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Barring Clergy at Mass Casualty Events
Homiletic & Pastoral Review ^ | September 10, 2013 | JOHN M. GRONDELSKI

Posted on 09/11/2013 1:39:39 PM PDT by NYer

People instinctively recognize that, at moments of life and death, clergymen ought to be there. There are no atheists in foxholes. People rejoice at the consoling presence of those priests.

Fr. Mychal F. Judge, OFM, Catholic Chaplain to the New York Fire Department died ministering to the dying on 9/11.

A woman had a car accident in Missouri. Although the road was blocked, a mysterious stranger came along and offered her spiritual assistance, credited even with helping save her life. For a day or two, the press speculated: was it an angel from heaven who came to minister to her? When the news finally came, the story was a bit less spectacular: her stranger was a Catholic priest, who happened upon her while driving from one church to another to celebrate Mass.

That woman received great solace because of his spiritual ministrations. So, undoubtedly, did the victims of 9/11, as Father Mychael Judge ministered to the dying, only to die himself when pieces of the World Trade Center collapsed on him. Indeed, the photograph of the dead priest being carried out of the ruins by five men amidst dust and rubble, a picture dubbed “American Pietà,” is considered one of the iconic photographs of that day. It is worthwhile noting that, on 9/11, it was a Catholic priest who exemplified the Christian virtue, “No greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends” (John 15: 13).

People instinctively recognize that, at moments of life and death, clergymen ought to be there. There are no atheists in foxholes. People rejoice at the consoling presence of those priests.

Unfortunately, in 2013, 1 a very different scene played out in Boston. It was reported that although priests in adjacent parishes rushed to the scene of the Boston Marathon Massacre to anoint the dying, local police denied them access to the bomb victims. 2 They had to stand outside the yellow tape lines. According to one on-line commentary, although there was a young boy dying nearby, the priests could not reach him. They were reduced to standing outside the police line, handing out refreshments.

Boston police have not commented on the “no priest” policy. Was it an aberration of the moment, a decision made by somebody on the spot? Was it an official policy? We have yet to find out. The reporter who brought us the story even threw local Massachusetts authorities a bone, writing “in light of the devastation in Boston, the denial of access to clergy is a trifling thing, and it might even have been an individual’s error.”3

Yet “denial of access to clergy”—especially at the hour of our death—is no trifling thing. As Catholics, our tradition is sacramental, i.e., symbolic and physical.

It seems to me that there are two lessons to be learned from what happened in Boston: (1) was there an official policy on clergy access (and what did it imply)? and (2) what are the policies where you live?

Crises and large-scale disasters are a fact of life. In recent years, American cities and towns have been ravaged by hurricanes, tornadoes, and floods. Large-scale accidents occur. One of my favorite spots along northbound I-95 is at milepost 105 in Maryland, near Cecil/Havre de Grace. Looking out over the road is a statue of the Blessed Mother, with the inscription “Our Lady of the Highways, Pray for Us!” Few people know how the statue got there. The Oblates of Mary, who own the property, erected the statue to commemorate a 1968 crash of about twenty vehicles in fog, which killed three people. Priests from the house rushed to help the wounded and dying on a stretch of highway popular with truckers.4

Boston reminds us that today America is also at war with terrorism. Terrorists have struck in New York, Washington, and Boston, and threatened to blow up a Detroit-bound plane. How many plots have been foiled only some intelligence services might know. But if Americans of an earlier generation worried about the threat of nuclear war, today’s Americans need to reckon with the scourge of international terrorism.

All of which means: memento mori!

Clergy have traditionally been recognized as essential parts of the response to crises. Have we now decided that clergy are not first responders? That their ministry is unessential? That only physical life is worth saving? That spiritual life is a private affair that has no relevance in the midst of a terrorist attack?

If this is true, tell me: I wouldn’t recognize my country if that’s the case. Even more important, if this is true, tell me why.

In response to an earlier version of these observations, 5 a commentator claimed that police had to be careful about whom to admit to what is a potential crime scene, because there’s no way of knowing whether somebody is a real clergyman, or a terrorist masquerading as a priest. I think that argument is a bit far-fetched. If somebody wanted to infiltrate a scene, why pretend to be a clergyman? One could also masquerade as a first aid worker or a doctor. I can’t imagine the police refusing the services of a physician on the scene (“is there a doctor in the house?”). Even if they have to be careful, a physician has medical ID. What about clergy?

One might say that priests can pray without actual tangible contact on their own outside the police cordon. As I said above, Catholic ministry is physical and tactile. The government has no business imposing an alien model of disembodied ministry on us.

