Clare Ellarby, the mother of a seven-year-old boy with Down’s Syndrome, has accused the local Catholic Church and the Diocese of Leeds of discrimination for refusing to allow her son to make his first Holy Communion with his classmates.
Preparation of children for the sacraments of Reconciliation and the Eucharist began in West Yorkshire parish of St Mary of the Angels in September, but Denum Ellarby was unable to attend the first meeting as he was ill. Father Patrick Mungovin explained to Mrs Ellarby that the classes were full, and that her son would have to wait until the following year when he hoped Denum would be able to receive the sacrament.
Mrs Ellarby took the matter to Leeds Diocese, but Monsignor Michael McQuinn, the Vicar General, after discussions with Denum’s headteacher, supported Father Mungovin’s decision. Writing to Mrs Ellarby earlier this month, Mgr McQuinn expressed concerns about whether Denum would be able to prepare properly for the sacraments or to understand them. He indicated that Denum might be better equipped to join the classes next year.
Despite the expectations of the Diocese that the parents of candidates for first Holy Communion should attend Mass each Sunday, Mrs Ellarby and her husband Darren, who is a property developer, do not do so, saying that the parish’s one-hour Mass is too long for their son. They believe they ought to be allowed prepare their son for Communion at home, and over the last fortnight have collected 400 signatures supporting them.
A diocesan spokesman has explained that although babies are baptised to bring them into the life of the Church, the sacrament of Communion is only given to children who take part in the Church’s regular life, something the diocese hopes Denum and his family will do as he grows older.
-- Originally published in The Irish Catholic, 26 January 2012