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Five-Year-Old Girl, Sensitive to Wheat,
Not Welcome in Catholic Church

by GREG SUKIENNIK
Associated Press Writer



BOSTON (AP) -- When 5-year-old Jenny Richardson goes to
McDonald's, she says hold the bun for the burgers or orders
only fries. She also doesn't share birthday cupcakes with her
friends.

And now, because of Roman Catholic Church rules, she can't
have part of her First Communion rite, either.

Jenny suffers from celiac disease, which causes her to get sick
from eating gluten, a protein in wheat and other grains. She
can safely eat rice.

The Archdiocese of Boston has told the family that the church
cannot substitute a rice communion wafer for the traditional
wheat one, citing 2,000 years of tradition and faith.

The Richardson family now worships at a Methodist church,
where the rules on communion are more flexible because
Methodists believe the bread and wine are symbolic, not
the actual transubstantiated body and blood of Jesus.

''It was hard. It's hard to make a decision to change,'' says the
girl's mother, Janice Richardson.

Though Jenny is two years away from the age when most
U.S. Catholics make First Communion, the family started
last fall to lay the groundwork.

Doug and Janice Richardson, who live with their three children
in the Boston suburb of Natick, say they were told by their parish
priest, the Rev. Dan Twomey, that Jenny could take communion
in the form of wine instead of bread. They declined.

''She feels different wherever she goes but shouldn't be made to
feel different in church,'' her mother says.

The family received a letter from Cardinal Bernard Law, who
explained the church would not make an exception. Twomey
this week referred questions about the matter to the archdiocese.

For people with celiac disease, gluten flattens the villi, the tiny
fronds inside the walls of the small intestine that absorb nutrients.
That makes celiac sufferers sick, lowers their resistance to other
illnesses and causes fatigue.

The only treatment is a diet completely free of gluten. The Celiac
Disease Foundation
estimates as many as 1 in 250 people is affected
by it.

Still, church experts say there are numerous reasons they cannot
compromise on wheat.

''This is not an arbitrary sort of thing, and we're talking about
a religious sacrament,'' says John B. Walsh, a spokesman for
the Archdiocese of Boston. ''Bread is central to the Eucharist
because of the imagery of Scripture, because of the prayers
of the Christian community going back thousands of years.''

The Vatican takes the matter seriously enough that in 1994,
it issued rules for all bishops to follow.

Among them: ''Special hosts (which do not contain gluten) are
invalid matter for the celebration of the Eucharist.''

''I think part of the problem is we are so accustomed to all these
little round, pre-cut hosts we've lost any real sense we're taking
part in one loaf,'' says the Rev. Austin Fleming, pastor of Our
Lady of Christian Help Church in Concord. ''We many are
sharing one bread and becoming one with Christ. We can't make
different flavors for different folks and maintain that theological
reality.''

Massachusetts Lt. Gov. Jane Swift is a practicing Catholic and
has celiac disease. She said this week she plans to send a note
to Jenny to tell her ''just that I share the same disease and that
she'll be able to do all the things she wants to do in her life.''
Swift would not discuss how she handles the disease in church.

Annette Bentley, president of the American Celiac Society and
a practicing Catholic, says some priests quietly make a substitution
to help parishioners. ''To be Christian is to be more flexible,''
she says.

Jenny's mother says even if the church were to come around now,
the family's decision to leave is permanent.

''I believe Jesus would have made an exception,''
she says.


[NOTE:  Marie does not have celiac disease.  Marie has acquired
a severe -- potentially fatal -- allergy to glutenous and other foods
due to the disruption of her immunological, enzymatic, hormonal,
gastrointestinal, and nervous systems as a result of organophosphate
pesticide and solvent poisoning.]


Original Source (AP Nationa
l):
http://www.newsday.com/ap/text/national/ap579.htm