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Down’s Syndrome boy denied Communion, says mother

By on Thursday, 19 January 2012

The mother of a boy with Down’s Syndrome has accused the Church of letting her down after her diocese declined to allow her son to make his first Holy Communion.

Clare Ellarby, from the St Mary of the Angels church in Batley, West Yorkshire, said: “I believe it is because of his disability that they won’t accept him. I feel very upset my son is being discriminated against and I feel really let down by the Catholic faith.”

The catechetical classes for First Holy Communion began in September but Mrs Ellarby explained that she was unable to attend the first meeting with Denum because he was unwell.

When she approached her parish priest, Fr Patrick Mungovin, he explained that the classes were now full and that Denum would have to wait.

When she took her case to Mgr Michael McQuinn of Leeds diocese, Mrs Ellerby claims that he raised questions concerning Denum’s understanding of the sacrament but agreed to discuss this with Denum’s headteacher at St Mary’s Catholic Primary School in Batley.

After several attempts to contact Mgr McQuinn, Mrs Ellarby eventually received a letter from him this month. The letter raised concerns about Denum’s ability to concentrate for long periods of time and his understanding based on what Denum’s head teacher had told Mgr McQuinn.

He wrote: “While he [Denum] is unable to make preparations this year to the first sacrament he may be able to do in the future when his understanding is better placed.”

But Mrs Ellarby said that she feared her son was being discriminated against due to his disability and that “it was his right to make his First Holy Communion”.

Mrs Ellarby does not attend Mass every week but she said: “I am from a strong Catholic background and I went to Mass every Sunday as a child. I do go often but not as often as I could because I have Denum and a younger child too.”

In a statement, a diocese spokesman said: “Often Baptism is celebrated for babies in order to bring them into the life of the Church but they only proceed to the Sacrament of First Communion when they take part in the Church’s life and understand the Church’s faith in regard to these Sacraments. Denum’s family has not participated in the regular life of the Church or in the preparation preceding First Communion.

“We hope that this will change as Denum grows and we are working with him and his family to help him achieve this.”

  • Bob Hayes

    I am reluctant to comment on this matter. However, Mrs Ellarby’s observation that Denum has a, ‘
    right to make his First Holy Communion’ is, I believe, wide of the mark. Surely, what we Catholics believe is that everyone should have the opportunity to make their First Holy Communion.

  • Kate G

    It’s not about “acceptance” – the Church would not discriminate on the grounds of disability but it is about the levels of understanding Denum has towards the spiritual importance of Holy Communion. As the family haven’t made much effort to attend Church ( I took ours when they were 14,12,6,4 & newborn so it’s not impossible if it matters ) and do not themselves attend Mass very often, I really do not understand why they are jumping up and down on the discrimination bandwagon . I feel desperately sorry for anyone coping with a disabled child but I think Mrs  Ellarby is being un-realistic – as for it being Denum’s “right” , we hear too much of ‘rights”. I would argue that it is my Human Right to have ten holidays a year and live in a mansion but it isn’t realistic !

  • Anonymous

    Pope St Pius X made the teaching quite straight forward in Quam Singulari 1910

    From all this it is clear that the age of discretion for receiving Holy
    Communion is that at which the child knows the difference between the
    Eucharistic Bread and ordinary, material bread, and can therefore approach the
    altar with proper devotion. Perfect knowledge of the things of faith, therefore,
    is not required, for an elementary knowledge suffices-some knowledge (aliqua
    cognitio); similarly full use of reason is not required, for a certain
    beginning of the use of reason, that is, some use of reason (aliqualis usus
    rationis) suffices. “”

    Is there any chance that Clerics & Catholic commentators could refrain from their donatist/pelagian/jansenist appeals to personal opinion & praxis and actually state and teach Authentic Church teaching?

    No: I thought not – for the following few days we will be inundated with a plethora of sincere hand-wringing commentators who think they know better than the Church.

