Monday, May 19, 2008

That Child (Known to Christ as Adam Race)

In case you haven't yet heard, there is controversy swirling around the country regarding a Catholic priest in Minnesota that has filed a restraining order against a 13-year-old boy who is severely autistic. A full article can be found here, and I find this situation troubling to say the least.

The situation is still sketchy at best. For instance, the press has not detailed what kinds of accommodations that the church has offered to the family, and the family is claiming that there were no complaints until the day that the priest showed up at their house. Obviously, something is amiss here with information.

There are some facts that weigh in on the side of the church:

1) Adam Race has severe behavioral problems, far beyond what people normally experience in a crowd.
2) Adam Race is large and can be dangerous to the people around him
3) Some of Adam's problems can probably be remedied with certain accommodations, but, in general Adam will probably always have unpredictable behavior.

However, here are some facts that weigh in against the church:

1) Adam is a child of God
2) It is NOT Adam's fault that he is severely autistic
3) Even if some of Adam's behavior is poor parenting, it is, again, not his fault.
4) While church is a public place, whether protestant or catholic, it is more than that. For crying out loud, if a church can't be inclusive then what can be?

I've read blog posts where people are trying to compare this to taking him to the movie theaters, and all I can say to that is: it is not the same, and to even compare the two shows a real lack of understanding of what the purpose of church/worship is, let alone what Christianity is.

I've read blog posts and comments where people are claiming his parents haven't parented him. To that, I would respond: it doesn't matter. Shouldn't the church be seeking even more involvement if that's the case?

I've read blog posts and comments where people are claiming that the family should just go to mass separately. To that I would say that that does nothing to help the spiritual growth of the family, or the spiritual growth of his parent's marriage. There's already enough stress on the family, should they be split for church? Shouldn't their priest be concerned with the health of their family? I also don't think the entire family should be kept from mass. That's a sure way to lose the other 5 siblings from the faith!

I've read blog posts and comments where people are stating that the parents should simply control him better. To that, I would have to say that they probably don't understand his disability.

I'm not denying that his behavior is probably out of control and intervention is necessary. I'm also not doubting that he can function better at church. However, why is the church not willing to explicitly state the "accommodations" offered to the Race family unless those accommodations were not really realistic or useful? Why has the church not addressed the issue of how Adam got the car keys to get into a car and "rev" the engine? Has the church never had an elderly person wet their pants in a pew? What about a toddler or a preschooler? For that matter, has anyone ever vomited in the church? There are signs, many signs, that the church has not attempted to create an environment or situation Adam could be successful in.

Another thing that really bothers me with this situation is how the diocese refers to him as "that child" -- there's no grace, no mercy, no sadness over the fact that they can't meet their parishioner's need. He's not Adam Race, child of God, he's "that child" -- the bad one, the one that wets his pants in the pew, the one that behaves inappropriately. They are coming off as completely blind to the fact that he's the child that his parents are trying to teach to relate to God, something that must be an enormously difficult task considering that people with autism suffer socially and, often times, relationally.

It also strikes me as wrong (and unscriptural) to involve the police and the courts with this matter, especially when, from all appearances, the church has done little to work with the family. I happen to believe that getting involved would be the very thing that Jesus would do. If the church would present themselves, specifically, as having tried all avenues possible to help Adam connect with God and help nurture his family's spiritual growth and ability to worship together, if the church had done everything they could do to ensure a safe environment (that would mean the parishioners NOT leaving keys in the car), and Adam posed a safety threat, then it might merit involving the civil authorities. But as it stands, it really looks like this priest just wanted to wash his hands of an uncomfortable parishioner.

Yet, this is just a symptom of a greater problem. Something like only 5% of the disabled population attends church on a regular basis. Why is this? Christians misunderstanding of disabilities (God made you special!) and desire to see every person with a disability healed whether they want to or not, would probably play one of the biggest roles. Lack of respect for the abilities of the disabled also plays a part. However, discrimination like we're seeing here is certainly a key component of the problem. People will say that banning him from mass doesn't mean that you're not loving him, but all I can say to that is: bull-loney!!!!! Being excluded from something for reason's beyond your control is NOT love. If you think it is, I'd prefer you'd never love me or my family!

