Sunday, March 05, 2006

Take and Eat.... Or Not

Fresh from presiding over the funeral liturgy of Archbishop Paul Marcinkus, Bishop Thomas Olmsted of Phoenix (ordained in an arena) is freshly embroiled in a new controversy: denying the Eucharist to a ten year-old autistic boy who can't swallow the host.
Because of his condition, Matthew Moran cannot swallow foods with certain textures.

So Matthew, who received his First Communion nearly three years ago in Pennsylvania, participates in Communion in an unusual way. As his father watches, the boy takes the Communion wafer and places it in his mouth. His father, Nick Moran, then removes it and consumes the host himself.

Otherwise, Matthew would spit it out, his father says.

Moran, who takes only the one host for himself, says it remains in the boy's mouth for several seconds.

He says the bishop's letter has caused anger, anxiety and frustration in his home.

"We are out of our minds over this," said the father, who with his wife, Dr. Jean Weaver, has two other children, one of them also disabled.

Phoenix Diocese officials contend that Matthew has not been prohibited from Communion, only that the bishop is "not able to approve the present practice," according to his letter. He offered assistance, which has come in the form of various hosts for Matthew to try, educational material and other recommendations for the parents, including respite care, in which trained personnel would look after the children while the parents took time for themselves.
But, wait, it gets weirder.
Matthew received his First Communion in May 2004 in Pittsburgh. His father says the Pittsburgh parish his family attended both recommended and approved the boy's method of receiving Communion. Phoenix officials say that is not true, based on their talks with Pittsburgh Diocese officials.

Pittsburgh officials declined to return phone calls. The Rev. Patrick Barkey, an assistant pastor at St. Bernard Church in Pittsburgh, where Matthew received First Communion, signed the boy's certificate but says he does not remember the family.

"This is a large parish, with 4,500 families," he said. "We have a large ministry to the disabled."

Moran said the Rev. Michael Deptula at Our Lady of the Lake Parish in Lake Havasu City, religious home to 2,500 families, was fine with the matter until recently.

It is another point of dispute. Moran says that his wife met with a church deacon and the pastor to discuss the question shortly after they arrived in town in June 2005 and that his son received Communion from Deptula many times before.

But diocese officials say the family never met with the pastor and had never approached him for Communion before Jan. 1, when Deptula told the parents that Matthew was not showing proper respect.

On that day, according to Moran, Matthew was not acting unusually. The family says it does not understand why the matter came to the bishop's attention. But Deptula contacted the diocese.

Deptula declined to return calls. Elaine Guitar, parish manager, said parish officials had no comment and referred calls to the diocese. Olmsted also declined to answer questions, assigning Rice from the disabilities office and Roz Gutierrez from the Office of Worship to work with Matthew and answer questions.
Oh, Good Lord....

Tip to Jacob.