Mother says son with autism was 'kicked out' of church by priest

·3 min read

A priest "kicked out" a 7-year-old boy who has autism for being a "distraction," according to the child's mother and a video capturing the incident, which she posted to her Facebook page.

"It was shocking to say the least," Julia Vicidomini, the boy's mother, told NBC News. "We're still hurt and upset about it, and it shows there is still much to be done to educate others of those with disabilities."

Vicidomini said she and her family members attended Christ the King Church in Hillside, New Jersey, on Saturday for the baptism of her daughter, Sofia.

Vicidomini, 38, said she'd been attending the Roman Catholic church since she was a child and that her two other children, Nicholas and Christopher, 16, had been baptized there.

"We just wanted Nicholas to be part of the celebration," Vicidomini said, adding that she did not disclose that he had autism because she didn't think it was necessary as the ceremony was a private family event.

During the ceremony, Nicholas, who finds comfort in bringing toys to public places, was playing in a candle room adjacent to the baptism, Vicidomini said. He dropped a toy and it clattered on the floor, upon which the Rev. Luke Duc Tran, the priest leading the ceremony, instructed Nicholas to leave.

"Out," the priest said, according to a video posted to Vicidomini's Facebook page. "This church is not for play."

Vicidomini said that Nicholas "thankfully" did not understand what was happening and left the church with her mother-in-law, but that it was still "painful" to witness the priest interact with her son that way.

When Vicidomini tried to explain Nicholas' condition, the priest replied, "Don't bring your child to church to distract me," per the video.

"This could have been handled in a different way," Vicidomini said. "We don't speak to Nicholas that way and it was unprofessional and unkind for the priest to do so. He should have addressed us as the parents, not Nicholas."

After the ceremony, Vicidomini and her husband, Marc, attempted to speak to the priest, she said.

"The priest began to raise his voice and told my husband that Nicholas should not have been playing in church and that it was a distraction to him," Vicidomini said. "My husband told him that he thought a priest, of all people, would be more sympathetic to a child with special needs."

The Archdiocese of Newark apologized to the family on behalf of the church, acknowledging in a statement that the priest was "regretful."

"The pastor was unaware that the sibling playing in a nearby candle room during the ceremony has autism," the statement read. "The pastor did not understand the child’s behavior, he felt unprepared to respond appropriately, and his reaction to the situation was not pastoral."

The archdiocese also said that its Office for Pastoral Ministry with Persons with Disabilities is working with the Vicidomini family "to ensure that there is greater awareness in working with individuals with disabilities."

While Vicidomini said she appreciates that the archdiocese reached out, she is still hoping for a personal apology from the priest. She also said she no longer plants to attend Christ the King Church because of the incident.

"The Bible speaks of welcoming all God’s children, but there was no compassion in this instance," Vicidomini said. "Since sharing our story, others have shared stories of their own family members with special needs being shunned from the church. We want to continue spreading awareness that this is just not right."