Why Were Clergy Barred From The Boston Bombing Scene?

In a story that seems to have garnered very little attention, the Wall Street Journal‘s Jennifer Graham reported last Thursday that in the carnage following the Boston Marathon bombings, first responders did not include area clergy.  This was, however, no accident. Graham writes:

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.

Since the Boston Police Department has refused to comment on the story, the reasons why clergy were barred from entering the scene remain shrouded in speculation. One credible theory is that because a terrorist could enter the scene masquerading as clergy and do further damage, they locked down the scene.

I find such a theory questionable, however, insofar as there were so many people on the scene from the start, many of them volunteers with no credentials who merely happened to be on location when the bombing occurred.  These were not asked to leave the scene, and in many of the news photos of the initial aftermath these non-uniformed citizen helpers are shown tending to the wounded and helping to get the most seriously injured to medical transport.

Would it truly have been such a risk to allow local clergy to assist the bombing victims, especially those in danger of death? Doesn’t it seem likely that at least some of the local police attending the event would have known these individuals, since their churches were close at hand? And perhaps most importantly, is this the kind of nation we are creating, one that refuses admission to those carrying hope, spiritual consolation, and sacraments for the dying on the off chance that they might be bad guys? Graham points out that:

…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—a sacrament that, to Catholics, bears enormous significance.

If that were my son, I would be furious. Bad enough to lose him. Worse still to deny him those incredibly important final graces that all Catholics hope to receive at the hour of death.

Final judgment on this story should be reserved until the Boston Police Department clarifies their thinking on the matter, which I hope they will do very soon. But the whole thing is unsettling. Many in the media along with government officials who have spoken out after the bombings have positively tripped over themselves in their attempts to merely label this an act of “extremism” or even, if they’re feeling generous, “religious extremism” — without ever acknowledging exactly which extremist religious philosophy was behind it. And yet they have also, for reasons as yet unknown, kept those religious persons who were truly attempting to bring comfort and peace to the injured and dying away from the scene of this horrific tragedy.

Something doesn’t add up.


Categories:Church News Religious Liberty

  • G. DeMontagne

    Connie, Respectfully, your post doesn’t make any sense and has no relevance to the issue.

  • http://catholicvote Connie

    Obama/Eric Holder (our attorney general) send in the lawyers by the busload to defend the bombers. Liberals do not believe in the one true GOD that is why they support all the sinful things they do. Their logic is failed as it protects the criminal & not the innocent. GOD help our nation see the truth!


      Connie ~ “Lawyers by the busload?”
      He got a Federal Public Defender??? -Pax, Greg

  • NoreenD

    I don’t understand this.

  • Geraldine L. Gambrell

    I can’t think of ANY REASON why the clergy would be denied reaching out to those in need of
    OUR GOD. It is purely disgusting!!!!!!

  • EW

    EVERY first responder knows that where there is one bomb…they’re likely two or three or four!!. Nobody was allowed into the bombing scene except for uniformed police and fire. The first priority for first responders is to safe guard life. Allowing anybody into the area would only increase to potential targets that day. And did anyone stop to think that someone might just dress like a priest in order to get into a location and detonate another bomb thereby killing all of the cops and fire fighters trying to save lives?? I am as Catholic as the Pope and I am also a Police Officer and I would not let in anybody other than police or fire either. There is no controversy in their decision to limit the numbers of potential dead people that day. There is no reason for anyone to feel slighted because they were not allowed into the area. Stop looking for reasons to feel injured!!!

  • Daniel

    I am finishing my MA degree in Homeland Security. With some bit of expertise to claim, I can say that the procedure to deny uncredentialed people, even priests, to an emergency response site is the proper procedure where terrorism is suspected.

    One of the “lesson learned” from 9/11 was the ability of electrical and telephone utility repair men to cross bridges and tunnels to assist in recovery efforts at ground zero. The nervousness of the police prevented no uncredentialed vechicles or people through. The lesson learned was that even non-government services, such as utility repair vehicles and staff are required in the emergency response. Now, these vehicles and staff carry the necessary access credentials.

    We must be more careful than in the past. Al Qaeda has proven itself very resourceful and creative in these attacks. It is within their profile to create a small bomb, only to then send in several suicide bombers dressed as priests and nuns, to inflict secondary, and more lethal damage.

    We should not just sit and complain about our rights. Yes, I want a priest coming to administrer last rites. Therefore, I suggest that we learn as lesson from this, and start communication with local Homeland Security Management to ensure that priests are credentialed to access an emergency response team to administer last rites. And yes, I believe a small, nominal processing fee is appropriate, and that the dioceses will need to pay for it.

    Folks, we have to admit that it is now a different world here, and for the protection of human life, we need to adjust.


      Daniel – Great post. Here in San Francisco, for major incidents, police and fire chaplains who have uniforms and ID cards and are known to many of the first responders, are called out by their agencies. ~ Good luck in your carier. – Pax

    • Beth De Simon

      This is a disgrace, not allowing them to reach out and comfort. The 8 year old boy who had received his First Communion the year before would have wanted them there. If I had been there, I would have wanted them there. Such a sin.



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