A Catholic church in New Jersey has faced an onslaught of criticism after allegedly denying a young autistic boy communion because he is "unable to determine right from wrong."
According to the boy's father, the Saint Aloysius Parish in Jackson Township told them that eight-year-old Anthony LaCugna would not be administered communion simply because he has a disability.
The horrified parents named Rev John Bambrick as the church official who made the decision.
"I just want my son to be treated like everybody else," mother Nicole LaCugna told ABC 7. "Regardless if it's through church, through school, society. He needs the same rights that we all have."
In a scathing Facebook post recounting the incident, dad Anthony called the church's behaviour "disgraceful and disheartening".
"Fr Bambrick at Saint Aloysis Church in Jackson and the Archdiocese of Trenton came to this position since Anthony is unable to determine right from wrong due to his disability they feel he is not up to the 'benchmark required to make his communion,'" he wrote.
"This is very hard and upsetting to comprehend when we all are created by God and now our son is being shunned from the Catholic faith due to his inability to communicate.
"Father Bambric (sic) of Saint Aloysis Church and the Archdiocese of Trenton should be ashamed of themselves."
In comments made to NJ.com, Nicole added: "God created everybody. He created my son the way he is for a reason.
"[Communion] is supposed to be a blessed day, not a day of not thinking my son doesn't belong. This is discrimination against my child."
In a statement posted to their Facebook page, Saint Aloysius insisted that it is "bound by confidentiality not to disclose information regarding this particular individual".
It added: "Our parish has dozens of children with special needs, disabilities, autism spectrum, cognitive delay, allergies, developmental disabilities, physical disabilities, limited cognition and other physical, emotional and cognitive classifications. We strive to serve these populations to the best of our abilities and to adapt our Religious Education and Sacramental Preparations for them within the guidelines of the Catholic Church
"Since Monday we have been researching how we could best assist the most profoundly disabled in a better way. New information has come to light which allows us to by-pass previous Diocesan Guidelines to better serve this subset population.
The original guidelines we followed state that a child must have a basic rudimentary simple understanding of Right and Wrong to receive First Reconciliation. For First Communion, again at a simple, basic, rudimentary level, the child has to be able to distinguish ordinary bread from the Body of Christ.
The church added that it had attained "new information" that "has shed light on ways to further adapt our preparations and reception for children with severe cognitive and developmental issues."
It added: "This is thanks to the work of Canon Lawyers, Theologians and Pope Francis which will allow the reception of these sacraments. 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 family many of you have advocated for has been informed of this new guidance that will allow further adaptations to Preparation and reception of the Sacraments.
"Thank you again to everyone willing to be an advocate for the disabled and challenge us to a deeper understanding as well."