Yet that is what happened in Boston. Pray—at a distance.

We should also ask, however, whether there is something else at work here: a subtle but invidious secularism that will clear every public square everywhere of religion. The “real” work at a mass casualty belongs to the police and rescue workers; clergy need not apply. Civil disasters are Caesar’s affair, not God’s (although, from Job to Voltaire and onward, God often gets blamed for them). What happened in Boston could be interpreted as a kind of “keep religion in the sacristy” policy—keep it outside the police cordon sanitaire, private, without an “official” scene looking like it gives any acknowledgement, much less preference, to religion.

One likely answer is that local authorities need to control a scene, and a large influx of clergy could mean that chaos ensues. Again, I suggest such a hypothetical scenario is unrealistic—there aren’t that many clergy around anyway—as well as discriminatory, because in the name of a theoretical, dubious, and unrealistic threat, real people are being denied real access to priests and ministers at an existentially significant moments. If that’s the case, then that interpretation needs to be challenged, fought, and overturned: when people are dying, we should not “solve” any potential access issue simply by secularizing the scene of the event.

Whatever the reason for the Boston decision, we should find out what it was, and have a public discussion of what happened there. That said, one never knows where a tragedy can strike.

Catholic priests have traditionally been actively involved in supporting local police, firemen, and rescue workers. They are often chaplains to these services. For some, perhaps, it’s a minimal or honorary position: they celebrate a regular Mass for the personnel, have a parish breakfast for them, or something. But many priests are often actively involved with these services: I think, for example, of Father Robert Rippy, the Rector of St. Thomas More Cathedral in Arlington, Virginia, who often rides with the County Police.

Local pastors should immediately get in touch with their local, county, and state police to ask what is the local policy about clergy access at an accident scene. If that policy impedes access, they should also publicize it, so that people can correct it. A coordinated, diocese-wide effort to clarify local policies might in some cases be very worthwhile. Chancery officials should think about that. Again, if there are obstructionist policies, people should know that—and Catholics should make a public stink.

But, apart from the question of ministerial access, perhaps it’s also an opportunity to examine how well we are ministering to those who minister to the public through these first provider services. Are we providing good chaplain services to local police, firefighters, and rescue workers? Do we know their problems? Maybe they need more spiritual help and counseling. Maybe there are some coping problems that lead, perhaps, to problems at home or to alcohol issues. Maybe they just need some clergy support in getting the local government to fund another ambulance. Maybe they have some racial or youth problems that clergymen, ecumenically, working together might help defuse. Maybe, like Fr. Rippy, it might be worthwhile spending an evening with the local police, firefighters, or first aid people on the job.

Local police and rescue agencies have traditionally conducted joint practice exercises to hone their responses to mass casualty events, e.g., train crashes. In the wake of the terrorist threats that America faces today, such practice exercises have only intensified. Perhaps, this is an occasion for clergy to get in the door of such events by making sure to get included in the practice sessions. At the same time, participation also sensitizes local police and rescue agencies to think of clergy involvement as a normal and indispensable aspect of crisis response. It might also be an opportunity for ecumenical cooperation in local clergy associations: we are interested in seeing that all people get spiritual care.

The Boston events should make us find out, rather than assume, just what kind of ministerial access clergy have at disasters. But it should also offer an opportunity to reviewing and renewing clergy relations with those services. In many instances, that personal relationship may make access issues just that much easier.


TOPICS: Catholic; Ministry/Outreach; Prayer; Religion & Culture
KEYWORDS:

1 posted on 09/11/2013 1:39:39 PM PDT by NYer
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To: Tax-chick; GregB; Berlin_Freeper; SumProVita; narses; bboop; SevenofNine; Ronaldus Magnus; tiki; ...
Clergy have traditionally been recognized as essential parts of the response to crises. Have we now decided that clergy are not first responders? That their ministry is unessential? That only physical life is worth saving? That spiritual life is a private affair that has no relevance in the midst of a terrorist attack?

If this is true, tell me: I wouldn’t recognize my country if that’s the case. Even more important, if this is true, tell me why.

God help us, ping!

2 posted on 09/11/2013 1:40:26 PM PDT by NYer ( "Run from places of sin as from the plague."--St John Climacus)
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To: NYer

I’m glad to see this. I was horrified to see that the clergy were not allowed in the Boston bombing. And how can it hurt? Protestants don’t have any sacramental thing, but even the Protestants probably wouldn’t have minded having somebody praying with them.

And if the victim is unconscious and you don’t know if he’s Protestant, Catholic or Jewish, it still couldn’t hurt to have somebody pray for and even anoint him. If they’re conscious and they don’t want a priest, all they have to do is say no or shake their heads; priests don’t insist, although they might (gasp!) give them a blessing from afar.

