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LA STAMPA

Mentally-Disabled Boy In Italy Denied Communion For 'Not Understanding' Rite

Near the northern city of Ferrara, a priest has denied communion to a mentally-disabled child, saying that it can only be offered to those who "understand the mystery" of the rite. The parents are taking their case to the European Court

A church in Ferrara, Italy (Danilo Mistroni)
A church in Ferrara, Italy (Danilo Mistroni)
Giacomo Galeazzi

FERRARA – Controversy has erupted both inside and outside the Catholic Church after a parish priest in northern Italy refused to offer communion to a disabled child. Father Piergiorgio Zaghi of the Immaculate Conception church in Porto Garibaldi, a village near Ferrara, denied the sacrament at Easter mass, saying that the mentally-disabled boy was unable to "understand the mystery of the Eucharist."

The parents of the boy in the Emilia-Romagna region have taken their case both to the European Court of Human Rights and to the higher authorities at the Holy See in Rome.

Antonio Marziale, a sociologist and head of the Children's Rights Observatory as well as a consultant for the Italian Parliamentary Committee for Childhood, denounced the denial of the rite as "cultural obscurantism from the Middle Ages."

Parishioners are divided between those who share the priest's view and those who disagree, and are calling for Pope Benedict XVI to weigh in and defend the right of the mentally disabled to receive the sacrament. A boy who attends catechism classes with the disabled child wrote a letter to the priest: "If he was with us, it would be a great joy for him, and we would see the actual value of Communion."

In Rome, Cardinal Velasio De Paolis denounced the priest's decision, noting that in the Eastern Rite churches children receive the Eucharist soon after their christening. "As long as the disabled person does not desecrate the host, if they receive it calmly, it is normal practice to offer it to them," De Paolis said. "Never have I denied host", and above all, "the strength of the sacrament also touches the ill and the dying."

Backed by bishop

Claudia, the mother of the child, still hopes that Father Zaghi will "think again" about his decision. She said her son enjoyed the catechism class to prepare for the taking of communion. "Of course his degree of attention was not like his classmates," she said. As for her son's "understanding of the Eucharist," she said that "I don't like to say it but – even a ‘normal" 10-year-old child cannot fully understand the concept."

The family's attorneys will argue that "Canon law does not mention either the age or the mental abilities of the recipient of the Eucharist." They also highlight that "although this child is indeed living with major motor disabilities, by law he is not completely unable to understand the significance of the sacrament."

The first communion ceremony is to be held in May and will involve about 20 children. The boy's family is confident that this gives enough time for the priest to change course, although so far the bishop of Ferrara has backed the parish priest. "I hope that my son will be able to have the communion with all his friends," Claudia said. "They want to celebrate the ceremony with us. They stand in solidarity."

Read the original article in Italian

Photo - Danilo Mistroni

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Society

A Madrid Court's Method To Help Children Testifying In Sex Abuse Cases

Madrid courtrooms have designed private "waiting rooms" for children. In these spaces, a mix of talk and play with a psychologist allows the children to calmly testify before judges.

A Madrid Court's Method To Help Children Testifying In Sex Abuse Cases

A playroom at the Plaza Castilla court complex in northern Madrid

Irene Dorta

MADRID — The hallways of the Plaza Castilla court complex in northern Madrid are cold. With their grey tones, signs written in black and wooden doors that usher you into courtrooms or offices, they are barely palatable to any citizen having to pass through. But on the third floor, there is a colorful little oasis in this dour, judicial setting.

The sign outside calls it the Safe Childhood Space (Espacio infancia segura). Inside, children try out certain dynamics meant to distract them from the gruesome tales they may soon have to relate if they have to testify against relatives or describe episodes of sexual abuse. The initiative began in October 2021 and seeks to ease younger children's passage through the judicial process.

Setting up the space was complicated "because it wasn't a nursery. It meant introducing a service that had little to do with judicial authority," says Carmen Martín García-Matos, head of judicial infrastructures at the regional government's Justice, Interior and Victims department.

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