Bishop Olmstead of Phoenix has put into question a controversial practice to administer Communion to an autistic child, a decision which has sparked critics against the Church from people unfamiliar to Catholic teaching.
The practice questioned by Phoenix Bishop is to give the communion to Mathew Moran an autistic child, with the boy taking the Communion wafer and placing it in his mouth. His father, Nick Moran, then removes it and consumes the host himself. “Matthew will not swallow even a tiny crumb of the host or a drop of wine with any regularity, frequently spitting them out”, he said.
The publisher of 'The Church Report' Magazine and CEO of Christy Media Questions the Catholic Diocese of Phoenix for its decision on this practice. Jason T. Christy, an evangelical, unfamiliar with the questions and practices within the Catholic Church about Communion said that “Once again, the Catholic church has demonstrated its inability to relate to its parishioners and error on the side of good.”
Another comment came from Denise Resnik, board chairwoman for the Southwest Autism Research Center and the mother of a boy who is dealing with autism. "We often seek comfort in our religion, and it would be nice to think the church would support them to the best degree possible."
The Catholic Church has told the parents of the 10-year-old autistic boy that, because the child cannot consume the host, he is not receiving Communion properly. Until he does, church officials say, he cannot partake of the church's most meaningful sacrament.
According to a letter from Bishop Thomas J. Olmsted, delivered to the Lake Havasu City family on Feb. 12, the boy cannot accept Communion in the Catholic Church until he can "actually receive the Eucharist, actually take and eat." In his letter, Olmsted says, "Just to touch it to one's tongue is not to 'take and eat.' In other words, it is not the reception of Christ in the Eucharist. "So while your desire is for your son to receive Holy Communion, he is, in fact, only simulating doing so."
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. The diocese is not questioning Matthew's preparation or understanding of Communion.
The key rule is that the recipient must "consume" the host before leaving the area of reception. The consumption rule is written in both the directions for the Mass, called the "General Instruction of the Roman Missal," and in a Vatican document called "Redemptionis Sacramentum," the "Redeeming Sacrament."
Bishop Olmstead and the Diocese has offered assistance, which has come in the form of various hosts for Matthew to try, that are thinner than the norm, thicker, even smaller
"Matthew deserves to be able to take the Eucharist fully and completely," said Isabella Rice of the diocese Office on Disabilities and Pastoral Care. "As long as he is unable to do so, we will keep working with him."