The writer is correct. Dioceses should attempt to find out the policies.


3 posted on 09/11/2013 1:44:37 PM PDT by livius
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To: NYer

How about imams?


4 posted on 09/11/2013 1:46:41 PM PDT by onedoug
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To: NYer

Clergy should be allowed - always.
And yes there can also be angels.
A friend was in a motorcycle accident that propelled him into a ditch and totaled his bike, any way, he said he just laid there for a minute.
People ran down to him “are you alright, are you alright”.
He said he didn’t even have a scratch, he sat up and said “I am fine”.
Then they started going through the bushes and tall grass, looking for what they thought was a woman with him.
My friend said the cop came over and asked “who was riding with you”.
He said “I was riding alone”
Yes, I beleive in protection whether by angels or clergy, people need comfort.


5 posted on 09/11/2013 1:50:00 PM PDT by svcw (Stand or die)
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To: livius
Protestants don't have any sacramental thing...

Seriously, you really meant to say that?

6 posted on 09/11/2013 1:50:34 PM PDT by Mr. Lucky
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To: NYer

I know of one explanation that I have mixed feelings about. Qne of the most horrible earmarks of modern terrorism is to plant 2 or more explosives timed so that the second and later ones kill the ‘First Responders’ going towards the first explosion. Keeping the non-essential personnel out of the kill zones is logical in light of this new page in that horrible practice. On the other hand, clergy, ministering to the spirit, are professionals performing their duties! I say that they should be permitted! I rather doubt if Father Judge or any other clergy, caught up and dying in their duties would disagree.


7 posted on 09/11/2013 1:51:12 PM PDT by SES1066 (To expect courteous government is insanity!)
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To: Mr. Lucky

Yes, most Protestants don’t accept the sacraments. Some, such as Anglicans and Lutherans, do accept some of them, but rejection of the sacraments was a big part of Protestantism, particular among what we would now consider Evangelical groups.


8 posted on 09/11/2013 2:02:06 PM PDT by livius
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To: onedoug
How about imams?

Islam is not a sacramental faith. They don't send imams out to bless people who are dying.

9 posted on 09/11/2013 2:39:36 PM PDT by NYer ( "Run from places of sin as from the plague."--St John Climacus)
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To: livius

Excellent points; clergy bring comfort and peace to those who are injured or are dying. Like you, I too was horrified when the clergy were turned away in Boston. Thanks for the post and ping.


10 posted on 09/11/2013 2:44:05 PM PDT by NYer ( "Run from places of sin as from the plague."--St John Climacus)
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To: Mr. Lucky
Correct me if I'm wrong, but most Protestants derive more or less from the Reformation --- which was a rejection of most of the sacramental framework --- don't they? And the Baptists I know, for instance,if gravely injured at the scene of a catasttrophe, wouldn't be looking for a final Confession to a clergyman, an anointing with blessed oils, or Viaticum.

Unless I very much misunderstand Protestantism. Which is always a possibility!

11 posted on 09/11/2013 3:24:54 PM PDT by Mrs. Don-o ("Acquire a peaceful spirit, and then thousands around you will be saved. " - St. Seraphim of Sarov)
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To: Mrs. Don-o
I can't speak for the faith of all Christians who are not Roman Catholic (which is, of course, the point of my original post on this thread, although poorly made).

The Lutheran Confessions recognize three Sacraments (Baptism, Eucharist and Penance or Holy Confession) but generally treat the four other Sacraments observed by the Catholic Church as Holy Rites rather than Sacraments.

12 posted on 09/11/2013 3:35:10 PM PDT by Mr. Lucky
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To: NYer; Heart-Rest; HoosierDammit; red irish; fastrock; NorthernCrunchyCon; UMCRevMom@aol.com; ...
+

Freep-mail me to get on or off my pro-life and Catholic List:

Add me / Remove me

Please ping me to note-worthy Pro-Life or Catholic threads, or other threads of general interest.

13 posted on 09/11/2013 5:19:34 PM PDT by narses
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To: Mrs. Don-o

We would certainly love to be prayed over in such a situation though.

But don’t believe it affects our entrance into the afterlife if there’s not a priest present when we pass off this mortal coil.

If that makes sense?


14 posted on 09/11/2013 5:21:31 PM PDT by Black Agnes
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To: Mr. Lucky
OH! I didn't know that Lutherans had Confession. I remember a long time ago Garrison Keillor having a broadcast reminisce about Lutherans being Confirmed --- I thought --- but then I could be wrong or Garrison Keillor could be wrong.

