Monday, May 21, 2012

Church lifts ban on Catholic boy, 8, taking Holy Communion because he has Down's Syndrome

from The Daily Mail by Chris Brooke:

When Denum Ellarby walked down the aisle with his classmates to take Holy Communion for the first time his parents felt a mixture of pride and relief.

For the family have had to battle what they regarded as ‘cruel discrimination’ by the Catholic Church to ensure their eight-year-old son with Down’s Syndrome could take part in the important First Communion ceremony.

Until the Daily Mail highlighted his plight in January the local priest, backed by the diocese, was refusing to allow him to take part as he would not understand the preparation classes or ‘enjoy participation in Mass.’

His mother Clare Ellarby believed his disability was responsible for the church’s refusal to accept him and collected a 400 signature petition in support of Denum from the local community.

But in the wake of the bad publicity the church had a change of heart.

At a meeting with the parish priest Father Patrick Mungovin and the boy’s headteacher at his Roman Catholic primary school, special arrangements were agreed for Denum to be prepared for First Communion.

Mrs Ellarby had not been going to Mass with Denum because she thought the hour-long service was too much for him, but she started taking him to church each Sunday to persuade the priest to accept him.

Although he was not allowed to join his classmates in their monthly preparation sessions, he was given his own private weekly religious tuition by a member of the church support staff.

Despite all this Denum’s parents remained unsure of what would happen until a week ago when the priest told them he would be allowed to join his school friends in the communion ceremony.

‘I am very happy they have allowed him to take communion after all, but they have made him do more than most other people,’ said Mrs Ellarby, 31.

‘I think they shouldn’t have done what they did in the first place and if it wasn’t for the Daily Mail and the media interest he would not have been taking part at all. 'The church, quite rightly, came in for a lot of criticism. I think they have got a way to go before properly accepting children like Denum and other people with disabilities.’

Mrs Ellarby said four generations of her family had worshipped at St Mary of the Angels Church in Batley, West Yorkshire, where Denum was baptised and where she had taken her First Communion as a child.

She and her husband Darren, 37, a property developer, said she expected her local church would be ‘flexible’ in their approach to Denum being prepared for the ceremony and were shocked at the parish priest’s stance.

‘I am really glad that Father Patrick changed his mind and has made this possible,’ she said.

After previously making his first confession, Denum did what was required on Saturday when he took his First Communion in front of dozens of friends and relatives.

‘It was a lovely service and I am so glad we fought for Denum to be treated like anyone else,’ said Mrs Ellarby.

Unfortunately the church has still not completely learnt from the experience. Three weeks ago church officials held a First Communion party for the classmates who had been prepared together, but Denum did not receive an invitation.

The church always denied ‘banning’ Denum. A spokesman for the diocese refused to comment on Denum’s situation, but said the church wanted ‘to thank all those people both young and old who have shown the courage to come forward, take part in the preparations and so take this step in Faith.’

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