Friday, March 31, 2006

Knute Rockne the Great 1888-1931

Knute Rockne

Today marks the 75th anniversary of the death of Notre Dame's legendary football coach, Knute Rockne. He was 43 and at the peak of his career, having just coached the Irish to two undefeated seasons. He had a 105-12-5 record in 13 seasons.

Friday, March 24, 2006

In Absentia...The Catacombs

Sorry for the recent dearth of posts. I have had some stuff up over at Reformed Catholicism, but other projects have sucked up my time...

Roman Catacombs

For those unawares, the Catacombs of Rome represent a fascinating window into earliest Christianity. I have never been to Rome and I am suprised at how deeply politicized every aspect of catacomb study has become, but this essay and this presentation represent a non-specialists guide to the state of the questions.

Saturday, March 11, 2006


I saw the parents tonight on television. To the extent that the information in this story is true, its hard to imagine a greater desecration of the Eucharist than denying it to an autistic child because he cannot swallow it wholly or entirely. Even on the most literal grounds, some molecules from the consecrated host remain in the child's mouth, but that's not the point.

Church denies Communion to autistic boy

Michael Clancy
The Arizona Republic
Mar. 4, 2006 12:00 AM

The Catholic Church has told the parents of a 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."

Because of his condition, Matthew Moran cannot swallow foods with certain textures.

So Matthew, who received his First Communion nearly three years ago in Pennsylvania, participates in Communion in an unusual way. As his father watches, the boy takes the Communion wafer and places it in his mouth. His father, Nick Moran, then removes it and consumes the host himself.

Otherwise, Matthew would spit it out, his father says.

Moran, who takes only the one host for himself, says it remains in the boy's mouth for several seconds.

He says the bishop's letter has caused anger, anxiety and frustration in his home.

"We are out of our minds over this," said the father, who with his wife, Dr. Jean Weaver, has two other children, one of them also disabled.

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. He offered assistance, which has come in the form of various hosts for Matthew to try, educational material and other recommendations for the parents, including respite care, in which trained personnel would look after the children while the parents took time for themselves.

"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."

The issue carries extreme importance for Catholics. Communion, a sacrament also known as the Eucharist, is the center of the church's worship life. In his letter to the family, Olmsted says, "The Eucharist is the great treasure of our Catholic faith."

Unlike other denominations with Communion, Catholics believe the hard wafer of unleavened bread, called a host, becomes the actual body of Christ when the priest consecrates a much larger host by holding it up and repeating the words of the Last Supper. The belief in the true presence of Christ results in prohibitions against consumption by those who are not Catholic, those who have not confessed serious sins and those who have not properly prepared.

The church's concern is that the host or wine not be desecrated in any matter. 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."

The bishop is the final authority for matters in his diocese, according to theologian William Cavanaugh of the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul, Minn.

The diocese is not questioning Matthew's preparation or understanding of Communion.

"I took my son to CCD (religious education) classes for two years to prepare him," said Moran, a stay-at-home father. "He deserves it."

Moran also said his son realizes that he is doing something special. When he was not allowed to go to Communion on Feb. 26, "it was terrible," said Matthew's mother. "Matt screamed and cried because he did not get his Communion."

Matthew received his First Communion in May 2004 in Pittsburgh. His father says the Pittsburgh parish his family attended both recommended and approved the boy's method of receiving Communion. Phoenix officials say that is not true, based on their talks with Pittsburgh Diocese officials.

Pittsburgh officials declined to return phone calls. The Rev. Patrick Barkey, an assistant pastor at St. Bernard Church in Pittsburgh, where Matthew received First Communion, signed the boy's certificate but says he does not remember the family.

"This is a large parish, with 4,500 families," he said. "We have a large ministry to the disabled."

Moran said the Rev. Michael Deptula at Our Lady of the Lake Parish in Lake Havasu City, religious home to 2,500 families, was fine with the matter until recently.

It is another point of dispute. Moran says that his wife met with a church deacon and the pastor to discuss the question shortly after they arrived in town in June 2005 and that his son received Communion from Deptula many times before.

But diocese officials say the family never met with the pastor and had never approached him for Communion before Jan. 1, when Deptula told the parents that Matthew was not showing proper respect.

On that day, according to Moran, Matthew was not acting unusually. The family says it does not understand why the matter came to the bishop's attention. But Deptula contacted the diocese.

Deptula declined to return calls. Elaine Guitar, parish manager, said parish officials had no comment and referred calls to the diocese. Olmsted also declined to answer questions, assigning Rice from the disabilities office and Roz Gutierrez from the Office of Worship to work with Matthew and answer questions.

Rice said she never has seen a similar case. The closest would be people who are in vegetative states, in comas or near death. In those cases, a tiny flake of the host or a drop of wine often is given.

Matthew will not swallow even tiny amounts of the bread or wine, his father says.

Autism, a neurological disorder, manifests its symptoms in a variety of ways. Verbal skills and social interactions often are affected. Because autism is a spectrum disorder, the symptoms can range in severity, and each individual can be affected in different ways.

Autistic children frequently have difficulty eating certain kinds of food, among other disabilities. Moran says Matthew is extremely sensitive to certain colors and textures, and the boy eats and drinks only specific things.

Matthew has "moderately severe autism," his father said. "In spite of his disability, he is reading, doing math and making friends."

"How terrible, how difficult for the family," said 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." Diocese officials said they are doing their best to accommodate Matthew's needs, including hosts that are thinner than the norm, thicker, even smaller. Moran says none of the hosts has worked. 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.

Rice and Gutierrez say they have had extensive talks and e-mail exchanges with the family. They admit their service to the family is hampered by distance. Lake Havasu City is about 200 miles from Phoenix.

The Morans responded that Deptula has barred employees of the parish, the only one in town, from speaking to them.

"How does the diocese intend to help us when (parish) employees are threatened with the loss of their jobs for speaking with us?" the parents asked. "Where is the effort and support from this church?"

Rice says the diocese is trying to remain true to church teaching on people who are disabled.

A document of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, "Guidelines for the Celebration of the Sacraments with Persons with Disabilities," says, "Cases of doubt should be resolved in favor of the right of the baptized person to receive the sacrament. The existence of a disability is not considered in and of itself as disqualifying a person from receiving the Eucharist."

Nick Moran said he believes Olmsted is not following those guidelines in the case of his son.

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."

Roberto Dell'Oro, a theologian at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles, says concerns about whether Matthew is consuming the host miss the bigger point.

"I'm sure God knows that (Matthew) is receiving Communion," said Dell'Oro, whose son has autism.

"The Eucharist is a symbol of deep sharing in love. It seems hypocritical to point fingers at these kinds of nuances. If the father is taking care of the host (so it is not thrown away or destroyed), then what is the big deal?"

That is the question Moran is asking.

"We didn't make this a major issue," he said. "They did."