Here, after years of believing that everyone was valuable to God -- everyone: the prostitute, the demon-possessed, the poor, the cheater, the rapist, the pornographer, the drug dealer, the doctor, the pastor, the missionary, the engineer, the teacher, the nurse, etc. we're seeing a situation where one finds that you truly can be bad enough to get kicked out of church. For the sake of many parents out there, I hope that bored little boys who attend that parish don't find out about this -- they just might have found their ticket to a more interesting Sunday morning! Be really bad in Mass and then the priest will kick you out!

In many Christian's minds, not just this one priest, there is a hierarchy, and that makes not only the disabled feel unwelcome, but the parents of children who don't behave well unwelcome too.

I mean, how bad is "too bad"? Where is it appropriate to draw the line?

Despite the horrible behavior, despite his large size and despite the fact that he can be dangerous, Adam Race was still made in the image God. Adam Race's life has the ability to reflect God's glory, even though this corrupted creation has done everything it can to hide that. How incredibly sad that "that church" is not grieving over what they couldn't do, grieving over Adam's losses, and earnestly looking for a solution that serves him and his family rather than their convenience. And how embarrassing that they felt the need to involve civil authorities on a matter that they should've been able to solve on their own.

What is so incredibly sad about this, to me, is that the Catholic Church has always been such a beacon of light regarding the sanctity of life, both of the unborn and the disabled. Why would a priest seek to snuff that light out? I hope that the righteous in the Catholic Church will stand up to this priest, and I pray that those that love Jesus will out shine this one man who simply has a completely different agenda.


Anonymous said...

This issue has been very divisive within the Church. I heard on the news that the parish has started a support group for her, and the implication was that many in her parish take her side, having been there and having seen her child.

The opinions from about half of the Catholics I have heard on this matter have disgusted me. As a Catholic, I am appalled that so many apparently have no clue what their Bibles teach. The first and foremost principle of the gospel is love for those in need, and the Church has violated I Corinthians 6:6 in bringing this to court without a good faith effort to resolve the problem. The resposne of the Church has been hateful and unloving from *some*.

I pointed out the priest refused mediation from a third-party, a Protestant minister, and the Catholics I spoke to were enraged a Protestant would be called to get involved. (But not that a civil court would be involved).

I pointed out the mother claims her child should be in the least restrictive environment, and that attending Mass was safe for everyone with accommodations, and this was why she did not want Communion at home or to watch the Mass on television in the basement. They gave no credence to her position whatsoever.

The best example of what is going on in my opinion is illustrated by
what really happened with the car incident. The priest had agreed to let the family leave early to avoid contact with anyone. One day, they forgot to do it, so the family had to leave with everyone else. A man had walked away from his car with the engine running and Adam ran away from the family, climbed in and revved the engine. Now, who is to blame here? If that man had his car stolen the police would have cited him with a ticket! But here, everything is Adam's fault and he gets a restraining order for endangering everyone's life.

Deb said...

Thank you so much for your comments!
Though I'm not catholic, I have worked for the Catholic church in various jobs I've held, and really believe that this priest did act against the main teachings of the church. In fact, I have always been uncomfortable working the in the protestant schools in our city after teaching in the catholic schools because the catholic schools were WAY more Christ-like in their inclusive attitudes than any protestant school that I either worked with or looked into.

I had hoped that there would be many catholics who would rally behind the Race family and pressure the priest to do the right thing.

I also figured that the car incident would have to be the fault of the owner of the car. Who, in their right mind, leaves a running car in a public parking lot?

Your comments filled in a lot of blanks for me!

Thanks, again, for your comments!

Mrs. C said...

Preach it, Deb! Thanks for commenting on my blog.