  • Anonymous

    As an Orthodox Christian, I simply can’t understand the problem.  The Orthodox Church has always allowed any baptised child, of whatever age, to come to receive the Holy Mysteries. It is normal to see babes in arms being brought up by their parents to receive Communion at the Liturgy.  It has nothing to do with “understanding” at all – if it did, no-one could ever receive Communion.  

  • David Armitage

    I for one think I know better than the representatives of the Leeds diocese in this matter, who should readily escape the charge of being oversensitive. Having an extra chromosome shouldn’t be a a hindrance but an encouragement to take this amazing mother in their arms, and shower her with genuine love and affection and move heaven and earth to provide extra support.

  • Anonymous

    David I think you misunderstand what the Church teaches – and it’s the opposite of what the diocese seeks to implement.

    Denum by virtue of his Baptism is NOT TO BE DENIED access to the sacrament if he can in any way express that he recognises the difference between eucharist and ordinary bread in that it is special, precious etc

    Just because some cleric exercises a judgment call [which he should not do outside the remit of QS unless he has a grave reason] – or just because Conference or Diocese has determined and devised a normative pre-sacramental instruction course – it does not give them the right to preclude or proscribe any Baptised who fulfil the provisions of QS.

    It’s not a question of Denum having a ‘right’ to the sacrament
    It’s a question of nobody has any right to bar him from it if he fulfils the stipulated pre-requisites stated in QS – knowing it’s special different ‘holy’ bread & Jesus died on the cross to save us/let us into heaven etc is more than enough.

    The kid does not need a certificate in pastoral theology, nor does he need to have written a nice poem to his bishop, acted in a little last supper play in the church or to have made a papier-mache bas relief of Zacchaeus up a bloody tree!

    It’s clear what’s happening here – as happens all over the contemporary laity-led Church.

    It’s the creeping poisons of the donatism of worthiness and the pelagianism of deserving [i.e. having earned] it …

    The ‘new humanism’ of being the deservng worthy Catholic – accruing brownie points and proving that they’ve worked hard by participating…

    Treating Sacramental grace like it’s a blue peter badge from Santa Claus or a toaster garnered by collecting green shield stamps.

  • David Armitage

    I’ve read and re-read you, and I rather think I agree with you. The diocesan  protagonists show an amazing lack of sensitivity, scandalously so. I repeat that the family should have been welcomed with open arms and special arrangements made to provide whatever help was needed, with particular
    regard to the immense trauma all mothers experience when they learn that their child is trisomic; I have never yet met a family that  doesn’t move on to an attitude of gratitude that such loving children inspire. I rather wish that Herald readers would hesitate before leaping to the defence of clerics and hierarchs when they behave in ways that make even hardened burocrats blush.

  • The Yorkshire Shepherd

    If any parent refuses to attend Mass with their
    children or to engage and participate in Catholic worship and living; the
    enrolment to receive the Sacrament is deferred. The parents should live their
    faith if they expect their children receive the Body and Blood of Christ.  If the parent fails, the children can make
    the decision for themselves when they are older. On the other hand, if it is
    the priest whom is to blame: no man is a barrier for God! God will make himself
    known. There was a young girl who was told that she could not make her First
    Holy Communion, her mother (who was practising) took the matter further. On the
    day of receiving Jesus, her mum walked her down the isle, the girl took the
    consecrated host, she broke it in half and gave it to her mother – the priest
    was in tears. Right before his eyes God revealed himself in the foundation of
    the Eucharist: He blessed it, broke it and gave it!   

