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Catholic Church Denies Boy Communion Because He Has Down Syndrome

By Danielle Sullivan |

catholic church denies holy communion, down syndrome boy denied communion, child denied, communion, religious views down syndrome, children rights down syndrome

Clare Ellarby and son, Denum

A British mom was horrified when she learned that her 7-year-old son would not be able to make his First Holy Communion. She says the reason he was denied is because he has Down Syndrome. According to Clare Ellarby, the Diocese of Leeds wrote a letter saying that her seven-year-old Denum Ellarby “lacks the ‘concentration’ necessary to prepare for Communion.”

I was raised Catholic and likewise, I’ve raised my children as Catholics. Yet I’ll be the first to admit I have some issues with the teachings of the Catholic Church. One of the biggest hurdles I face in terms of agreeing with their views is their stance on gay marriage and homosexuality in general. As I see it, how can any religion teach that loving anyone is wrong? I teach my kids the opposite and I have been very open with them about not agreeing with all the Church teachings but believing very much in God and helping others. If they choose to take on another religion as they grow up, I would be absolutely fine with it.

I also have issues with their smaller views. For example, I don’t believe that unbaptized babies won’t go to heaven and I also don’t believe that a sweet boy like Denum should ever be denied receiving Holy Communion. I don’t believe a church should turn anyone away let alone a child. Their initial assertion that Denum lacked the concentration necessary to receive the sacrament is offensive. And how many 7-year-olds really fully understand the sacrament anyway? Especially today, when so many over-the-top parents make the sacrament all about the dress, the venue and the party. The church changed their tune, of course, after Mrs. Ellarby went public:

“Denum’s family has not participated in the regular life of the Church or in the preparation preceding First Communion. We hope that this will change as Denum grows and we are working with him and his family to help him achieve this.”

If that were the case, they would have said upfront that the child needed to take the religious instruction required, instead of saying the boy lacked “concentration”. Mrs. Ellarby is naturally upset: “It’s just disgusting. I feel really let down by the Catholic faith.”

It is things like this turn people away from the church and question their faith. I’ll never question my belief in God but incidences like this often make me doubt my choice of religion. At the same time, there are wonderful people I have met in the church who have impacted my life and my kids’ lives. Yet if I had to rechoose a religion, I’m not sure I would pick one. Some of the kindest and most giving people I know are not religious but believe in a higher power, spirit, universe, or God. While I’m a deeply spiritual person and firmly believe in the goodness of people and the wonder of our world, the man-made laws that govern organized religion leave much to be desired.

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About Danielle Sullivan


Danielle Sullivan

Danielle Sullivan writes for Babble Pets. She is also an award-winning parenting writer, who authors a monthly column for NY Parenting and ASPCA Parents blog. You can read more of her work at her blog,Some Puppy To Love. Read bio and latest posts → Read Danielle's latest posts →

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0 thoughts on “Catholic Church Denies Boy Communion Because He Has Down Syndrome

  1. Miss Chris says:

    I sometimes wonder if the catholic church is on a secret mission to alienate all remaining catholics, otherwise it is very hard to understand the consistent self sabotage.

  2. goddess says:

    TBH- Ellarby is a lapsed Catholic so I don’t really see how she could feel “let down”. If he did not participate in the Sacramental Readiness Program, did she just expect him to receive it at her convenience without the program every other kid has to undergo?
    Bah. I’m a born again pagan that was raised in the Catholic Church, so I’m used to their idiosyncrasies.

  3. Maggie says:

    I guess I’m a little relieved to hear that, according to the church, the family has not been participating and the child has not been to the prep class.

    Because I would be horrified to learn that the same church that insists that every conceived child should be born would then refuse the sacrament to any child. As if God (however you imagine Her) would actually love only some of His children.

  4. DSFather says:

    The problem with organized religion is sometimes, it gets too organized. Rules are rules. No exception (except when it serves their purpose, good or bad). I’m not sure if it’s specific to this church because I know other disabled children (mentally and physically) who received the holy communion at the same time as their peers. I wonder what are the criteria used to determine what the level of understanding should be to receive the communion. Is there a specific IQ test one has to pass?
    As far as how active the parents should be, there must be records of attendance and sign up sheets for different church activities. I did not know documentation was required to prove your involvement in the church. I guess you have to be on a first name basis with all the members of the church. I probably should ask if there is an attendance sheet at my church. Any way you look at the situation, two words come to mind, conformity and exclusivity. My church, my rules… I pointing the finger at whoever is making this decision of exclusion.
    As far as I am concerned, the church is more like a courier. It only delivers the package. God sends us the message, it’s up to us to receive it. The church may give us a “hint” of what the message is but ultimately, God will find a way to make us understand. I’m not sure what level of understanding one has to have but the church’s interpretation is not absolute. I have a problem with the church sets the standard of what the level of understanding is when they don’t even recognize literally the meaning of….“Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.” – Matthew 19:14.
    If you are attending communion at this “country club”, expect a great show because a lot of preparation went into this.

