The heart-wrenching photographs taken in the moments after the Boston Marathon bombings show the blue-and-yellow jackets of volunteers, police officers, fire fighters, emergency medical technicians, even a three-foot-high blue M&M. Conspicuously absent are any clerical collars or images of pastoral care.This was not for lack of proximity. Close to the bombing site are Trinity Episcopal Church, Old South Church [FWIW, the only Trinitarian Congregational Church in Boston of the 19th century] and St. Clement Eucharistic Shrine, all on Boylston Street. When the priests at St. Clement's, three blocks away, heard the explosions, they gathered sacramental oils and hurried to the scene in hopes of anointing the injured and, if necessary, administering last rites, the final of seven Catholic sacraments. But the priests, who belong to the order Oblates of the Virgin Mary, weren't allowed at the scene.The Rev. John Wykes, director of the St. Francis Chapel at Boston's soaring Prudential Center, and the Rev. Tom Carzon, rector of Our Lady of Grace Seminary, were among the priests who were turned away right after the bombings. It was jarring for Father Wykes, who, as a hospital chaplain in Illinois a decade ago, was never denied access to crime or accident scenes."I was allowed to go anywhere. In Boston, I don't have that access," he says. [The fault of secularism.]But Father Wykes says he has noticed a shift in the societal role of clergy over the past few decades: "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."The Rev. Mychal Judge is a memorable exception. The New York City priest died on 9/11, when the South Tower collapsed and its debris flew into the North Tower lobby, where Father Judge was praying after giving last rites to victims lying outside. The image of the priest's body being carried from the rubble was one of the most vivid images to emerge from 9/11.But Father Judge had been the city's fire chaplain for nine years, knew the mayor, and was beloved by the firefighting force. [So what? He was not the only priest at the World Trade Center from what I understand. It's New York: Catholic churches are a dime-a-dozen. And plenty of cops and firefighters had their confessions heard before going into the Twin Towers.]For police officers securing a crime scene, and trying to prevent further injuries and loss of life, the decision to admit clergy to a bombing site is fraught with risk. Anyone can buy a clerical collar for just $10, and a modestly talented seventh-grader with a computer and printer can produce official-looking credentials [That's malarkey. You can't fake being a priest. I don't know any priest who carries their celebret as an ID card. You can however, fake being a firefighter, paramedic, or cop. Besides, $10 clerical collars aren't real-looking.]Father Carzon, the seminary rector, said he was "disappointed" when he wasn't allowed at the scene of the bombing, but he understood the reasoning and left without protest. "Once it was clear we couldn't get inside, we came back here to St. Clement's, set up a table with water and oranges and bananas to serve people, and helped people however we could."By that point [when at least one Roman Catholic-Martin Richards- was dead!!!], spectators and runners who had been unable to finish the marathon were wandering around, "frightened, disoriented, confused and cold," he said. Father Carzon was able to minister to a runner who wasn't injured but had assisted a bystander with catastrophic injuries. Two hours later, the runner, a Protestant, was still walking around the area in shock and disbelief."He came over, and said, 'You're a priest, I need to talk to someone, I need to talk,' and he was able to pour out some of the story of what had happened," Father Carzon said. "Then there was an off-duty firefighter who was there as a spectator, and he, too, got pushed out of the perimeter, and he ended up here to pray. There was a feeling of helplessness we had when we couldn't get close. But doing the little that we could—putting out a table with water and fruit, being there—I realize how much that 'little' was able to do."In light of the devastation in Boston, the denial of access to clergy is a trifling thing [No, it's not], and it might even have been an individual's error. [Then chew him out, charitably.] (The Boston Police Department did not respond to a request for comment on its policy regarding clergy at the scenes of emergencies.)But it is a poignant irony that Martin Richard, the 8-year-old boy who died on Boylston Street, was a Catholic who had received his first Communion just last year. 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. [It should to everybody, but whatevs.]As the Rev. Richard Cannon, a priest in Hopkinton, Mass., where the marathon begins, said in a homily on the Sunday after the bombings, "When the world can seem very dark and confusing, the presence of a priest is a presence of hope."
And what is wrong with the world? For decades, non-Catholics, at least to the degree that they'd call a priest for you because they knew it was important. It didn't matter why we needed it. Catholics just did.
