Writing in the Wall Street Journal, Jennifer Graham tells me something that I hadn’t heard about Boston Marathon bombing. As dozens of victims were sprawled across Boylston Street, many of them in danger of death, Catholic priests came running to the scene—and were turned away.
Doctors and nurses were welcome at the bombing scene. Firefighters and police officers were welcome. But Catholic priests, who might have offered the solace of the sacraments, were not.
”Catholics need not apply.” That slogan was familiar in Boston years ago, before Irish and Italian immigrants took over control of the city. Now, after decades of decline in Catholic influence , the attitude has returned. One priest who was barred from Boylston Street remarked that in the past a priest was admitted anywhere. “That’s changed,” he said. “Priests are no longer considered to be emergency responders.”
Unless police officers in Boston are uniquely hostile to priests (a distinct possibility), the tide has turned very quickly on this question. On September 11, 2001, there were Catholic priests at the staging areas near the World Trade Center, giving absolution to firefighters before they rushed into the doomed building: mass-producing saints!
Unable to provide spiritual help to those whose lives were endangered, the priests in Boston retreated to a nearby church, were they “set up a table with water and oranges and bananas to serve people.” Doesn’t that nicely capture what a once-Catholic, now-secular culture expects from the Church? It’s not essential for priests to administer the sacraments; in fact it’s unwelcome. But if they could just stay out of the way, and give people something to eat, that would be fine.
Jennifer Graham captures the problem well:
But it is a poignant irony that Martin Richard, the 8-year-old boy who died on Boylston Street, was a Catholic who had received his first Communion just last year. As Martin lay dying, priests were only yards away, beyond the police tape, unable to reach him to administer last rites…