The Parish of St. Joseph In Bertha, Minn has barred Adam Race from attending mass because of behaviors stemming from his autism. I honestly thought I was done blogging on this yesterday, having also blogged on it the day before, but then I received a heart-felt comment from a priest who knows Carol Race personally and wanted to post his take on the issues. While his additional information hasn’t changed my personal feelings on this story I want to share them with you in a spirit of being fair, and also with the recognition that I do have a horse in this race so to speak and I don’t want my feelings clouding what is right and true.
My latest update on this story is here.
Would those of you who are interested in this story please remember Fr Showers, Carol Race and Adam in your prayers. I know this is a difficult time for all of them. I pray that God blesses them all with peace and fortitude and understanding in discerning what is best for Adam.
Below is Fr. Robert G. Showers comment to my blog post “A little more about Adam Race” followed by my response to him.
Thank you for this posting. I do hope that your anger has subsided. You seemed especially upset that Mrs. Race “spent the day lining up legal help.” I allow myself gently to point out that the pastor and the parish council are the ones who chose to unleash the media storm – they chose to go ahead with a restraining order and themselves reported the fact to the press, knowing full well the circus that would follow. After having been threatened with jail time and with news cameras already in her face, Mrs. Race was well advised to spend the day lining up legal help. The parish had lined up their legal help well in advance.
And she was advised. Mrs. Race took this step on the advice of advocacy groups for the handicapped of which she is an active member.
I know Mrs. Race because we studied theology together. This mom in Minnesota is actually a professional Roman Catholic theologian who studied dogmatic theology under the now Cardinal Archbishop of Vienna, Christoph von Schönborn. Her love for the Church has been constant from her early work on the Catechism of the Catholic Church while she lived in Switzerland to her years as DRE in the Twin Cities to recent years, where she has served her parish in many capacities. She began writing about the place of children, including handicapped children, in the heart of the People of God from way before she could have known that she herself would become the mother of a severely autistic child. As the godfather of one of her children, I have followed this family for many years from my friary here in Scandinavia.
Please believe me, that it pains Mrs. Race a great deal that the Catholic Church is made to look bad. It is true that the parish “offered alternatives” – but all of these so called alternatives were ways to keep Adam out of the church, for example, they offered special Masses just for him in private at home, closed circuit transmissions of the Mass directly to his home – and other fanciful ideas designed to spare people the sight and sounds of a handicapped boy in church.
In my heart, I pray that I am wrong when I suspect that the real issue is fear. Some adults in that parish (including the priest) seem to be afraid of this autistic child, a fear born, it seems, of ignorance and prejudice. I feel like I am reading a novel about the 13th century, but fear of “odd” people strikes deep – in this sense, this truly IS an issue of faith.
I thank you for your insightful and honest comments. You have a good blog here.
Peace and all good,
Fr. Robert G. Showers OFM Conv.
guardian of Consolatrix Afflictorum Friary in Roskilde, Denmark
Dear Father Showers,
I do appreciate your contacting me about the Adam Race situation.
I must respectfully disagree with the idea that by soliciting the restraining order the church of St Joseph is responsible for the media circus that followed. While I am sure Carol Race is a good woman, a good Catholic and an advocate for her son and others with disabilities, she has taken this to the media. The responsibly for her face being on national television is her’s, she has lined up the interviews. While Carol has the responsibility to advocate for her son, Father Walz must serve his parish and advocate for them as well. If the allegations in the restraining order are even partially true I would, in all compassion, suggest the perhaps Mrs Race is not being completely objective in her assessment of her son’s behaviors impact on the congregation. I would agree it may be a matter of fear, but I offer you that the fear may be a legitimate response grounded in reality.
