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Nonverbal Autistic Boy Denied Communion by Priest Due to His Disability

On Tuesday, a family spoke out after their church’s priest denied their nonverbal autistic son’s first communion on the ground the boy couldn’t determine right from wrong due to his disability. The church is now walking back its decision.

Jimmy LaCugna shared on Facebook how his autistic son, Anthony, is eligible this year to take his first communion in the Catholic church. According to LaCunga, however, Father John Bambric at Saint Aloysis Church in Jackson, New Jersey, informed the family Anthony would be denied first communion because he “is unable to determine right from wrong due to his disability they feel he is not up to 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,” LaCunga wrote, adding:

This is something that I hope goes viral and these parties involved get their names called out for this disgraceful and disheartening act against a child who has a disability and wouldn’t even be able to create a sin because he is one of the sweetest and innocent little boy someone would ever meet. Please help spread the word for Anthony’s peers in his spectrum so no other child or family has to deal with or feel what we have been felt with over the past couple of days since we have been made aware of this.

Today Nicole and I were informed that our son Anthony would not be able to make his communion this year. As most of you…

Posted by Jimmy LaCugna on Tuesday, February 25, 2020

The ableist discrimination the LaCunga family faced at church is a common experience for people with disabilities. In July 2019, for example, the chapel at King’s College, in Cambridge, England, asked Paul Rimmer to remove his 9-year-old nonverbal autistic son from a service because his vocalizations were too “disruptive.” After Rimmer’s story went viral, disability advocate Ellen Stumbo shared how churches need to practice what they preach when it comes to disability.

“We must recognize the value of people with disabilities in our congregations and begin to treat them as equals, as invaluable members of our communities (because they are),” wrote Stumbo, adding:

Churches claim they care about individuals with disabilities and their families, but once they are present in our places of worship, do we actually care? Church communities must figure out ways to make it possible for everyone to belong and everyone serve. Accommodations must be provided to allow that to happen. Does it takes extra work? Sure. But we do it because it is the right thing to do, and because if we claim everyone is welcome, then we need to act like we mean it.

In a statement posted on its website and Facebook, Saint Aloysis acknowledged LaCunga’s concerns and all those who reached out on behalf of the family and disability community. The church said it sought guidance on how to better serve its disability community and have found a way to adapt its communion requirements so Anthony can move forward with communion like his typical peers.

“New information has shed light on ways to further adapt our preparations and reception for children with severe cognitive and developmental issues,” the church wrote in part, continuing:

The basic concept is the child should be presumed to have an inner spiritual relationship with God and this would be sufficient in these particular cases, thus this is a development of our guidelines based on the latest understanding. … The family many of you have advocated for has been informed of this new guidance that will allow further adaptations to Preparation and reception of the Sacraments.

We have had both e-mail and phone inquiries regarding a Facebook Post about a special needs child. We appreciate the…

Posted by Saint Aloysius Parish Jackson NJ on Wednesday, February 26, 2020

The Mighty reached out to Jimmy LaCugna for comment and has yet to hear back.

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