My dear people of St. Mary’s:
I believe the following article, reprinted from a recent edition of The Wall Street Journal, is so important, I wanted you all to be able to read it in full. The paragraph I have highlighted towards the end is particularly relevant. I will have a few comments when you are finished.
Boston, April 25, 2013, The Wall Street Journal
Faith at the Finish Line in Boston
Barred from the chaotic scene of the bombing, priests nonetheless found ways to provide solace.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.”