  5. Rosana says:

    So in the end, the little boy was not denied anything from the Catholic Church. The parents maybe did not find out the process for him to receive the Holy Communion. And why is this issue being blamed on the whole Catholic Church when maybe it was just addressed by one person in the Diocese?

  6. Danielle Sullivan says:

    Please note the church didn’t initially say they denied communion because of unnecessary preparation (see first paragraph). They only said that AFTER the mother went public with the church’s denial. The first time the church said they denied him because he “lacks the ‘concentration’ necessary to prepare for Communion” which referred to his Down Syndrome. They said absolutely nothing about him being unprepared until the mother made their comments public.

  7. Linda, T.O.O. says:

    “It is things like this turn people away from the church and question their faith.” That and the child rape. And the subsequent cover up of the child rape.

  8. DSFather says:

    Considering we are just commenting based on what we have read, the bottom line is the boy did not get to participate in a sacrament the church promotes as a holy communion with God. If you’re a true believer, rest assured that he may have missed the “dress rehersals” but he will be there for the main event.
    I blame the catholic church as an organization, not as a community. Sometimes people fail to realize the catholic church we know now has changed through the years. The rituals have evolved to a point where it is more administrative. It has adapted to survive but remember, these are works of mortal men and women. The foundation is from God but the structure was built by man. That’s why we may go to different churches, may have different versions of God, but we believe in a faith bigger than all of us.
    The kid’s going to be fine. If you think that he’s going to have problems because of this, just look at him smile and ask yourself… who do you feel more sorry for?

  9. goddess says:

    Well Danielle, how would they know any better if Mom and Dad never took him to Church or Sacramental Readiness Classes?

  10. goddess says:

    I wonder if people will now turn away from college football too?
    Doesn’t look like it from the likes of “Jo Pa’s” memorials, ad nauseum….

  11. CW says:

    Catholic priests are actually NO MORE likely to be pedophiles than clergy of other faiths and LESS LIKELY than similar “helping” professions like schoolteachers, sports coaches, and Scout leaders. It only appears that way because (A) the centralized nature of the Church has allowed for easier tracking of the bad apple clergy and (B) the elite media is filled with disgruntled ex-Catholics with axes to grind who love to portray their former faith in a negative light.

  12. bettywu says:

    CW: It truly sickens me, as a Catholic and a human being that there are Catholics out there trying to blame this horrific sin upon sin on someone else. It’s okay because it happens in other places too? Try that one at your next murder trail and see how it goes over.

    The media didn’t rape children and the media didn’t hush it up OVER AND OVER and the media didn’t move priests on to other parishes when it got too hot at one church so they could rape more children. Shame on you for trying to find a scapegoat for this horror. Shame.

  13. CW says:

    ALL pedophiles ought to go to prison, whether they are members of the clergy, teachers, coaches, Scout leaders, etc. There are perverts in all walks of life- yet only the Catholic Church gets vilified in the elite media because of it. Where is the outrage over school administrators who engaged in similar cover-ups?

  14. Linda, T.O.O. says:

    Gee @CW, maybe that’s because your current pope was involved in the cover up? @@. Virtually everyone thinks all child rapists should go to jail, except, oh wait!

  15. Linda, T.O.O. says:

    “That’s why we may go to different churches, may have different versions of God, but we believe in a faith bigger than all of us.” Well, no “we” all don’t. I’m not sure why that’s so dificult to understand.

  16. Dsfather says:

    @Linda, I do understand “we” all don’t go to churches but you must have thought I meant going to mass. No, if you think going to church only means spending a hour to watch someone perform rituals, then you’re sadly mistaken. Now, if what you meant was not all of us belong to a religion, you’re right. Not all but all should have faith in something or someone. Otherwise, It suggests the some people have a true grasp of everything. Don’t get me wrong, I have a lot questions as far as my faith is concerned but just questions. But everyone has to have a belief in something good. It defines the values you live by. You don’t have to worship something or someone. A “church” is the community you serve, not the organization that runs it. Whether it be Catholic, Protestants, Church of Christ, church of macy’s, bloomingdales, whatever… I don’t really care whether or not you go to “church”. As long as you serve as a good member of society, that’s what counts. If not, you’re just wasted space.