  • Anonymous


  • Malrev

    “Suffer little children to come unto me, and forbid them not’
    Is that not sufficient reason to welcome the innocent boy.
    If the ‘church’ practises other than what Jesus practised, then as Jesus said;’woe are you who impose insurmountable burdens’, and ‘won’t lift a hand to relieve’ the burden.
    is this the new/reformed orthodoxy

  • Johnsiple

    I was privileged to teach a down’s syndrome child of about 10 years the elements of receiving first Holy Communion back in the early 70′s.
    When I went back home for my Mom’s funeral, I saw Markie ahead of my pew. Following Communion, I whispered to him, “Markie, do you still love Jesus?”
    “Oh, YEAH” he answered!

  • Lindi

    As other people have commented – if the child can indicate that he/she knows that the bread is Jesus there should be no barrier to First Communion.
       I think the school and p.p. have not worked with the parents to find  a way of teaching Denum this. He needs one to one catechesis. Its sad that communications seem so poor.

  • Adam Coates

    But it’s not bread in any way, shape, or form.

  • Adam Coates

    Umm, that’s not good. The Eucharist shouldn’t be handled and the fact the girl took it (and then broke it, meaning particles would have gone everywhere!) shows that she clearly wasn’t Catechised proprly.

  • Anonymous

    Adam – doesn’t the bigger picture mean anything to you?

  • Anonymous

    Of course it isn’t – but QS teaches that the child doesn’t have to understand the annihilation of the form or transubstantiation – merely that this thing that looks like bread is something much more – all they need is to stand upon the threshold of Eucharistic understanding.

  • David Armitage

    This thing, as you eloquently put it, doesn’t look like bread; it takes a lot of casuistry to get there. I’m all for the good sisters earning a living, but dried wheat paste requires a huge stretch of the imagination. I’ll have to go back to my Aquinas to try to grab what this annihilation of the substance is all about.  On the other hand Jesus’s meaning was perfectly clear centuries before the scholastics muddied the picture.

  • Bob Hayes

    I am a little curious as to why the youngster’s parents think the Daily Mail and Yorkshire Evening Post are appropriate mechanisms through which to pursue their son’s upbringing in the Catholic faith.

  • Benedict Carter

    It is NOT “bread” after the Consecration. It is the physical Body and Blood of Christ.

    And Denum does NOT need one-to–one catechesis. He simply needs to be asked by the priest if he understands that the consecrated bread is Christ.

    Anyone here know the story of the little Irish girl, disabled, who died at the age of four? She was allowed to receive Holy Communion in about 1900 or 1901 at age three I believe because she clearly understood the consecrated Host to be God.

  • Benedict Carter

    Given that the Church’s law itself states that a Catholic is to receive Holy Communion a minimum of once a year, all this “living faith” stuff we hear about is nonsense. That’s not how our forefathers understood the Faith. 

  • Benedict Carter

    Quite right Adam. 

    But who in the post-Vatican II Church IS catechised properly??? However, PP has hit the mark in his post below.

  • Benedict Carter

    Hear, hear Paul!

  • Brigusser

    Whoever made this bizarre decision should be suspended from
    office immediately. The church seems to be losing its ability to represent
    accurately the teaching of our Blessed Saviour. Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me, and do
    not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.”


  • Sonja Wilson

    I cannot believe that a child would be refused First Communion on these grounds! Presumably reception on the sacrements is now dependant on intelectual ability! What about all those many children with intellectal impairments far worse than Denams? When Jesus said ‘let the little children come unto me’ that did not come with the proviso that the family of the child were regular worshippers and that the child could understand the concept of transubstantiation! Maybe our illustrious church hierachy in Leeds need to remember that we are asked to change and become as a little child in order to gain entry to the Kingdom of Heaven. Perhaps it is we who should be turning to children like Denam to teach us about God, not rejecting him because he doesnt meet our man made ruless!
    Sonja Wilson

  • David Armitage

    You seem to be going to great lengths to culpabilise the little boys parents.The parish priest seems to have shown an amazing lack of feeling not to mention the vicar general who could bother replying.  Since clergy and hierarchs only seem to move when they feel their reputation is in question what’s a mother to do if her child is cut off from communion.

  • Tiddles The Cat

    Funny thing. So am I.

