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.