Archbishop defends priest who denied First Communion to handicapped child

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An Italian archbishop defended a local priest from media attacks after he denied First Communion to a mentally handicapped child, saying it was the family's lack of preparation – not the boy's disability – that led to the decision.

Archbishop Paolo Rabitti of Ferrara-Camacchio told Vatican Radio that Father Piergiorgio Zaghi from Porto Garibaldi made every effort to provide the same level of formation to all children preparing to receive First Communion, without any discrimination.

Children in Porto Garibaldi receive two years of preparation before receiving the Eucharist. 

“The path of preparation intensified starting last October,” Archbishop Rabitti said. “First Communion took place on a very significant day – Holy Thursday – and a couple not belonging to the parish came to the pastor on February 29 to request that their mentally handicapped son also make his First Communion.”

Due to the lack of preparation, Father Zaghi explained to the parents that they should be sure to attend Mass with their son during the final month before Holy Thursday, “but they only came a few times: the child had participated in Mass and catechism classes only a few times.”

At some of the classes the boy did attend, he spit out the unconsecrated host from his mouth when catechists were helping the children to familiarize themselves with how to receive the Eucharist.

Father Zaghi informed the parents that their son had not received enough preparation and he suggested that he make his First Communion next year, but they reacted by calling the decision “discrimination,” Archbishop Rabitti explained.

The archbishop noted that Pope Benedict XVI says that in the case of devout families with completely handicapped children, “the Sacraments are administered so that the faith of the family is sustained throughout the life of the child,” and in this sense “the child cannot be given the sacraments when there has been a total lack of preparation.”

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