    Did they think by making a holy show of the Diocese of Leeds through the secular press would change anything? Not a good move on their part. It hasn’t helped.

  • concerned christian

    if you are an example of the churches acceptance and piety maybe shia law is an alternative

  • Bob Hayes

    As always with the national media, truth won’t get in the way of a human interest story with lashings of righteous indignation. You may well find a somewhat different perspective in the West Riding. This is the Mirfield Reporter’s coverage.   
    Parents have responsibilities in respect of their children’s upbringing in the Catholic faith. As the MR coverage notes, ‘Denum’s family has not participated in the regular life of the Church or in the preparation preceding First Communion’. The nub of this story is that the PARENTS have not got what they want when they wanted it, but instead of looking at their acts – and omissions – they shout ‘discrimination’ through any medium that will accommodate them.

    I pray that young Denum makes his First Holy Communion, in the near future, with his parents participating in and supporting his spiritual development.

  • Katerina Ambrose

    Yes I agree with you, surely they can even look to Byzantine Catholics in this country, who give babies Communion, why can’t the Catholic Church act in a Universal way?

  • The Yorkshire Shepherd

    The girl was considered as mentally disabled, the point that God displayed was that ALL are welcome to receive him.  Even if the girl had to receive the smallest patricidal she would have received Jesus whole.  You seem like one of those individuals who likes to say things for the sake of saying them.  If you haven’t got anything to say which inspires God’s creation to the truth and build a relationship with Christ don’t bother saying anything at all!

  • Parishioner

    This is yet another example of sloppy journalism by the majority of the media, not just the local press. They seem to be very easily swayed and in looking for an easy sensational headline story sadly they’ve been duped again. The parents were given the necessary information but did not act on it until weeks after the programme began. The child would have been considered again next year – if the parents bothered to fill in the forms, attend the meetings and meet the requirements that apply to all parents. Not taking part with classmates is not unusual as the family know only too well – their elder son took his 3 years late when they eventually put him forward. As for disability, there is no discrimination at St Marys as far as I am concerned. Cooperation and commitment from the parents is all that is asked for, reasonable adjustments have been made in the past, are being made for another child in the group this year and will be in made in future as the need arises. Sadly, in this case, the child’s disability appears to being used as an excuse by the parents to try to bully others and get around their own failings.

  • Scott

    I am the father of a young boy with Downs.  I have 2 older children that are due to take First Communion this year and next year.  Until I see/hear clarification on this issue I will be putting them forward with resentment in my heart.

  • Edward Ludlow

    My son David has DS. He is now 27 and is Head Altar Server at our church in Leicestershire. From his earliest years he has been treated with great kindness and courtesy at every cross road in his life. He commenced school life in ‘main stream’ and was welcomed into that community. We asked the Head to permit David to stay in the Reception Class for an extra year. He was surprised by that request but agreed if we thought it would help him settle in to school life. When David was at communion age we asked the PP if David could be deferred until his understanding was better. The PP could not have been more helpful and David was held back until the age of 9. Recently he served mass for the 50th celebration of the opening of our church. His Grace the Bishop of Nottingham was chief celebrant and aterwards he came over and spoke to David thanking him for his good works and adding words of encouragement for the future. From David’s earliest years I have sat with him in church on weekdays explaining, in the simplist of terms, the fact that there is a ‘hidden Jesus’ in our church. David has twice represented England in swimming against persons with Learning Difficulties.Iin Spain, as a juvenile he was awarded a Silver Medal. 

  • Siobhan

    No they should keep quiet and protect the feelings of the church at any cost. This is exactly what happened with the whole nightmare of child abuse in the church, thank God we now live in more enlightened times and it is right and fitting that the unchristian behaviour of clerics should be shown for exactly what it is.

  • Zether

    I find this whole thing very odd. There are several disabled people at my church. This exclusion is entirely contrary to the teachings of Jesus, who turned away nobody at all and welcomed anyone who came to him.

