Family Says Church Tried To Deny Boy With Autism His First Communion
A New Jersey boy with autism can receive his First Holy Communion this year, Catholic Church officials said late last week as they issued an apology for “an unfortunate breakdown in communication” that led to national headlines about the case.
But the boy’s parents disputed the church’s apology and said they are looking for a new parish.
Anthony LaCugna’s parents said earlier last week that the Rev. John Bambrick at Saint Aloysius Parish in Jackson, N.J. decided their son, who is nonverbal, could not receive the sacrament of communion because his disability prevents him from distinguishing right from wrong. The family’s Facebook post expressing their frustration went viral, drawing thousands of comments and shares.
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Though the church initially did not deny the boy was barred from participating in the First Communion ceremony, Saint Aloysius released a statement Friday saying it had all been a misunderstanding.
“While we had tried to adapt our preparation process to accommodate the child’s special needs, there was an unfortunate breakdown in communication that led to a misunderstanding. A delay in receiving the Sacrament was discussed until readiness could be assessed; there was never to be denial of Communion to this child,” church officials said on their Facebook page.
After consulting with Bishop David O’Connell, the head of the Diocese of Trenton, the church has now found a way for the boy to have his First Communion “without delay,” church officials said.
“We have made the family aware of this development and hope to be able to meet with them to discuss it. Their child continues to be welcome in our program, and will be able to receive First Holy Communion this year,” the church’s statement said.
Nicole LaCugna, Anthony’s mother, said church officials never said her son’s communion would be delayed. She said she was told last Tuesday that he could not participate specifically because of his disability.
The family is looking for a new parish after losing faith in Saint Aloysius Parish officials.
“We’re in the process of trying to find a new parish for all of us, outside of his communion. We have high hopes,” Nicole LaCugna said in a phone interview. “We’re horrified by what (the church statement) says. It’s really upsetting that it’s coming from a church.”
In a statement on Facebook, Jimmy LaCugna, Anthony’s father, said he felt church officials were painting his family “as liars.”
“We were told very clearly during our phone conversation (NOT with Father Bambrick), that Anthony would not be able to make his communion this year. However, that we would be potentially given the opportunity in upcoming years. Since this has gone viral, the church’s story has changed,” Jimmy LaCugna wrote.
Anthony had been preparing for his First Communion at home, using the church’s curriculum, his family said. Because he is nonverbal, the church had offered to use flash card to help the boy complete his First Reconciliation, a pre-Communion requirement where children confess their sins to a priest, his mother said.
However, his mother declined, saying the flash cards would not work with Anthony’s disability. She said she was told the church would research ways to help him, but she later received a call saying the boy could not participate in either the First Reconciliation service or the First Communion sacrament in April.
In their statement on Facebook, St. Aloysius Parish officials said they regretted how Anthony’s case was handled. They also were concerned families of children with special needs might doubt whether their children were welcome in Catholic Church religious education programs.
“Nothing could be further from the truth; special needs children and adults are welcomed and ministered to in parishes across this Diocese, and throughout the Church, including this parish,” the church’s statement said.
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