A recent article in the Star Tribune
, in the Minneapolis-St. Paul area, speaks to a problem that is far too common: a problem of interest to all families of autistic individuals.
The Race family in St. Cloud, Minnesota attends church services, Mass at the local Catholic parish in their case, as a family. Their family includes 13-year old Adam. Adam is autistic.
In 2005, the Roman Catholic Diocese of St. Cloud presented Carol Race, Adam’s mother, with an award, recognizing:
. . . her efforts to encourage families with disabled children to attend mass, she said. The award cited her “untiring efforts ... to educate and advocate for others who have children with disruptive disabilities such as autism and seek to participate as a total family at Sunday mass.”
What a difference a couple of years makes.
Last summer, their parish priest, the Rev. Daniel Walz, appeared at the Race’s doorstep with a temporary restraining order, intended to keep Adam away from services at the church.
It is beyond ironic that the Church, which adamantly would resist the jurisdiction of civil courts on issues of internal governance, seems to have no problem turning to those same civil courts when trying to add a little oomph to its internal decrees.
Carol Race was, to say the least, perturbed at the lack of understanding on the part of Father Walz:
“He said that we did not discipline our son. He said that our son was physically out of control and a danger to everyone at church,” she said. “I can’t discipline him out of his autism, and I think that’s what our priest is expecting.”
The Race family defied the order, and they are likewise defying a permanent restraining order that was issued. They continue to attend Mass as a family, doing their best to keep Adam’s occasional meltdowns under control. They have asked the Diocese to rescind the order, but the only response was a release described in the Star Tribune article:
A statement released by the Diocese of St. Cloud said the church filed the petition “as a last resort out of a growing concern for the safety of parishioners and other community members due to disruptive and violent behavior on the part of that child.”
“That child,” as the Diocese calls Adam, is as much a child of God as anyone who joins others to worship.
In the article, Rev. Walz describes the nature of the problems Adam’s behavior raises. It also provides the Race’s explanation of those behaviors. The family’s explanation has the ring of truth for anyone who has spent time around an autistic youngster, or who has taken the time to try and understand.
Could Adam’s parents have handled some of the “disturbances” in a better way? Maybe, but I’m not ready to make that call when I don’t know the complete background. One thing is sure, however; taking the Race family to court will not bring anyone ⎯ not the Race family, not the other parishioners, and certainly not Father Walz ⎯ any closer to the Kingdom of Heaven.