BOSTON, April 30, 2013 (LifeSiteNews.com) – A Boston columnist has reported that Catholic priests were barred by police from ministering to victims of the Boston Marathon bombing, among them an 8-year-old Catholic boy who died as a result of the blast.
In a piece for the Wall Street Journal April 25th, Jennifer Graham said both Rev. John Wykes of the Prudential Center’s St. Francis Chapel and Rev. Tom Carzon, rector of Our Lady of Grace Seminary, among other priests, were denied access to the scene.
The police decision, she says, meant that at least one Catholic may have been prevented from receiving the last rites.
“Martin Richard, the 8-year-old boy who died on Boylston Street, was a Catholic who had received his first Communion just last year,” she writes. “As Martin lay dying, priests were only yards away, beyond the police tape, unable to reach him to administer last rites—a sacrament that, to Catholics, bears enormous significance.”
Father Wykes had served a time as hospital chaplain in Illinois, where he had no problems administering to victims at police scenes. “I was allowed to go anywhere. In Boston, I don't have that access,” he said.
“In the Bing Crosby era—in the '40s, '50s, '60s—a priest with a collar could get in anywhere. That's changed. Priests are no longer considered to be emergency responders,” he added.
When the priests realized they could not offer the sacraments to victims, they set up a table to serve water and fruit, and spoke to those who approached.
Graham noted the potential risk of letting priests in, pointing out how easy it is to buy a clerical collar and impersonate a priest, as well as the fact that the decision may have been an “individual’s error” rather than a police force policy.
Yet either way, according to John M. Grondelski, former associate dean of Seton Hall University’s School of Theology, these priests were marginalized and the police force ought to answer for it.
“’Denial of access to clergy’—especially at the hour of our death—is no trifling thing,” he wrote Tuesday in First Things. “Have we now decided that clergy are not first responders, that only physical life is worth saving, that spiritual life is a private affair that has no relevance in the midst of a terrorist attack?”
The incident, he said, “de facto marginalized clergy, relegating their ministry to the sidelines as unessential to the ‘real’ assistance that the state’s authorities thought it had a monopoly on.”
“The message is clear: Disasters are Caesar’s turf, not God’s,” he adds.
Commenting at CatholicCulture.org, Catholic journalist Phil Lawler says the incident is reminiscent of a Boston slogan from decades past: ”Catholics need not apply.”
“Doctors and nurses were welcome at the bombing scene. Firefighters and police officers were welcome. But Catholic priests, who might have offered the solace of the sacraments, were not,” he writes.
Lawler found it significant that the priests ended up ministering by offering water and fruit. “Doesn’t that nicely capture what a once-Catholic, now-secular culture expects from the Church?” he writes. “It’s not essential for priests to administer the sacraments; in fact it’s unwelcome. But if they could just stay out of the way, and give people something to eat, that would be fine.”