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You really can't please everyone

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.


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I don't think the loud is a big deal, I think the hitting and knocking people over is a huge deal.

I read the article, there are disputes over what happened from each side. I especially liked the article because it gave claims from both sides actually (you don't hear that enough these days)

This is a very tough call on what is right and what is wrong. I think the church could have been more compassionate and I think the family has an overblown sense of entitlement.

No matter what your take on the church's stand, you have to respect that it is their property. If you are asked to leave, you leave.

Why would you attend a church where you did not feel welcome? To me that would be like going to a restaurant where I know they're going to spit in my food.

What it boils down to is how accommodating do the many have to be to the needs of the few? (yes, very trek I know). Should I allow myself to be spit on because the kid can't help himself and he spits at people?

It's like kids with peanut allergies. Why should an entire school have to ban people from having peanut butter in their lunches because 1 kid is allergic to peanuts? While I sympathize with their plight, it's not my plight and I'm not going to deny myself peanut butter because of that 1 child. Bring an epi-pen and stay away from my lunch.

The Sarcasticynic

Slapping the Races with a restraining order may have been a bit over the top, but I'm afraid I have to side with the priest on this one.

"Adam's a big boy and he is intimidating because they don't understand him." No, he's intimidating because he's a six foot tall, 225 pound thirteen year old who has to be tied down or else he'll drive off in other parishioners' cars.

I'm sorry, Mr and Mrs Race. Even though you cannot discipline him out of his autism, the fact is he's a bull in a china shop.


My brother has an autistic son.
He is unruly and they do not make him behave.
When my SIL was very ill, my cousin took care of the retarded young man for two weeks. She was kind to him, however, she was firm.
She came into alignment under her care.

It proved our theory that the child could be trained in spite of his disability.

So, I'm looking at it from the point of view that the disabled man's reign of terror in this story could possibly be the fault of a parent who didn't train. If the guy can't be trained, then he should not be put in a position that taxes his already maxed out sensor system.

I'm sorry. I vote with the priest. He has to take care of the other 99 in his fold.


Having worked with special needs children and having autism in my family, I know that regardless of their age or size, most are able to learn to modify their behavior appropriately. I'm going to give the priest the benefit of the doubt and assume he tried every option before this drastic step. As most autistic children have few verbal skills and act out their frustration by hitting or pushing, I would be interested in knowing how the child feels about attending church and if he acts the same way at school. While we as a society do need to be more tolerant, I do remember the weekly distraction of a "normal" child we dubbed "Dennis the Menace" who struggled loudly and aggressively with his mom every Sunday. Even when he kicked a deacon on the shin on the way out the door I don't think it occurred to anyone to take out a restraining order on him. Of course by the time he was 8 or 9 he and his mom worked out something and he sat there in surly silence. Had he continued acting out at age 13 I'm pretty sure he would not have been welcome in the church. Bottom line - any child, regardless of abilities or disabilities can and should be taught self control.


I remember reading that the priest offered to celebrate mass privately with the family and that his offer was rejected. It seems that the mother cares less about the religious service and more about forcimg others to comply with her wishes. I don't fault the priest or parish at all.

James B.

So it seems unanimous at this point. The priest was justified.


I think it would depend on the nature of the disruption. If the 13 year old - who, at six feet and over 200 pounds is obviously quite imposing - is really creating an unsafe situation to those around him then the priest owes it to the remainder of the parish to find another way to serve this family.

The article mentions that the priest had approached the family at home and offered to accomodate the family and was rebuffed. I do wonder what those accomodations might have been, if they were reasonable, or if they were the equivalent of creating a shut-in out of the autistic young man.

Then again, the article states that the parents were already making use of the rear pew, the cry room and leaving just before the end of Mass to avoid disturbances, all of which speaks to their effort to employ reasonable measures in order to ensure the comfort and safety of others.

I don't know... I'd say that I'm siding with Adam's parents on this one. It is the Catholic view that each life is deserving of consideration and it seems wrong and discompassionate to physically bar Adam from participating in their expression of faith at his home church.

James B.

Steph, I hear ya. The whole formal religious thing makes it seem just wrong to bar someone from church. But I keep coming back to all the other folks in the services. What are they getting out of church if they can't hear the sermon or have to worry they're gonna get bowled over by this kid as he runs past them?


True. It does seem more than a tad selfish of the parents to simply expect other parishioners to tolerate constant disruption. I can honestly say that if I had been the parents I would have sought out alternatives prior to being asked to leave simply because I hate imposing.

Still - and I guess this comes from being Catholic myself - I personally would have a difficult time simply seeing the young man barred from services. However, as Catholics we are supposed to exercise compassion and acknowledge both the spiritual nature and the need of every individual, regardless of their personal limitations or situation, to form a relationship with God. So in this way the entire situation becomes less about the parents and more about the priest and other parishioners and how they as a community relate and accept this boy as a Christian community. Which is why - barring a dangerous situation or some fabulously severe level of disruption - I'm kind of siding with the kid. I would like to think that if he were in my home church I would tolerate his outbursts.

Of course, if the situation were different and the parents were taking him into restaurants or a movie theater then I admit I would feel completly different.


...and it's 4:30 in the morning and I'm an exhausted insomniac so please excuse all the bad spelling and grammar in that previous comment!


I also agree with the priest. If the other congregants feel unsafe, he has to do something. This is not a squirmy toddler. He could hurt someone. My soon-to-be 13 year-old is only about 5'8" and I know that he is already stronger than I am, and if he lost his ever-loving mind, he could hurt me.

While I was reading this, I was reminded of a story Kwesi posted about concerning an elderly lady who was banned from her church and subsequently arrested when she showed up for service. Her crime was asking that the church by-laws be followed by the pastor. In that case, the pastor was dead-wrong. In this case, I think the priest is spot-on.

Ref: http://www.kwesiwilliams.net/ "Rethinking Pastoral Accountability" in the March archives. (I'm not a linking pro.)


The peanut allergy is a little off. There are kids who are so allergic to even the slightest whiff of nuts, peanuts included, that they can die. DIE. That being the case, yes, it's perfectly fine for an entire school to disallow peanut butter for the whole school, so that one kid won't die during lunch. I think that eating peanut butter at home is an acceptable trade off for a child's life.

The kid in church, though? I'm completely on the priest's side.

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