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

  • Richard

    The clergy would only get in the way of the medically trained responders or those who were willing to help in medical procedures. What were a few priests going to do with oils? You can’t stop bleeding with oils. The Boston Police were correct in not allowing priests onto the scene because they would have only gotten in the way of those who were trying to help. Not everyone injured there was Catholic, and those who were Catholic, I guarantee, would prefer professional medical attention rather than being splashed with some magical oils by a dude in a collar. This is the 21st century. We no longer give people lobotomies. We no longer put leeches on the bodies of the sick. We know how to treat the injured. Also, what about any Muslim or Islamic Imams that wanted to visit the scene? Oh no, those people believe in a different fairy tail, we can’t do that!

    You people don’t care about the well being of others or treating others that are different from you fairly. All you care about is pushing your religion to make yourselves feel more important. You victimize yourselves to create this appearance that “Catholicism is under ATTACK!!!” and act like stubborn children when your world view is questioned.

    So Boston Police, you made the right decision.

    • Adam

      If you believe that there is life after death – not an irrational belief, ALL things considered, and one can study them at length, if they so desired – than allowing priests to assist the dying would be a good thing.

      It’s quite ironic; often, religious people are considered to be closed minded. However, the atheistic position is, in reality, the most closed minded of all. What you see is what you get; there is nothing beyond this life, nor is there any reason for it save the one we create for ourselves. There is nothing but our own desires; maximize your pleasure, and avoid pain. As long as it doesn’t impact on others, it’s all good.

      I do not accept such viewpoints, founded on philosophy, the study of wisdom, and theology, the study of God. There’s more to life then pleasure; there is love. There’s more to life than doing what I want; there’s working to become a better human being, for the sake of others.

      Truth, goodness and beauty; these are the things that the Catholic faith preaches. Why do people find them bad? Why do they find them unacceptable? That seems unreasonable to me. And so I reject the atheistic closed-minded reason.

      These clergy should have been allowed on the scene to assist anyone they could.

    • Dr. K

      I’m Catholic and one of those professionally trained medical staff. Trust me, if I was dying, I would take the priest over a medic any day of the week, and twice on Sunday. In those cases, the triage protocol says if they’re not breathing we do nothing and move on. That person might not be dead yet, but we do nothing because we need to save as many as possible and that person might waste time. Those people needed their clergy, and it’s unconstitutional to deny them that access.

    • John Boyle

      Richard writes in the most intolerant, bigoted hateful piece of religious intolerance I have read since yesterday on may 1, “What were a few priests going to do with oils? You can’t stop bleeding with oils.”

      Yes Richard oils do not stop bleeding, but the sacrament with oils prepares the soul for it’s next life. You certainly are free to deny that reality, in fact not everyone has the intellect to accept and reason the reality of an afterlife as Jesus has taught us would be the case. But guess what? 89% of Americans do and two out of three deceased at the bombings were Catholic as were many more of the injured.

      Priests are first responders having ministered through out the ages in lepper colonies to actual battle fields, never once being accused of “getting in the way” but rather bringing comfort and peace in preperation for eternity.

      So while you spout of your hateful diatribe espousing man over God just know that your narrow minded world view will never have a place in a thinking mans existence be it this life or the next. Though everyone is called not everyone has what it takes to be Catholic. Your hatred of all things catholic tells me you are one of those who failed the cut and cant play on the varsity team. But be fore warned the loving God sends nobody to hell, those who go there choose to do so by their actions or lack thereof in life, exactly no different then you.

  • Laura

    If my family member or myself was in need of my final sacraments (no time to go to the hospital for them if you are about to die on the street), I would hope that the police (even if they were not Catholic themselves) would allow it. I’m so sad to hear that this was denied for whatever lame reason they may have for it. We don’t need to protect our priests from physical danger, if that was their “reason”…they will gladly die saving someone’s soul as a martyr for Christ.

  • Brent

    Good post – telling observation. Maybe Catholics are now on the “terrorist list.” Welcome to the USSA.

  • jgbech

    Thank God that we were not there, but I feel that threats like this the Police draw the tightest string.

    I’m not great on sacraments, but given the true nature of this attack would anyone in need of the Last Rights be at a disadvantage spiritually if they were not granted that right under the horrible circumstances?

  • Larry

    Why the speculation as to why this happened? Why not wait for clarification? Perhaps the officers were attempting to protect the clergy. Who knows? But why post a story filled with all kinds of speculation and possibilities when there’s no data to go by? This approaches sensationalism, which is journalism at its worst.

  • WisdomPlease

    Daniel (6:39 reply) , that was a good informational post.
    I can see the points you made.
    NOW: Let’s initiate a way to get our city’s clergy (who would wish to participate in any future emergencies like this) registered ASAP (and they could easily take off their collars, etc. if need be).
    They are NEEDED out there – so much!



Receive our updates via email.