  17. Linda, T.O.O. says:

    People don’t need to engage in magical thinking in order to be ethical, moral, kind, and productive members of society. If belief in a higher pwoer of your own creation is what it takes for *you* to behave properly, perhaps it’s you who are a “wasted space.” Again, many perfectly lovely people do not believe in god, so quit projecting that on to others as if it’s some litmus test for goodness. I won’t tell you that you *shouldn’t* belief in your mythical god, so don’t tell me that I *should.*

  18. DSFather says:

    Maybe for you, “should” is too strong a word. Maybe “nice to have” is more diplomatic. Nobody’s forcing anyone here. If you don’t believe in anything, fine. I’m not promoting a specific religion either. If you think I’m judgmental of people without religion, you are mistaken. That’s why I said, as long as you are a good member of society, that’s what counts. If not, you’re just “wasted space”. The only way you can get offended by that statement is if it applies to you. I never said you have to believe in a god to be a good member of society. I said you have to believe in something good. May it be something or someone, that’s up for you to decide. Each of us have our own set moral codes and ethics. That is essentially your own belief. Your own faith. In the same token, each religion has its own set of “rules”. It also has it own teachings. Don’t equate belief with religion. Regardless, the act of doing what’s right is what all of us strive for.
    I don’t understand why you have to get defensive when I said the statement you quoted me on. I did not mean it as an attack on a specific group of people. I’m not recruiting anyone either. The topic concerns members of the catholic church and the statement was made in that context. How did that concern you if you don’t even belong to any religion?
    One more thing, I’m not delusional. You make it seem that I’m inventing something that some people have deep beliefs in. If you don’t believe in anything, have the decency of respecting the beliefs of others. If a belief in something or someone is what it takes to get one through life, to overcome one’s problems, hardships and obstacles, maybe that is the magic. Also, if you read my earlier comments, you’ll see that I’m not at all religious (ie, I have a problem with the catholic church as an organization and I don’t go to mass either). So I’m not projecting anything to anyone here as well. But I do my part in society. I give what I can. I contribute when I can. I make sure my “space” is not wasted.
    I for one is struggling with my belief. I would like to believe there is a God. But like I said, I have questions. But that’s between God and me. I don’t expect anyone to understand but I do hope for some tolerance and humility.

  19. Linda, T.O.O. says:

    “I don’t understand why you have to get defensive” Um… Naw, not worth it. ;)

  20. Hyman says:

    Umm so he is not denied by the catholic church after all??? I would be very ashamed if that was the case.

  21. afrodite says:

    I am and will always be surprised that in the 21st century and after all that’s been said and done by the Church (Catholic or Orthodox), there are still so many sane, educated, civilised people who believe in the existence of God. People would be much more responsible and sincere without this tremendously powerful lie.

  22. Lucy says:

    The Catholic Church is deeply misunderstood. I highly doubt that the Catholic Church denied him communion based soley on his disability. You do have to go classes and prepare for the sacrament. You have to understand what the sacrament is all about. It is not just a ritual.
    It is really sad that the media fails to mention how the Catholic Church gives back to society. Catholic charitable organizations are some of the largest in the world and help people of all faiths.
    Yes, there have been some horrible tragedies that have happened within the church.
    It is unfair to sterotype the whole religion based on these tragedies.

  23. shelondon says:

    Thanks, Babble, for offering yet ANOTHER misleading and downright false headline. My week wouldn’t be complete without one.

    As a Catholic, I have no problem with people making valid criticisms of the Church, and certainly there are some to be made, but I take issue with uniformed Church-bashing and false accusations like those in this post.

    The title of your post asserts that the Church discriminates against disabled people. Do you honestly believe that? Have you ever witnessed anything remotely close to that in any parish in your life? Is this what you want the world to think of us? The truth is that there is no organization on earth – religious or otherwise – that does more to promote and help disabled, disadvantaged or otherwise marginalized people than the Catholic Church.

