Last week the Minneapolis Star-Tribune reported on a Catholic church in Minnesota, whose priest had taken out a restraining order on a sometimes unruly 13-year-old autistic boy.
The priest says he's concerned for other parishioners' safety, because the boy who is over 6-feet tall and weighs more than 225 pounds is sometimes unruly and hard to control. He has allegedly hit people and nearly knocked others over in the church. Plus he's loud sometimes.
The boy's mom, a long time parishioner, is fighting the order in court, because she simply doesn't think it's right to block someone from attending church, and because she says the priest's claims about her son are exaggerated. In the mean time the family is attending church in a neighboring town, because the sheriff in their town warned them in accordance with the restraining order if they showed up at the their church home they'd be arrested.
My first reaction to this case was that the priest was being a jerk. But after sitting on it for a minute or so, I remembered how I used to react when faced with loud kids. Whether it was a crying baby in theater, or a mentally disabled kid screaming in a restaurant, I used to get really annoyed. I'm not proud of it. I was young and completely lacked patience with anything that annoyed me back then - especially what I considered to be unnecessary noise and disruption. In college, a buddy asked one day if he could bring his younger brother to a movie our circle was attending. The rest of us said sure, why not. My buddy showed up with his younger brother, who it turned out was mentally handicapped. I don't remember the exact handicap, but the kid yelled during the movie and kicked the seats in front of him. One look at him though, and I couldn't get angry. It was clear the kid was just really happy to be there and was thrilled with what he was seeing on screen. How can you be angry about that? Our group got dirty looks from other patrons. But that incident changed my perspective on these scenarios and made me more compassionate.
So, back to the situation in Minnesota. Was the priest right in banning the autistic kid for the "greater good" of the rest of his congregation?
Reformed James says no. But practical James says maybe - but only if the priest offered the family an alternative, and they refused. For example, my dad's a pastor. When I was in high school he had a couple in his church whose baby had the lungs of an entire men's choir. It got so loud that my dad, even using a microphone, had to stop mid sentence sometimes and wait for the baby to finish crying. So he had the sound system extended into the nursery, in another part of the building and gently asked the parents one day if they'd mind one of them taking the baby into the nursery when it was on a lengthy crying jag, so as not to disturb the rest of the parishioners. They were fine with it. The mom was actually relieved to have some place to take the kid and still be able to listen to the service. But what if they'd told my dad no, they weren't taking their kid to the nursery?
I get compassion. We need to express it toward those who are hoeing a tougher road than our own. But does their right to participate always equal or supersede the will of the majority? If most of the other parishioners back the priest, are they right?
I realize church and theaters are waaaaaay different settings. But for the sake of argument, if the priest was 100% wrong, then theoretically we have no moral grounds for asking the parents of the crying baby in the theater to take the kid outside, or for asking theater staff to force them outside.