  • Bob Hayes

    You appear to misunderstand my post Siobhan. Mr and Mrs Ellarby say they want their son to receive First Holy Communion at St Mary’s. That being the case, my point is that the Daily Mail is hardly a vehicle for a smooth resolution for their concerns! 

  • Sean

    If, David, you wish to supply your own eucharistic theology for that of the Catholic Church may I kindly suggest you conform to Catholic teaching or leave. It is not a case of scholastics muddling anything. Aquinas rendered the doctrine of St Paul and that of the Gospel writers into a precise thing (a very good word) so that, in cases such as this, intelligent, non-defensive people who are spared a sense of entitlement to anything anyone else has – in other words, “reasonable” - understand that this bread IS Jesus.

    Denum’s mother admits she went weekly to Mass as a little girl and not since. As a catechist, I understand the dichotomy in a child’s spirituality when they learn one thing in class and see their parents ignoring it at home.

    Sixty years ago my mother walked her three children to Mass at the parish in Hollywood California two miles away from home. I think the same “thing” is not beyond Mrs Ellarby’s abilities as a woman or as a parent.

    If she really wanted to.

  • Ricgil

    Forty or so years ago, Santa Teresita Catholic Church, Puerto Rico, I was denied communion, though I had had first communion at my Catholic School. You see, the one-eyed priest saw fit to deny me communion for I was a dwarf. My mother and I stood at the altar for several minutes after communion was served and still the priest was not forthcoming.  Afterwards, my mother confronted the priest in the sacristy but still the uncompromising priest did not budge. It took a visit from my father that evening to change the priest’s small mind.

  • Sean

    So the Whole Church is wrong because of one idiot priest. Very bad logic.

  • Anonymous  I am not sure who is telling the truth here.  The stories are conflicting.  My sympathy is with the family trying to have their DS son have holy communion.  The statements from the church could be reasonable but there are conflicts with the stories.  

  • Rey Jacobs

    First, the sacrament of symbolic cannibalism is of Pagan origin, coming from the worship of Attis and Mithras, and has no real place in Christianity.  It was added to the Bible by Pagan Catholics in the mid-second century (we have no manuscripts of any text containing it prior to 175).  It is an outdated practice that should be not only abandoned by all denominations but outlawed too.

  • Rey Jacobs

    The Catholic church’s definition of bread is that it contains wheat.  This raises another problem which isn’t addressed here, namely that people with Celiac disease (inability to eat wheat) are oppressed by the Catholic church.  Its taught that you have to partake of the sacrament to make it to heaven; yet they wont budge and allow for gluten-free wafers!  Other denominations do, but the Catholic church insists that without gluten it isn’t bread, and if it isn’t bread its not a valid sacraments.  This is just one more reason to take the position I’ve arrived at. the sacrament of symbolic cannibalism is of Pagan origin, coming from
    the worship of Attis and Mithras, and has no real place in
    Christianity.  It was added to the Bible by Pagan Catholics in the
    mid-second century (we have no manuscripts of any text containing it
    prior to 175).  It is an outdated practice that should be not only
    abandoned by all denominations but outlawed too.

  • Rey Jacobs

    “It is NOT “bread” after the Consecration. It is the physical Body and Blood of Christ.”

    That’s why it makes people with Celiac disease sick I suppose.  Duh, silly, that’s mythology.  People with Celiac disease (inability to eat wheat) get physically sick after eating the Catholic wafers and the church doesn’t care.  Celiac disease means you can’t eat gluten.  It causes stomach problems that can eventually lead to death if you keep eating it.  Gluten is something in wheat.  So they can only eat bread made of things like rice and corn but not wheat or barley.  Some denominations offer gluten free wafer of rice bread.  The Catholic church insists you must have wheat.  So people get sick.  Proving that it is still bread after the consecration!  Secondly, the priests know its still bread after the consecration, because if they didn’t think it was, what would it matter if it was made of wheat or rice to them?  If its going to be magically turned into Christ’s body, then make it of corn or wheat, who cares.  They care because they know it does NOT change.  And the Celiac people get sick because it does NOT change.