    Any Catholic knows that no one has ever made their First Communion without months and months of spiritual and academic preparation, just as no Jewish person would be allowed to make his/her bar/bat mitzvah without the same, and there are good reasons for this. I have never known there to be exceptions made, and am confused as to why this child’s parents, or you, for that matter, would be surprised by what happened. The fact of the matter is that the kid did not do the program. The parents are the ones who chose not bring him, supposedly — they claimed afterward — because they didn’t think he could sit through it. Hmm, maybe that’s what the priest was referring to when he said he “lacks concentration”?

    The undercurrent of this story, although you don’t include it in your post, seems to be that the family didn’t regularly attend mass or participate in the church. Do priests get annoyed when people don’t participate in church life and then show up demanding service for things like communions and weddings? Yes, because that’s not what living the faith is about. Do they turn them away? No, but they encourage them to become active, which is what happened in this case. The family was told that he could make his communion when he was able to complete the program, like anyone else. To my understanding, it seems that the parents’ negligence is to blame and not Church discrimination.

    Also, to update you on Church teaching, the belief on unbaptized babies not going to heaven was changed a number of years ago. That has not been the Church’s stance for quite a while. I also encourage you to read up on teachings regarding gay marriage. It is not about dictating who cannot love whom; it is simply about believing that the purpose of sex should be procreation, and nothing else. I am a supporter of gay rights and gay marriage, too, but at least I understand and respect the Church’s position.

    As one Catholic to another, I ask that you be more responsible in representing our faith, rather than further contributing to the Catholic-bashing that has become all too easy and common. Do we not have enough real problems that we need to fabricate additional ones that aren’t there? This is not the way to go about improving our Church.

  24. Lucy says:

    Well said “Shelondon”
    There is more to this story than what was posted.
    I am sicken by the all the Catholic-bashing. Please learn about the Catholic religion before making such uninformed negative comments.

  25. Donna says:

    Perhaps the Catholic Church should have everyone make sacraments as ADULTS, as they did when the Church first formed?

  26. Melissa says:

    Thank you Sheldon for responding to all of the many errors made by Danielle in this story. @Danielle, clearly you don’t want to be Catholic, and that is okay, so I’m not certain what you gain by claiming to be one. You can’t pick and choose what parts to believe and if you are ever unclear about anything The Church teaches, pick up a Catechism of the Catholic Church, it’s good stuff. Sacraments are serious business and should be treated as such.

  27. Connie says:

    I have been a Catholic youth minister for a long time. I have a feeling there is much more to this story that what you’ve said. I also have to ask why you are raising your children in the Catholic faith if you do not believe the core values? I’m just wondering because it doesn’t make much sense to do so.

  28. Kacee says:

    This reminds me of the woman in Texas who protested Target because she was asked to GET OFF THE FLOOR while breastfeeding. The family doesn’t seem to be part of the church so any child would have to learn before taking part. These women are selfish attention seekers and should realize that if they attend church and don’t sit on the floor in the middle of the woman’s section, then there won’t be problems. Drama seekers.

  29. diane caso says:

    Preparation, I understand, is a very important part of receiving the Sacraments…however, a local church refused to administer First Communion to a girl who had finished all her preparation. She was refused ONLY because she is gluten intolerant, and he mother had requested a wafer made from a different substance. NO, she was told… the Holy Eucharist must be made from wheat. As a non-Catholic, who has received Communion many times, from different breads, wafers, etc-this is very strange….

  30. GarciaSWKS says:

    Nicely said Sheldon, Lucy, Connie, and Kacee. People are just on the look out to bash on the Catholic Religion. I totally agree, if you do not participate in the preparing/classes for the Sacrament, then you shouldnt be allowed to receive it. I DONT CARE who you are. Also, it was very convenient for this women to interpet the notice to however she wanted. I hate when people attend the church and then say how they are against this and that. Maybe she should just not attend then. The religion has policies, and it is up to the Priest to carry them out.

  31. Brianna says:

    “People are just on the look out to bash on the Catholic Religion.”
    I have to say, people don’t need to be “on the look out”… the actions and policies of the Church do that just fine on their own. No child, at that age, can understand the many nuances of Holy Communion, especially if that child suffers from a disability such as this. Jesus says, “Suffer the little children to come unto me, and do not hinder them, for the Kingdom of Heaven belongs to such as these.” That is the problem with the church today. People forget that The Word of God is pure, while the rules of Man are not. I, personally, do not think that Jesus would care about the classes. He would care about whether the person came to Him with love in his heart. Just my thoughts on this.

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