Incident of autistic girl refused Holy Communion certification ‘could have been avoided’

The case of an autistic girl who was refused Holy Communion certification could have been avoided, the Autism Advisory Council said on Saturday.

The incident was sparked by young Ella Agius, whose condition means that at times she is unable to swallow.

On the big day last June, the child refused to be administered the Eucharist and the Burmarrad parish priest felt this was reason enough not to officially certify Ella as having received Holy Communion. The issue was resolved after the intervention of Archbishop Charles Scicluna.

“While the Archbishop’s actions can be seen as a measure to save the day, the council would much rather see entities and persons involved seize the day before something similar happens again, rather than save the day in a blaze of media flurry afterwards,” the council said in a statement disseminated through the Family Ministry.

The council would much rather see entities and persons involved seize the day before something similar happens again, rather than save the day in a blaze of media flurry afterwards

Systems are already in place, administered by the Curia, to make sure families have the possibility of receiving support to ensure catechism and Mass, as well as preparation for and receiving First Holy Communion. This is managed by dedicated volunteers, who liaise with parishes and families, and who have also been trained by the Vatican from time to time.

The council said it was informed that, in this particular case, attempts were made as early as 2017 to ensure that the case in question, together with a number of other cases, could be prepared in good time.

However, for an unknown reason, the matter came to the forefront after the First Holy Communion of Ella Agius proceeded, without any preparations or measures towards accessibility having been taken.

“This resulted in the girl not having been able to consume the communion wafer due to temporary dysphagia, the inability to swallow.”

The Vatican document regulating matters concerning Communion – including certain matters relating to adjustments – does not allow for Communion to be certified should certain formal criteria not be met.

Such criteria could have been met, had necessary adjustments been agreed on and implemented prior to the big day, the council said.

The council noted the prompt action taken by the Archbishop right after this matter hit the media, and following a meeting with the parents, and commitment to personally preside over Ella Agius’ second attempt at First Holy Communion.

Every attempt is to be made to ensure that any person, including a person with disability, such as a person on the autism spectrum, can be mainstreamed – whether the event in question is First Holy Communion, a school exam, or a community fun run, it said.

“The fact that this incident has happened – thrusting the young girl into the limelight, something she will have to live with for years to come – is a more than unfortunate incident, which could have been avoided with the necessary preparation, using resources which already exist, and which could have been tapped into, as they were in the past.

“While council does not want to, and will not point fingers, this case of exclusion is one more case too many.”

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