  • David Armitage

    Whoops! I’ve been reading too much Congar and Schillebeecks. Glad you’re a catechist over there, but nowhere near where I live. Have you managed to tell the kids what annihilation of substance means?
    Although Aquinas most probably didn’t write
     Adoro te devote, latens Deitas,
     Quae sub his figuris vere latitas
    how do you square nun dried wheat paste
    with bread: sub his figuris. Jesus doesn’t so much hide as reveal himself in the breaking of bread: this is my body, for you.
    To be a symbol, the least one should expect is that it looks and is real. When he broke bread  who showed who he is and what he intends.
    What’s all this rush to judgement?

  • Lee

    This article and some of the comments remind me of those Christians who think they have a ‘right’ to receive Our LORD . Really beggars belief especially when understanding the whole doctrine of the Holy Sacrifice is KEY to receiving it without contempt or without acknowledgement of him !

  • Tiddles The Cat

    Oh, how I agree with you. I’m glad I’m not the only one who thinks likewise.

    My family did not let disability in our family get in the way of the practise of our faith. My parish church has physical and mentally ill parishoners who are supported, encouraged and are well accommodated.

    People who think they have a sense of ‘entitlement’ to the sacraments and make a show of the matter are mostly those who haven’t practised their faith for years – living their lives AWAY from the Roman Catholic Church.

    They are the ones who think the parish priest as a customer service and – on the most part – a computer-minded mind-reader or a nodding dog! The minute they are refused… wallop and along come the insults from the ‘entitled’, leaving the priest having to bite their tongue!

    I’ve encountered and witnessed this carry-on many, many times. It is desperate.

  • Tiddles The Cat

    Oh, for the love of All That Is Holy! You are so way off the point here I wouldn’t trust you with a compass!

  • Tiddles The Cat

    If you are a regular, practising Roman Catholic and accompany all your children to Holy Mass and  the practise of their Faith – as promised by you and their godparents at Baptism – then rest assured the parish will do all they can to help you.

    Many years ago, I was sent to a so-called special school (non-catholic) because I was hyperactive (ADHD) and had a high IQ. My mother and grandmother not only bought me little books about First Holy Communion but, through our very helpful parish priest at the time, mum and gran took me for Instruction by a Passionist nun who lived a few miles away. We all attended regular Holy Mass and the priests got to know us well because of two member of our family who would receive Holy Communion at home. We had it very tough but the support was there from our Parish.

    I have been an Extraordinary Minister of the Holy Eucharist for 19 years and would not miss Mass for anything.

    So, don’t lose heart or waste precious energy on resentment, Scott. Communicate with your young lad with the help of First Holy Communion books (CTS is a good source) which will compliment and help him when the time comes for his Instruction and preparation to receive Our Blessed Lord.

    The Real Presence helped my family through good and bad times.

    God Bless!

  • Tiddles The Cat

    Unfortunately, in this world of education,communication, information superhighway and knowledge at our fingertips, there are people like Ricgil who fail to see the bigger picture of anything – including the Church!

  • Tiddles The Cat

    I’m not surprised the priest burst into tears! What happened at the altar was unacceptable.

    And what the little girl did with the Sacred Substance rests the priest’s case perfectly – this girl, as you rightly pointed out, was NOT Catechised properly in the right way to receive Our Blessed Lord. If she was, she would not have done what she did!


    Even Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion are specially trained by a priest for the ministry on how to administer Christ at Communion and we go on regular reflection/refresher days. I was trained thus and I only handle the Host when requested by the priest. No messing.

    I continue to receive Christ on my tongue. It is safe and practical, too!