At this point it might be worth sharing a bit of my own situation with you. My daughter, Rachel is 14 and severally autistic. I too am a homeschooling mother with five other children. We attend mass at Holy Rosary Church here in Portland, Oregon. When my Rachel hit puberty her behaviors became aggressive. She would hit, bolt away from us, she became randomly violent. Not out of anger, not from some internal violence, but just out of the frustration of her autism. With her new size and lack of impulse control she is capable of injuring others. Believe me when I say that I have nothing but compassion for the Race family’s situation. I know, as very few others can know, what dealing with autism is like. I have been the woman in the pew with the child hooting at the ceiling and humming during the Consecration. Our family has experienced first had what it is like to be stared at, glared at even by those few who are less than understanding. So please, don’t think that I would not feel compassion toward this family. I want to see every parish open and welcoming to people with disabilities. The last thing I would support is a parish not allowing an autistic person to attend the regular mass unless their behavior was truly disruptive and/or dangerous.
I take issue with only two things.
First, I don’t not agree that the accommodations offered the Race family were , as you put it, “fanciful ideas designed to spare people the sight and sounds of a handicapped boy in church.” This family has been in the same parish for over ten years, it isn’t as though they were new to the parish, or that the congregation hasn’t been accustomed to seeing them for many years. The request to keep Adam apart from other parishioners didn’t come until the summer of 2007. This would be about the time Adam hit puberty and violent autistic behaviors are known to increase during that time. The accommodations themselves seem very reasonable to me. I am sure you are aware that many parishes have closed circuit TVs for overflow or “cry” rooms. Special private masses also seems a very good option and it speaks well that the priest would be willing to go to that length. Many priests wouldn’t have even offered something that would require them to commit so much of their time as going to the Race’s home to say mass just for them.
Second, going to the media was, in my opinion, wrong. I accept that she was advised to do that, but advocacy groups, while they provide a definite service, also also have an agenda that is very focused. Of course they want media attention to their cause. But what they don’t realize is how this can backfire and serve to more isolate the very population they are advocating for. How many parents have seen Carol Race on the television speaking about her son being barred from church and will now not even attempt to come to mass with their autistic child? How many priests will see this a feel a sinking sense of dread if they find a family with a severally autistic child has moved into their parish? Most people don’t like publicity, they don’t want a fight and would rather avoid confrontation. I hope you understand that my anger about that isn’t just that the church looks bad in this, but that all families with autistic teens will on some level be painted with the same brush because of the publicity. Mrs. Race is not looking like the Moses she says she feels like leading families with autistic children into the promised land. She is looking desperate and unable to compromise, perhaps unable to come to terms with the severity of her son’s situation.
And I say that with the upmost compassion. Because that was also me. When my daughter was twelve she bit her brother in the arm. Not out of anger at him, but mad at me for putting the pop-tarts away. We took my son to the pediatrician, a wonderful woman who has known my family since my youngest were babies, our doctor looked at me with pained eyes and said, “If you or Kyle had done this I would have to call the Department of Children’s Services to report abuse.” I can not express how difficult that was to hear. But I had to hear it. Rachel’s younger siblings were afraid of her. We came to the painful decision to place Rachel in a group home setting. So please belive me when I say that I really feel for the Races, but Adam has hit a child in mass, Adam got into another person’s car and revved the engine after bolting away from his parents. Apart from all other things those two items alone, which are in no way disputed by Mrs. Race, are enough to say that there is a reasonable fear that Adam could seriously harm someone in the parish. The parish has offered a way to minimize that possibility, instead of utilizing those options she has chosen to press for full inclusion and taken her case to the media.
My prayers are with this family Carol especially, this must be bafflingly difficult for her.
Thank you for visiting my blog and contacting me with your concerns and insights.
5 thoughts on “About Carol Race from someone who knows her.”
Thank you so much for posting. I am a member of Saint Joseph’s and have worked with this family. I am so glad to read such an insightful and compassionate message! I especially appreciate that you are compassionate to our parish community. This truly does make be heartsick, but I also stand with our priest and our church council. This has been an ongoing struggle and I feel as though we have been beating against a stone wall in Mrs. Race. I love her as God’s child, but I fear that she is so far in denial about her situation that she is resenting our attempts and offers of help. Your understanding and empathy for all involved brought tears to my eyes (this is no easy thing). God bless you! And, please pray that God may soften hearts and allow our community to heal!
