JACKSON — A Catholic parish that had denied First Communion to a non-verbal 8-year-old on the autism spectrum says that the child is welcome. But the boy's family says that they will find another church.

Officials at St. Aloysius Church had told the LaCugna family that Anthony was not ready for Holy Communion because he was unable to tell right from wrong.

After an outcry on social media and a series of media appearances, pastor John Bambrick this week said that diocesan officials had found a way to allow Anthony to go through with the milestone sacrament.

Bambrick issued another statement Friday on the church website, clarifying that Anthony would be able to receive communion in April.

"While we had tried to adapt our preparation process to accommodate the child’s special needs, there was an unfortunate breakdown in communication that led to a misunderstanding. A delay in receiving the Sacrament was discussed until readiness could be assessed; there was never to be denial of Communion to this child," Bambrick said.

"Their child continues to be welcome in our program, and will be able to receive First Holy Communion this year."

The new statement did not change the LaCugna family's stance.

"We continue to receive national and even international support through Facebook and have not yet chosen if we will attending a different mass this weekend,"  the boy's father, James, told New Jersey 101.5 on Saturday.

"We will most certainly not be returning to any masses at Saint Al's this weekend or any time in the future."

In a response on his Facebook page, James said that the family has still not heard directly from Bambrick and had to find the new statement on their own. The church's Facebook page is no longer visible by the public.

"To add to our devastation we are being painted not as the special needs parents advocating for our child, but instead as liars. We were told very clearly during our phone conversation (NOT with Father Bambrick), that Anthony would not be able to make his communion this year. However, that we would be potentially given the opportunity in upcoming years. Since this has gone viral, the church’s story has changed," James wrote.

The church was going to allow Anthony to attend regular Mass on April 26 with his mother because the children's service would be too active for Anthony, Nicole LaCugna said.

The first step toward the communion is the reconciliation, during which children speak to the priest about their sins. Nicole said she set up a meeting with the church to discuss making arrangements for Anthony because he is non-verbal. One suggestion from the parish was to use flashcards.

"Anthony cannot decipher a sin versus a non-sin. He doesn't have the receptive ability to say the one in your left hand — even pointing — is the sin. The one in your right hand is not," Nicole said.

In their earlier statement, the church said that it researched how to assist and said it has learned of new information that would allow diocesan guidelines to be bypassed.

"The basic concept is the child should be presumed to have an inner spiritual relationship with God and this would be sufficient in these particular cases, thus this is a development of our guidelines based on the latest understanding. Bishop David O'Connell of the Diocese of Trenton has approved of these further adaptations," the parish statement said.

The LaCugna family
The LaCugna family (Nicole LaCugna)

Contact reporter Dan Alexander at Dan.Alexander@townsquaremedia.com or via Twitter @DanAlexanderNJ

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