Saturday, May 17, 2008

Very Tricky Situation: What Do You Think?

In today's twin cities paper, and on a couple of radio talk shows, I read/heard about a situation in a small MN parish, in which a family has been asked (first verbally and now via a restraining order) to refrain from bringing their autistic son to Mass. He is 13 years old, but is over 6 feet and weighs over 200 lbs. He is disruptive and from the accounts I heard could be unintentionally dangerous. Now, I only know what was in the newspaper article, and what was relayed on the radio by the mother of the autistic boy, and of course the opinions of the hosts and several callers. I invite everyone to read and listen for yourself.

The links to the radio audio files can be found in the podcast links below, just click and then look for Dan Barriero and Ron Rosenbaum for 5/17 with the appropriate descriptions-- you can download the relevant audio files. The newspaper story link is also provided below.

Here's my take; I would really like to hear from others. First, the family of this boy seems to be full of love; they are enduring the struggles of having two autistic children and have taken in a foreign exchange student. I think I heard that they have five children. On the radio the mother seems to clearly take her Catholic faith seriously and desires to share this with her son. This really is a beautiful thing. Second, this boy needs (just as we all do) the grace provided by the Eucharist, and thus needs access to it. I cannot really imagine the challenges the family faces, but I believe I can at least empathize with the situation. But...

But, both in the short excerpts in the paper, and in her responses to several callers' suggestions and criticisms, she really did seem to be stubborn about not accepting compromises that involve not having her son attend the Mass, in the sanctuary. This particular church apparently has two crying rooms, and her response was that her son becomes even more uncontrollable in the "open spaces." (?) She also indicated that her son would not do well if they tried to change the routine that they've established over the last several years. I also think the family has a severe blind spot about how the boy's size and actions affect others and put them in danger. In a really stark example, they let him start the family car after Mass (uh, yeah...) and then he jumped into someone else's car and revved the engine. Her response? He's drawn to engines.

Well anyway, there is more detail, about the priests actions, and the local school system (similar issues), etc. You'll have to take a look and listen for yourself.

The only additional solution I could come up with, was having Communion delivered to their home. I understand the value of having the whole family attend Mass, but there is a common sense point where the needs of the remaining parishioners have to count, too.

Comments or thoughts??

1 comment:

Laura The Crazy Mama said...

I feel sorry for the priest. I'm sure people have been dealing with this family for a long time and have much discomfort when sitting next to him or observing his issues, but have refrained from complaining because they fight within themselves on how "charitable" it would be to do so. I know that I would inwardly cringe and have a hard time focusing on Mass if I had to be on edge all through Mass with a person who couldn't control themselves and/or whose parents are having increased difficulty controlling them. I would help in any way I could with that person (and have! I've worked with profoundly mentally impared people in the past and always had compassion for them and their caregivers) but I would also support the priest and any members of the congregation who wanted that individual to not attend services. Of course, I am assuming that the priest really tried to privately speak to that family and express his worries (and the worries and discomfort of their fellow parishioners) before slapping the restraining order on them. Also, isn't there an argument for the priest that he could be genuinely concerned for the boy's safety/well being? Who knows how someone who doesn't know the boy and his family might react if they felt they were being "attacked"? I can only assume that it was a desperate last effort. I'm also a little ashamed of that family for using their son (they would probably say "advocating for him") to embarrass the church, priest, and fellow parishioners by making this whole thing so public. I also don't think that severely unruly, young children should stay in church and should either be controlled, or brought out of church. If one of my children were so disruptive, I'd just make sure they stayed away from Mass until they could handle it. I would expose my child to Mass on TV, teach them their catechism, ask for Communion be brought to them at home and see if it would be appropriate to bring them to church at a later time. The advocate for the exchange student asks, "This is a family in need...why is the CATHOLIC CHURCH turning them away?" To me, this just speaks to the idea that the family just wants a fight. They may have a "strong faith", but may be getting a tad too myopic (understandable, considering how much effort it takes to control their son, but still...).

Oh, and as far as what happened with the exchange student? I don't care if SHE is the one who "sat on" him to calm him down. That should NOT have been an action taken by or expected from a guest in their home. Maybe it's good for a teen to be exposed to a disabled individual but I think that physical restraint crosses the line.