Everybody is getting the facts so mixed up, it’s really sad. I appreciate what my dear friend, Fr. Bob Showers has said. I want to make clear that as he said, I made clear to both the parish and the diocese that media would be called if the restraining order was enforced. The parish council’s response was that they didn’t care, and the chancellor of the diocese said that he felt it would be unjust to call the media if there was not attempt to enforce the restraining order, however, if it were enforced, I had every right to call the media into this. This was said to me almost a whole week before the media was called.
about those supposed accomodations that were offered to our family. The only accomodation that was ever offered was that of the closed circuit tv. there is no document in the church that justifies using a closed circuit tv on a REGULAR basis. In the case of overflow it has been used as a last resort. Watching Mass on tv is not on the same level as physical presence. This all has to do with the Mass as sacrament whereby the physical gathering of God’s people is made present and Jesus comes to dwell in the midst of them in the Eucharist. I was not offered any other accomodations and I can prove it. I have letters from Fr. Dan where he makes it clear that he refuses to speak with me unless a third person is present or in writing. So, if I refused, where is his witness or where is my letter of refusal. He cannot produce these. I openly challenge him to produce the evidence.
Elizabeth as well as the rest of the congregation and the diocese have been badly misguided by Fr. Dan. I had hired a behavioral consultant who observed Adam at mass and in our home setting for a length of time, after which he wrote a 3 page report with many recommendations. This report was given to Elizabeth’s father who gave it to Fr. Dan. Fr. Dan refused to let anyone else actually see the report. Instead he or someone else told at least one of the trustees that this consultant had a poor reputation. In actual fact, he has many years experience and is frequently used by group homes and schools all over Minnesota. He came highly recommended by County Social services, whose own recommendations fell on deaf ears where Fr. Dan was concerned. My son has the meltdowns as autistic kids do, however, as hopefully you are aware, these are involuntary movements undirected to hurt anyone. I know that some autistic individuals do direct their behaviors toward others, however, Adam does not. Restraint is effective.
the family involved concerning the child does not want publicity over the event. They wish it to stay several years in the past. There is no evidence that Adam intended to hit him and the circumstances surrounding it have been corrected years ago so that it would not occur again. My youngest daughter was kicked in the teeth in kindergarten by another child and her tooth was loosened to the point she needed to have it removed. Was this other child considered such a danger that she needed to be removed from school? Absolutely not. In another neighboring school, a boy was kicked in his stomach by another child and ended up with emergency surgery to his abdomen. This child nearly died and had to have multiple emergency surgeries to save his life. I assure you the child that kicked him was not considered a “danger” in his school either. Why is it that if the act is done by a person who is mentally disabled, that makes them inherently dangerous?
Fr. Dan falsely accused my son of sexual abuse. the young girl who sat on his lap was a foreign exchange student who had been living in our home for 6 months. I came to learn later that she had been intensely pressured to leave our home from the moment she arrived in the US and had resisted this pressure stating that she was very happy in our home. If Adam were a danger, don’t you think she would have taken the first opportunity to leave. She was with us 24/7 except for school and occasional social activities with her friends. She willingly sat on his lap because she knew that he was attempting to socialize and or get some needed deep pressure. He never touched her inappropriately. She fell into tears when she was told she had to leave our home because of what Fr Dan had said. He deeply scandalized her faith. In fact, she celebrated Holy Thursday with us and was so in pain by hearing Fr. Dan’s voice at Mass that she put her hands over her ears and looked sick to death. Now, is this the lilly white priest that he makes himself out to be?
Finally, Elizabeth tauts herself to have worked with our family. True she taught relig. ed. to my two daughters, however, she worked one day with Adam and made him more anxious than ever. She clearly did not understand him then, nor has she ever understood his autism. She has not spent any real amount of time with our family, except an occasional greeting in passing.
After having recieved confirmation that this is Carol’s comment I have gone ahead and approved it unedited.
Carol, if you read this and would like me to pull your comment down or if you have any changes you would like to make I will gladly do that. If you want me to pull it out and make it a new post so that it stands on its own, or if you would like to supply me with a new post instead I would post that as well.
Comments remain closed on this topic. Please note: this means I am deleting them unread I simply do not have time to personally respond to each one.
Thank you for your understanding all. Thank you also to the many kind words that have been said to me in this, both in messages to me and in comments on other blogs linking here.