Communion: Denied

At the bench, Greg’s commentariat weighs in on this story of a Down’s Syndrome lad being denied First Communion with his classmates. I’ve weighed in there, of course. But I have more questions that are appropriate in a combox post. First, let’s hear from the mum:

I believe it is because of his disability that they won’t accept him. I feel very upset my son is  being discriminated against and I feel really let down by the  Catholic faith.

They need to have more compassion. What they are doing is so cruel. As a child with Down’s Syndrome he may never have a full understanding of what it is about.

It’s up to the pastor to convince the parents in such situations that he is not a discriminating pelagian. And as for full understanding, sorry Mrs Ellarby: even the pope lacks that.

I’m disturbed the parents do not bring young Mr Ellarby to Sunday Mass regularly. If the parish priest were clear about this requirement and “delayed” First Eucharist to other boys and girls who are in this same non-churchgoing situation, the practice might still be wrong from a sacramental or pastoral view, but at least it would be consistent.

By the way, I don’t get why young Mr Ellarby can do well in a mainstream classroom situation for several hours a day, five days a week, but can’t cope with a one hour Mass. That seems fishy to me.

Mr and Mrs Ellarby have known for years their son was special. I’m sure they have had to advocate for him and his needs in other arenas. The Church is no different. It might seem that the Church is always and everywhere accommodating to everyone, and perhaps if the Ellarbys were Lefebvrist Catholics, they would get a better reception. But I would have been much more assertive from the get-go on this. Given young Mr Ellarby’s condition, a strong case for anointing should have been made, on his behalf and that of his family. Confirmation is also a consideration.

As I mentioned at the Bench, the denial of Communion betrays a whiff of pelagianism, the notion that grace can be earned by intellect, intelligence, and academic achievement (however low the bar is set). This is troubling. And maybe the priest and diocese are getting steamrolled by the petition drive and the bad press, but really: Pope Benedict has shown us all how to mishandle public relations at a high level. These people should be prepared.

If I were the parish priest or parish faith formation director, I would have been visiting the Ellarby home a year or two ago. I would have been exploring ways to mainstream the young lad, given the evidence this was in keeping with the parents’ wishes.

C-minus for the parents, and low marks all around for the Church on this one.

About catholicsensibility

Todd lives in Minnesota, serving a Catholic parish as a lay minister.
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4 Responses to Communion: Denied

  1. I would expect what is done in school is quite different from what most people defending the pastor would allow in a normal church service. Such “school” is unlikely to be “school” in any sense people know, being highly interactive and loud. Imagine the complaints the parents would have in church (who knows, maybe they had them?).

  2. David D. says:

    If England has something comparable to our country’s ADA, this boy’s placement in a mainstream classroom may simply be a matter of law. Based on personal experience and consistent with what Harry says above, I would also add that a child’s ability to function in a classroom setting, especially with a young and/or special needs child, does not necessarily translate to Sunday mass attendance.

    It’s difficult to tell from this news-blip what may have actually happened though I doubt it has very little to do with heresy. Even in the anything goes 70’s I recall certain members of my communion preparation class being adjudged not yet mature enough to receive. Certainly, no one would have ever mistaken the extremely sweet lay teachers leading the class as hardliners or even unsympathetic. Perhaps the de facto norm of lockstep progression through the sacraments could be the real problem. Speaking of which, the story mentions nothing about the matter of first confession.

    p.s. Any notion that the church is particularly accommodating to traditionalists of any stripe is so laughable I’d have thought the humor was intentional if I didn’t know better.

  3. Jimmy Mac says:

    If this boy’s ability to receive his First Communion is predicated on an understanding of what is going on, (1) most First Communicants wouldn’t pass the test, and (2) a significantly large number of adult Catholics wouldn’t be allowed to approach to receive. http://ncronline.org/news/catholics-america/knowledge-and-belief-about-real-presence

  4. Brendan Kelleher svd says:

    Children with Downs Syndrome, children who a diagnosed as being somewhere on the autism spectrum, children with special needs, whatever category they come under, whatever language we use to talk about them are all children of God. My own younger sister, who died in her thirties of a brain tumor, was diagnosed as autistic, and had special educational needs. How much did she understand? I find that a hard call to make.

    I recall the look on her face when she came up to receive Communion, on those rare occasions when I was at home; the last time was when she experienced a brief period of remission and came home from the hospice she had been placed in. We are all convinced she knew she was dying. So when we said our goodbyes, a few weeks before she died, work committments back here in Japan, she cried, something she never done before, as she gave me a big hug. During her last days, my elder sister would sit and pray with her, till she fell asleep. Sometimes she would sing herself to sleep, singing from memory, one of her favourite hymns, “How Great Thou Art”. In the Kelleher family that is always sung at “The Mass of the Resurrection in Memory of the Life of ………..”; we don’t do Funeral or Requiem Masses. Maybe she sang it during those days because she knew it was her time to follow my Mother who had died the previous year.

    Now over fifteen years since she died I still find this comment hard to write. I fully support Jimmy Mac’s previous comment, and let me just finish by noting that she chose as her Confirmation name, Therese of Lisieux.

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