A New Jersey mother says she is leaving her childhood church after the priest kicked out her seven-year-old son with autism during his own sister’s private baptism.
The Vicidomini family held a private ceremony Saturday at Christ the King Church in Hillside for their daughter Sophia but were appalled when Priest Luke Duc Tran shouted at their non-verbal son Nicky for playing with a ball.
The shocking moment young Nicky was forced out of the ceremony by the priest was caught on camera in what should have been a special moment for the family.
The family sought an apology but say the priest doubled down and defended his actions, saying the young boy was distracting him.
The boy’s mother Julia Vicidomini says she will now be seeking out a new church that is more understanding for people with special needs after she says she was repeatedly refused a personal apology from the priest.
In footage from the ceremony, the young boy is seen playing with a ball to the side of the church being minded by his grandmother while his parents and sister stand with the priest in front of the altar.
The priest suddenly stops the ceremony and turns around to demand he leave.
‘Take him out for me. Out. Out. Out,’ he tells Nicky’s grandmother. ‘The church is not for play.’
Nicky’s parents then try to explain the situation but eventually continue on with the ceremony and decide to approach the priest again once they are ready to leave.
Julia told author Kerry Magro, who runs the blog Kerry’s Autism Journey, that the family generally feel uncomfortable bring Nicky to the church as he doesn’t do well with a full mass or the larger crowds.
Yet when she discovered the baptism would be a private ceremony, the family believed that he could be involved.
Julia has acknowledged that she should have told the priest beforehand that Nicky has autism, but that the manner in which he threw him out was still extremely disrespectful to the family.
‘My mother in-law was staying close to our boy while we were front and center for the baptism. Yes, he was playing with a toy where he should not have been, however, the way the priest kicked him out of the church was completely rude and disrespectful,’ she said.
‘I tried to explain that Nicky has autism and doesn’t understand.’
As the family went to leave, Nicky’s father Marc went back to the priest and tried to get an apology for kicking their son out.
‘Marc went back in to speak to the priest. He explained that our son has autism and he is non-verbal and doesn’t understand. The priest then began to raise his voice and tell my husband that he should not have been playing in church and that it was a distraction to him trying to perform the baptismal ceremony,’ Julia claimed in a Facebook post.
‘My husband told him that he thought a priest, of all people, would be more sympathetic to a child with special needs, that he was completely unprofessional and ruined our celebration. He told him our family deserved an apology.
‘The priest came outside to speak to our family but instead of apologizing he began to try to justify the reason he kicked our child out, again saying he was distracting him.’
Julia added that this is the third baptism they have held at the church, which she has attended since she was a child, but the first negative experience she has had there.
She continued to say that she regrets not walking out immediately when the incident happened and that she would be reporting the priest to the archdiocese.
‘He needs to be more sensitive and respectful in addressing a child, especially one with special needs. We are our child’s advocate. This behavior is completely unacceptable!’ she wrote.
‘Our biggest regret is not walking out in that moment. I think this is why this is weighing so heavy on me still the next day.’
The Archdiocese of Newark has since issued an apology to the family and said that he priest acknowledges and regrets his mistake.
‘On behalf of the parish and the Archdiocese of Newark, we offer our heartfelt apologies for the abrupt behavior demonstrated by one of our pastors on Saturday during a private family ceremony,’ read the statement obtained by ABC7NY.
‘The pastor was unaware that the sibling playing in a nearby candle room during the ceremony has autism.
‘The pastor did not understand the child’s behavior, he felt unprepared to respond appropriately, and his reaction to the situation was not pastoral. He acknowledges and is regretful for the mistake,’ the statement added.
‘Our Archdiocesan Office for Pastoral Ministry with Persons with Disabilities is in touch with the family to support healing and moving forward together, and we are working with all to come to a pastoral resolution and to ensure that there is greater awareness in working with individuals with disabilities and their families.’
The family, however, has said they are still waiting for a personal apology from the priest for the upset caused.
‘I intend to withdraw my friendship and find a church that is more accommodating to children with special needs,’ Julia said.