[Vision2020] 08-20-04 AP: 8-year-old's first Holy Communion invalidated by Church [The Joys of Superstition]

Art Deco aka W. Fox deco at moscow.com
Fri Aug 20 11:05:43 PDT 2004

8-year-old's first Holy Communion invalidated by Church
The Associated Press

BRIELLE, N.J. - An 8-year-old girl who suffers from a rare digestive disorder
and cannot consume wheat has had her first Holy Communion declared invalid
because the wafer contained none, violating Catholic doctrine.

Now, Haley Waldman's mother is pushing the Diocese of Trenton and the Vatican to
make an exception, saying the girl's condition - celiac sprue disease - should
not exclude her from participating in the sacrament, in which Roman Catholics
eat consecrated wheat-based wafers to commemorate the last supper of Jesus
Christ before his crucifixion.

"In my mind, I think they must not understand celiac," said Elizabeth
Pelly-Waldman, 30. "It's just not a viable option. How does it corrupt the
tradition of the Last Supper? It's just rice versus wheat."

It's more than that, according to church doctrine, which holds that communion
wafers must have at least some unleavened wheat, as did the bread served at the
Last Supper.

The Diocese of Trenton has told Waldman's mother that the girl can receive a
low-gluten host, drink wine at communion or abstain entirely, but that any host
without gluten does not qualify as Holy Communion.

Pelly-Waldman rejected the offer, saying even a small amount of gluten could
harm her child.

Gluten is a food protein contained in wheat and other grains.

Diocesan spokeswoman Audra Miller declined comment on Waldman's case, and
instead provided policy papers written by the U.S. Conference of Catholic
Bishops outlining the options for celiac sprue sufferers.

Celiac sprue disease, an autoimmune disorder, occurs in people with a genetic
intolerance of gluten.

When consumed by celiac sufferers, gluten damages the lining of the small
intestine, blocking nutrient absorption and leading to vitamin deficiencies,
bone-thinning and sometimes gastrointestinal cancer.

It isn't the first such communion controversy. In 2001, the family of a
5-year-old Natick, Mass., girl with the disease left the Catholic church after
being denied permission to use a rice wafer.

Some Catholic churches allow the use of no-gluten hosts, others don't, according
to Elaine Monarch, executive director of the Celiac Disease Foundation, a Studio
City, Calif.-based support group for sufferers.

"It is a dilemma," said Monarch. "It is a major frustration that someone who
wants to follow their religion is restricted from doing so because some churches
will not allow it."

"It is an undue hardship on a person who wants to practice their religion and
needs to compromise their health to do so," Monarch said.

Haley Waldman, a shy, brown-haired tomboy who loves surfing and hates to wear a
dress, was diagnosed with the disorder at 5.

"I'm on a gluten-free diet because I can't have wheat, I could die," she said in
an interview Wednesday.

Last year, in anticipation of the Brielle Elementary School third grader
reaching Holy Communion age, her mother told officials at St. Denis Catholic
Church in Manasquan that the girl could not have the standard host.

The church's pastor, the Rev. Stanley P. Lukaszewski, told her that a
gluten-free substitute was unacceptable.

But a priest at a nearby parish contacted Pelly-Waldman after learning about the
dilemma, volunteering to administer the sacrament using a gluten-free host.

She said she won't identify the priest or his parish for fear of repercussions
from diocese.

On May 2, Waldman - wearing a white communion dress - made her first Holy
Communion in a ceremony at the priest's church. Her mother, who also suffers
from celiac and had not received communion since her diagnosis four years ago,
also received.

But last month, the diocese told the priest that Waldman's sacrament would not
be validated by the church because of the substitute wafer.

"I struggled with telling her that the sacrament did not happen," said
Pelly-Waldman. "She lives in a world of rules. She says `Mommy, do we want to
break a rule? Are we breaking a rule?'"

Now, the mother is seeking papal intervention. She has written to Cardinal
Joseph Ratzinger, prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in
Rome, challenging the church's policy.

"This is a church rule, not God's will, and it can easily be adjusted to meet
the needs of the people, while staying true to the traditions of our faith,"
Pelly-Waldman said in the letter.

For her part, Pelly-Waldman - who attends Mass every Sunday with her four
children - said she is not out to bash the church, just to change the policy
that affects her daughter.

"I'm hopeful. Do I think it will be a long road to change? Yes. But I'm raising
an awareness and I'm taking it one step at a time," she said.
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