting and screaming on the blogosphere?

    Should this be the way we resolve all our disputes between parish leader and parishioner? Gather the biggest army we can through all the publicity we can muster, then go to war? If so, then I wish you many future “opportunities to be corrected.”

  12. Joyce Donahue says:

    Harry, the blogosphere is what it is. So is the rhetoric of righteous indignation. However, the outcry about this, along with the media, made enough people aware of the situation to contact the national office for disability ministry – which then properly went to the diocesan leader with the proper authority to speak to the pastor to make him aware of the policy of the USCCB regarding sacraments with persons with disabilities, of which he was apparently ignorant.

    This is unlike our rather highly educated and “entitled” area of the country, where Grandma would have immediately picked up the phone and called “The Diocese” – apparently this did not happen on the local level for whatever reason. Had that happened, this never would have reached the news. So, while there was admittedly lots of flailing around on the ‘net – appropriate and not, the end result was that what should have been done all along has in fact now been done. What I want to know is where was the parish catechetical leader (director/coordinator of religious education) while all this was going on? Preparation of a child for the sacraments never should take place without the knowledge and cooperation of parish leaders. In this case, someone dropped the ball by not speaking to the priest much earlier about the fact that the child was being prepared. Had this been discussed, the situation would never have happened.

    • Harry says:

      Joyce, as I look up the Archdiocese of San Antonio, I find that they have a Ministry for Persons with Disabilities.

      If I were to make presumptions based on what (very) little we know about the totality of this situation, I would do so out of charity. I would presume that the director of that office (a religious sister) is pretty good at her job, but was unaware of this particular pastor-parishioner dispute, but once made aware of it through the local media, without the help of the blogosphere and the national office, helped foster the dialogue that made the same positive outcome possible.

      Or, it is also possible that the grandmother contacted the archdiocesan office and given the full extent of her grandson’s condition, got the same answer as her pastor gave, then she went to the media.

      We don’t know. And that is the point.

  13. Joyce Donahue says:

    True, Harry – we don’t know. However, in my experience, if the grandmother had gone to the diocese first, this would never had hit the media at all – because any disabilities ministry leader would have immediately known what to do. I am guessing that Grandma wasn’t aware that she should go through proper local channels of authority rather than the secular press.

    Which, along with the tenor of the “ignorant” comments(no judgement implied – just the reality) on Fr. Z’s blog and elsewhere, emphasizes that the Church needs to do a better job of educating the clergy and people about the rights and gifts those with disabilities within the Church. My bet is, based on my own experience, that seminaries don’t even mention this issue – and never have. Yes, the rights of the disabled to the sacraments should be inferred by knowing that the first principle of Catholic social teaching is the dignity of the human person – and to the rights of the baptized, but apparently this needs to be more specifically named in the Church.

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