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.