Family complains after church denies 8-y-o boy communion because he’s autistic and prompts change

A celebration of the Rite of Welcome/Acceptance for RCIA Candidates and Catechumen at Saint Aloysius Parish in Jackson, New Jersey.
A celebration of the Rite of Welcome/Acceptance for RCIA Candidates and Catechumen at Saint Aloysius Parish in Jackson, New Jersey. | Facebook/Saint Aloysius Parish Jackson

A day after a New Jersey couple revealed that their 8-year-old son was denied First Communion by the Saint Aloysius Parish in Jackson due to his autism, the church reversed its decision after public outcry.

Jimmy LaCugna complained in a now viral Facebook post that he and his wife, Nicole, were told by the Rev. John Bambrick that their son, Anthony, won't be able to participate in the religious ceremony because of his disability.

“As most of you know, Anthony is an autistic non-verbal child who is in his sacrament year. Father Bambrick at Saint Aloysis Church in Jackson and the Archdiocese of Trenton came to this position since Anthony 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,’” Jimmy LaCugna wrote.

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“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. 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,” he wrote in a post that has since been shared more than 10,000 times on Facebook.

Nicole LaCugna told News 12 New Jersey that she thinks the decision by the church is unbiblical because: "Nowhere in the Bible does it ever show discrimination against anybody."

She also told the Asbury Park Press that even though Anthony is diagnosed with a serious form of autism, is 100% nonverbal with severe apraxiaas, he is happy and active as any boy, and attends an inclusion class at a regular public school.

“He does well for his abilities, his process is a slow process and he does what he is able to do,” she said.

She told the publication that when Anthony reached first grade in the fall of 2018, she wanted to start him on the religious education track toward First Holy Communion but did not believe he could attend regular classes. The parish then gave her permission to homeschool him for religious studies.

She also received permission in September to continue with his homeschooling plan and expected he would receive his First Holy Communion along with other second graders in April.

“I was always transparent about him, they knew what was here,” she said. “I knew what he wouldn’t be able to do.

“I stressed that there is no way he could sit through a mass, so they were going to let us come to a different mass, with a different group, and he would be the only one who would receive communion,” she said.

When she got a call from the church on Monday informing her that Anthony wouldn’t receive communion, she said, “I cried two times with them on the phone.”

“I said it is unfair, my son is a child of God. He is welcomed into the Catholic faith. My son is being discriminated against,” she added.

The Christian Post reached out to the Rev. Bambrick for comment Friday but he was not immediately available.

The church released a statement Wednesday on Facebook, however, stating that after reviewing the Code of Canon Law, which states that Catholics cannot be denied the sacraments as long as they are properly prepared and are ready to receive them, they have found evidence to allow children with disabilities into the fold.

“Our parish has dozens of children with special needs, disabilities, autism spectrum, cognitive delay, allergies, developmental disabilities, physical disabilities, limited cognition and other physical, emotional and cognitive classifications. We strive to serve these populations to the best of our abilities and to adapt our Religious Education and Sacramental Preparations for them within the guidelines of the Catholic Church,” the statement said.

“Since Monday we have been researching how we could best assist the most profoundly disabled in a better way. New information has come to light which allows us to by-pass previous Diocesan Guidelines to better serve this subset population. The original guidelines we followed state that a child must have a basic rudimentary simple understanding of Right and Wrong to receive First Reconciliation. For First Communion, again at a simple, basic, rudimentary level, the child has to be able to distinguish ordinary bread from the Body of Christ,” the church continued.

“New information has shed light on ways to further adapt our preparations and reception for children with severe cognitive and developmental issues. This is thanks to the work of Canon Lawyers, Theologians and Pope Francis which will allow the reception of these sacraments. 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. Bishop David O'Connell of the Diocese of Trenton has approved of these further adaptations,” they added.

The family, the church said, has been informed of the review.

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