a balanced perspective on the Phoenix autism controversy

By Phil Lawler (bio - articles ) | Mar 07, 2006

In his excellent blog devoted to matters of canon law, Ed Peters offers some useful thoughts on the unhappy situation in Phoenix, where Bishop Olmstead has found it necessary to rule that an autistic boy cannot receive Communion unless or until some way is found to overcome his physical inability to tolerate the Host.

The situation is an unfortunate one-- no one will dispute that-- and it has provided some opportunities for gratuitous Catholic-bashing. But given the constraints of the situation, are there any other options?

Phil Lawler has been a Catholic journalist for more than 30 years. He has edited several Catholic magazines and written eight books. Founder of Catholic World News, he is the news director and lead analyst at CatholicCulture.org. See full bio.

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  • Posted by: - Mar. 11, 2006 9:18 PM ET USA

    I just saw this boy's parents on Fox news, The Heartland with John K, I was really troubled to hear that this boy swallowed the Holy Host at his previous parish according to the paper work sent to the Phoenix parish. The parents are "odd Catholics" to bring this matter to the attention of National Media. I do not think the parents are instructed enough to receive Holy Communion.let alone their 10yr old. What are they trying to do? Force, through "public opinion" what the Church should follow?

  • Posted by: Sterling - Mar. 10, 2006 3:33 PM ET USA

    Anyone who thinks Catholics are "uncaring and unbudging" about these one-in-a-million cases would be edified to read the caring and thoughtful comments submitted here, within a forum of "orthodox" Catholics (you know, those hard-nosed types).

  • Posted by: - Mar. 08, 2006 10:57 PM ET USA

    One of the problems that this family is facing is that the boy has had an established routine for receiving the Eucharist for three years. Now it has been determined that his routine must change. Autistic children cling to their routines because it helps them maintain order in their world. I agree with the Bishop in his decision but this is only going to alienate families with special needs members who do not have a strong commitment towards or knowledge of thir Catholic faith.

  • Posted by: shrink - Mar. 08, 2006 7:27 AM ET USA

    I am in full agreement with the Bishop, who seems to have done what had to be done. That being said, I find this story not only unfortunate, but odd, from the clinical side of the aisle. Autistic kids can be taught to tolerate all kinds of stimuli that they find aversive at first. A behavioral psychologist who is proficient in a technique termed "functional analysis" would probably have little difficulty helping this boy and his parents through this problem.

  • Posted by: - Mar. 07, 2006 4:29 PM ET USA

    Can. 913 ß1 For holy communion to be administered to children, it is required that they have sufficient knowledge and be accurately prepared, so that according to their capacity they understand what the mystery of Christ means, AND ARE ABLE TO RECEIVE THE BODY OF THE LORD WITH FAITH AND DEVOTION. This young man is obviously NOT able to receive. If he is capable, he can be taught to make a spiritual communion. If not, he is an Innocent and no spiritual harm will come to him.

  • Posted by: martica - Mar. 07, 2006 4:27 PM ET USA

    This child can make a Spiritual Communion.As for the father taking the host from the child....we are to *receive* not *take* the the Body and Blood of Our Lord...The thing is that these 1 in a million cases ALWAYS make it into the news and makes Catholics look uncaring and unbudging. The "outsiders" never want to understand the sacred *mystery* of the Sacrament. Priests/Bishops CAN NOT change the requirement of communion because if they did... they no longer can *guarantee* Sacramentality.

  • Posted by: Vincit omnia amor - Mar. 07, 2006 4:25 PM ET USA

    I think the family can be consoled, as mentioned, that God works in His Sacraments but is not confined to them. But, I don't think a microscopic particle which may cling to the childs tongue would properly constitute reception of the Sacrament...Our Lord is present as long as the elements are recognisable. Perhaps the Priest could offer a Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament to the child before his father receives. Or, could just a drop of the Precious Blood on his tongue be tolerated?

  • Posted by: - Mar. 07, 2006 3:26 PM ET USA

    The boy can't receive from the cup because he spits it out. He can't receive the host because he spits it out. The bishop of this family's previous diocese apparently allowed the father to touch the host to his son's tongue before himself consuming it. Please someone tell me what exactly was wrong with that adaptation, stemming as it did from his son's special needs? Even a microscopic bit of the host adhering to the boy's tongue would suffice for him to have received communion.

  • Posted by: - Mar. 07, 2006 1:14 PM ET USA

    In response to the 1st commenter, the child has an extreme aversion to textures and drops of the wine have been tried and rejected. I believe the technical term is "tactile aversion" or "tactile sensitivity". It is, indeed, very unfortunate. Please remember, however, that while God's grace works through his sacraments, He is not limited to his sacraments. Perhaps, in His infinite wisdom, there is something for us to learn regarding the most vulnerable in our world, during Lent.

  • Posted by: - Mar. 07, 2006 1:01 PM ET USA

    Why can't this child receive a small drop of the Precious Blood?