Communion For Autistic Child

Here is an issue I have some experience with:

A New Jersey couple said their 8-year-old son is being denied the chance to receive First Communion by their church because he is autistic.

Jimmy LaCugna said in a Facebook post that he and his wife were informed Tuesday by the Rev. John Bambrick at Saint Aloysius Church that their son Anthony won’t be able to participate in the religious ceremony because he feels the boy is “unable to determine right from wrong due to his disability.”

LaCugna said they were told that Anthony, who is nonverbal, is not at the “benchmark required to make his communion.”

“This is very hard and upsetting to comprehend when we all are created by God and now our son is being shunned from the Catholic faith due to his inability to communicate,” LaCugna wrote, adding that his son “wouldn’t even be able to create a sin because he is one of the sweetest and innocent little boy someone would ever meet.”

First Communion is typically taken in a Catholic church when children are 7 or 8 years old and after they complete religious classes and confess their sins.

Anthony’s mother, Nicole LaCugna, told News 12 New Jersey that because he cannot speak it has been a struggle for him but that he should not be denied communion.

Go here to read the rest.  My sainted son Larry was autistic.  He was not non-verbal but his communication was limited.  For example if you named choices for supper he could say which he would prefer.  If we were traveling in a car and we took an unusual way home, he would say, “This way!  This way!’.  His communications could be cryptic to people outside the family.  In the family we usually knew what he was referring to.  Larry could read and operate videos on his own.  I always believed, based on my observations, that he understood far, far more about the world around him than he was able to communicate.  Along with his siblings, we gave him religious instruction at home.  Like his brother and sister he would repeat the phrase “First it’s bread now it’s Jesus and first it’s wine, now it’s Jesus” at the consecration.  When it came to First Communion our priest was quite sympathetic.  When it came to his first Communion I suspect that the priest probably asked him questions like, “Are you a good boy?”  “Do you want to be a good boy?”  “Are you sorry when you are bad?”  Larry was quite good at answering straight-forward yes and no questions.  I have no doubt that he understood good behavior and bad behavior.  As a toddler he would get a mischievous smile on his face as he approached the printer paper feed on one of our computers because he knew that he was not supposed to touch it.

Obviously the challenge is much greater with a non-verbal autistic child.  I would recommend to priests that this is an area where they might lean a bit on the expertise of the parents.  All children require close attention by a parent, and that level of attention needs to be greater with an autistic child.  If the parents in good faith can vouch for the understanding of their child, that should be sufficient.  Having an autistic child raises challenges, but it also taught me how utterly dependent I was on God.  God’s love and care for Larry was a constant consolation for me.  Larry could not speak of this love and care, but I am sure he felt it as  I did.

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15 Comments

  1. I very seldom comment (I leave that you people much smarter than me), but this is simply atrocious. What is wrong with our Priests? What kind of twisted diabolical logic leads our Priests to deduce it’s acceptable to allow Communion to people who publicly and prominently support abortion, sodomy, and a host of other sins but not allow an innocent person to partake? Is this just another case of the “strong” (not that many of our effeminate clergy promote any appearance of true masculine strength) bullying those who appear weak?
    Would not a person who is regarded as unable to decide right from wrong, once Baptized, be incapable of incurring sin and therefore be in a perpetual state of Grace? To me he seems the perfect candidate for Holy Communion, under the watchful eyes of his parents – certainly much more worthy than the vast hordes who schlep up to the Priest, wearing whatever was lying on the bedroom floor that morning, breath still reeking of the McDonalds breakfast burrito they finished in the Parish parking lot, souls loaded with sin incurred since the last Confession they went to years ago, and receive the precious Body Blood Soul and Divinity of Our Lord and Saviour in their grubby hands with barely a nod to His majesty. Just incredible. It’s almost like he’s that Priest is looking for a reason to deny Communion.
    And, speaking of Parishes, that modernist monstrosity they have the nerve to call a Catholic Church says it all….

  2. (Don’s wife Cathy here:) As to Confession, Larry knew perfectly well that it was time for “say sorry [to] Jesus”. And as to Communion, we had drilled into all 3 of our kids from a very young age that “first it’s bread; now it’s Jesus” and “first it’s wine; now it’s Jesus”. When it was time to prepare Larry for Confirmation, the Diocese of Peoria even sprang for a special-needs Confirmation curriculum for our parish’s CCD program. I taught Larry 1-on-1 in a quiet hallway next to the regular Confirmation classroom, and he joined the rest of the group for large-group activities & fun stuff (f.ex., Living Rosary, sharing homemade treats, walking trips to the nearby DQ at the end of the school year, etc.).