Or it could be not a wrong but a RITE!

Thank you for the information.

It's getting late -- my coherence is past its prime --- I'd better get to bed. G'Night now!

15 posted on 09/11/2013 6:15:43 PM PDT by Mrs. Don-o ("Acquire a peaceful spirit, and then thousands around you will be saved. " - St. Seraphim of Sarov)
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To: NYer

If this is about security in a live terrorist event, then I’m willing to listen, but even then, a family member should be able to say “my family member is there and I’m going to be with them.” That should be allowed. And when that family member then says, “I want my priest/pastor here.” then that should be honored.

Another option is the credentialing of pastors/priest/rabbis for such times. But I balk at credentialing pastors/priests/rabbis.

Then there is the idea of police/fire chaplains. This is an option I would support, and I do not see that those must be paid positions.


16 posted on 09/11/2013 6:26:59 PM PDT by xzins ( Retired Army Chaplain and Proud of It! Those who truly support our troops pray for victory!)
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To: Black Agnes
Lord love you, Black Agnes. I think you're right about one's final destination: it's purely in the hands of the Lord.

Yet it is a tremendous grace to be able to receive the Sacraments on one's deathbed. I love that the last Sacraments -- Confession (if the person is able), Anointing, and Communion--- are called "Viaticum" ("With you on the way.") How wonderful to be so intimately close to Christ before dying, through dying, and on the other side of dying.

That's not to say that if the priest isn't there, you're toast. Christ can grant His loving Presence to any person, at any time of His own choosing, in any circumstances.

But I have become persuaded that Christ wants us to receive Him through Sacraments, through the ministrations of the Church, through the tangible signs with accompany the Sacraments, by the old, well-loved prayers.

There are people who can hardly register a brain wave, who will go subtly alert, their lips moving, when the holy oils are applied to their skin, or when the words "Our Father, Who art in heaven..." are heard.

This was certainly true of my father. I can only say, "Thanks be to God."

17 posted on 09/11/2013 6:35:08 PM PDT by Mrs. Don-o ("Acquire a peaceful spirit, and then thousands around you will be saved. " - St. Seraphim of Sarov)
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To: Mrs. Don-o

I can certainly see how that would be terribly comforting.

My knowledge comes from my mom who took catechism classes prior to v2. And it’s been a looooong time ago that I asked her.

She ultimately didn’t convert (that’s a long story I’ll save for another time). I tried to wear her sterling silver crucifix/rosary as costume jewelry when I was a teen during the whole Madonna cross fashion thing. I was very sternly put in my place! I really need to ask her before it’s too late if she would like to be buried with that rosary. It’s really quite pretty and she’s kept it in a really special place in her room all these years too.


18 posted on 09/11/2013 6:41:30 PM PDT by Black Agnes
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To: NYer

Very good point. Thanks.


19 posted on 09/11/2013 11:05:15 PM PDT by onedoug
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To: NYer

Where I grew up, all the Fire/EMS was volunteer. The local parish priest became our chaplain, then became certified as an EMT and ran ambulance calls. (He was a great guy!) More than once his presence comforted patients.


20 posted on 09/12/2013 12:57:12 AM PDT by Smokin' Joe (How often God must weep at humans' folly. Stand fast. God knows what He is doing.)
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To: Black Agnes

Bless you -— and go have that conversation with your mom!


21 posted on 09/12/2013 6:42:04 AM PDT by Mrs. Don-o ("Acquire a peaceful spirit, and then thousands around you will be saved. " - St. Seraphim of Sarov)
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To: Mrs. Don-o
And the Baptists I know, for instance,if gravely injured at the scene of a catasttrophe, wouldn't be looking for a final Confession to a clergyman, an anointing with blessed oils, or Viaticum.

But any Christian would welcome the prayers of another Christian, regardless of denomination in their time of peril and need.

22 posted on 09/12/2013 12:55:50 PM PDT by JimRed (Excise the cancer before it kills us; feed & water the Tree of Liberty! TERM LIMITS NOW & FOREVER!)
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To: JimRed
"But any Christian would welcome the prayers of another Christian, regardless of denomination in their time of peril and need."

AMEN TO THAT! It bears repeating. If I were gravely hurt, in peril, in shock, I would appreciate any nearby human being taking my hand and starting a prayer to Our Lord. And

I'm glad you pointed it out. In extremis, we don't quibble about theology: we are looking for a kindly touch, human or Divine.

23 posted on 09/12/2013 1:19:46 PM PDT by Mrs. Don-o ("Acquire a peaceful spirit, and thousands around you will be saved. " - St. Seraphim of Sarov)
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