From the WSJ comment-box, from someone who happens to be over at Fr. Z's Blog also:
Also from the combox there:As a Catholic, I find this heartbreaking. A Catholic who dies without the last rites, when a priest is RIGHT THERE, has been denied something vital. You don't have to believe this to understand it is true, and your callous dismissal of other people is both sad and disturbing.
I am not religious but I am amazed and disheartened at all of the bigotry out there. The idea that a cleric is banned from an area because some terrorist could buy a religious collar is absurd. A terrorist could spend a few bucks more and buy an EMS uniform or any First Responder uniform then rush in to do more damage. Should we ban them for a terror incident too? What if it was an Imam or Rabbi? Far too many people are following The Great Divider. There is too much needless hatred and anger out there. If I were to pray, I'd pray for the end of the Obama era of division. I feel sorry for all those Haters out there. It's gotta hurt keeping that crud inside your being.And again:
As an NFPA-certified fire officer, I can say that in the fire service we are trained to deal with three priorities in an emergency incident: life safety, incident stabilization, and property conservation. At a mass casualty incident that is also a crime scene, there aren’t resources available or time to spend allow people who are not directly involved in responder functions direct access to victims on the scene [I don't care about my life here when I am at death's door. I care about my soul.]A mass casualty incident is chaotic. By definition, it is when the number of casualties exceed the capacity of onscene resources to manage, and our training focuses on stabilizing the situation to save lives and preserve the scene as quickly and safely as possible. I doubt seriously that there was any nefarious attempt to exclude the clergy in any way differently than we exclude all non-victims and non-responders until the victims have been cared for, the scene has been secured, and the incident stabilized [Don't make the perfect the enemy of the good. And, Martin Richards died very quickly. Don't tell me that you couldn't bring him a priest if you id'd him as a Catholic.]In a typical fire or auto accident, there is time to integrate other people such as clergy and family members in these priorities, taking their safety into consideration as well. It’s not unusual for a spouse or parent to show up at an auto accident, for example, and they are often allowed direct access to the scene and their loved one.A mass casualty crime scene is an entirely different scenario and the best way to keep everyone safe is to tightly control access. While not discounting the need for spiritual aid as well, in those situations it is better served at the hospital [NOT GOOD ENOUGH WHEN YOU ARE DEAD!] or casualty collection point rather than in the middle of a chaotic crime scene [It's not just a crime scene...and Tsarnaev was gone by the point that clergy responded. Best not to stick around for when more cops show up to begin investigation.] This helps us, as first responders, ensure the safety of the victims [Again, we don't care at that point...], the first responders, and the general public.
Someone in the comment-box at Fr. Z's Blog pointed out that military medevacs no longer check religion. I mean, it is on your dog-tags. Why this doesn't happen is beyond me. I realize there are not enough priests assigned to the Archdiocese for the Military Services. Perhaps that has something with being perpetually at war, no? I digress. However, I expect a Catholic chaplain to be at the major bases, such as Bagram and Kandahar where medical facilities are located. She also pointed out the inability of medical officers to figure out that this needed to be a priority.
Just a few weeks ago, Fr. Kapaun was awarded the Medal of Honor for conspicuous gallantry above and beyond the call of duty for his action in the Korean War. However, President Obama did not once mention that it was his Catholic priesthood that drove him more than anything, even when he ministered to non-Catholics (because of course, his ultimate wish would be for them to be baptized and received into the Church). I think that there is an inability to comprehend it.
Also, this did not stop the priest in Newtown from coming over to Sandy Hook Elementary when he heard the shootings had occurred.
My response to all of this: Fine, be that way. I just will refuse to go into surgery unless you call a priest. Hospitals won't do this anymore, by the way, in many places because of privacy laws. Priests, please go when called. You have no idea whether your brother priest is able to go...
Oh, and yeah. My Angelic Warfare Confraternity cincture and medal as well as my Brown Scapular can come off for surgery, but please call a priest if you see them on my body in an emergency. And for the love of all that is good, true, and beautiful, it better a Catholic (at worst, Eastern Orthodox) priest. Not a Protestant minister, not an EMHC, not a nun.
Please Dear Lord, spare all your faithful from an unprovided death, and allow all of those who wish to be received into your Church, the visible Body of Christ on Earth.