  3. Don M., I wonder if a parish has ever contacted you for advice on this sort of thing. It would be my first thought, if I were a pastor.

  4. This is a hard one, and I sympathize with all the parties involved. On the one hand, you’ve got the duty to protect the sanctity of the Eucharist, on the other, you have parents who may be (may –not saying they are) motivated primarily by the rite of passage aspect of 1st Communion, and in between you have the child and the child’s right to participate in the Sacraments as he’s able. For me, the key word is able. Personally, I’m going to err on the side of the Priest here. And that mostly because the parents don’t appear to have tried to handle this “in house” so to speak, before running to the press with their complaint.

    And if the boy is incapable of a mortal sin, like his father says, he probably doesn’t need Communion anyway. We should all be so lucky.

  5. Don M., I wonder if a parish has ever contacted you for advice on this sort of thing. It would be my first thought, if I were a pastor.

    Not yet. If I live to retirement I may ultimately write a book entitled Life With Larry, which will cover this and other topics. Our time with Larry was a great and wondrous adventure for my bride and me. I miss him, and I miss it.

  6. Sunday I’ll be at and Armemian Rite Church where they commune INFANTS – as they’ve done for almost 2000 years.

    BAPTISM gives the gift of faith. Faith and love and innocence are possesed by the mentally handicapped or the infant through the ministration of the Sacraments.

    This is ridiculous.

  7. Sorry if that was too angry but I take care of my brother with special needs. He is verbal, so the whole thing was simpler with him. But if we can – and have, and do – commune infants, it doesn’t seem remotely reasonable to forbid a child with special needs.

  8. My daughter (now 24) is autistic but quite verbal. I took her to the CCD classes appropriate to her age when she was preparing for First Communion and sometimes sat with her in class. I started rehearsing her first confession with the parish priest about a year ahead of time. She received both sacraments on time with no issues, for which I am very thankful. Of course it helped that she was verbal and didn’t have any serious behavioral issues, and that we were blessed with an understanding pastor.

  9. This actually bring up an interesting point–the Byz Rite Church, in fact I think all Eastern Catholic Churches–give the Eucharist even to babies (once Baptised). Obviously, a four month old can’t take in any of the Body, but they’d get a drop of the Precious Blood.
    .
    But the Roman Rite does not do this.
    .
    How are they allowed to do this differently on such a profound issue?

  10. I would have been sympathetic to the parents if they had not decided that going to the press would ensure that they got their way. The parents made this an issue and demanded their way or the highway. My sympathies are with the child and the pastor

  11. Agnes, I sympathize with the parents, though I think they made the wrong decision.

    DJH
    See my above comment. Baptism gives faith; Not intellectual attainment. This is the teaching of the Church Catholic, East and West. In the West, the Eucharist was given at the age of reason (except when a child was dying) so that we could be sure to transmit the dogma of the Sacrament.

    Neither is bad, both can be good, this case comes from a misunderstanding of the Western tradition.

  12. The best possible (although unlikely) reading of this, is that this pastor is trying to respond to how most quasi-cultural-Catholics think of the sacraments: as “culturally vestigial, basically meaningless, rites of passage, wherein we celebrate the child.” Unfortunately, the pastor doesn’t understand what they are either.
    Best case scenario, this pastor thinks they are rites of passage in which you publicly express your faith, and that faith (a primarily intellectual thing) makes the rite not meaningless. That is incomplete, and we should be able to expect more of priests, but it is understandable.

    What actually probably happened, is this pastor thinks of “first-communion,” as a thing you get to do, because you came to the classes, and followed along, and this kid cannot do that, so it wouldn’t be fair to the other kids. Which is absolutely stupid, but this is how pastors talk about this stuff. The meaning of the sacrament, all of that, is utterly irrelevant to them. It’s a group activity, where you do the thing and earn the cookie, and if you can’t do the thing, we gotta figure out how to be fair to the other kids.

  13. At least she didn’t go running to the media. Hey! A few weeks ago, I think it was the Holy Family Sunday. Anyhow, Father Chris (a little older than my youngest son) had the temerity to repeat Church teachings and say marriage is between one man and one woman; at which instant one woman jumped up and walked out.

    Of course, I could never be a priest. I’d have stopped short and told her to see me in the Confessional.

    I’m so old. Custer and I received First Holy Communion in second grade and Confirmation in third grade. In the 1950’s, all I knew was I needed to go to Confession each Saturday (seriously) and tell the priest the same childish sins each Saturday.

    Clay, You have a lot more in this issue and seem to be on to something.

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