The chaos that unfolded in the minutes and hours following two deadly explosions at the Boston Marathon earlier this month was widely reported. But one of the finer details that has been given little attention until now is the role — or lack thereof — that clergy played directly following the carnage.
A new report in the Wall Street Journal claims that faith leaders were very literally banned from the trauma scene. As individuals lay on the ground maimed and suffering from unimaginably-dire wounds, nearby clergy were not allowed to enter to give last rights or even to comfort the victims.
Considering the importance of faith leaders in the lives of millions of Americans, this might come as a bit of a surprise, especially when recalling the much-coveted societal positions that priests, pastors and other religious visionaries held in the past.
Was keeping them out an issue of religious leaders not being available, was it rooted in a purposeful regulation against their presence or was it simply an error made amid pure chaos? As the WSJ notes, the dearth of religious leaders on-site had nothing to do with 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.
Wykes noted that society’s views on clergy may be changing. While they were once considered a portion of the consortium of first responders on scene in emergencies, today, a collar simply doesn’t take priests where it once did.
But let’s pause for a moment and consider all of the factors at play.
Many would quickly assume that the failure to allow faith leaders at the Boston Marathon bombing is rooted in bias against religion, but reality may paint a divergent picture. In an already contentious scene — particularly one in which lives could still be in danger — there are security risks to allowing clergy inside.
To begin, the action, itself, could complicate the situation and lead to additional deaths. Plus, as WSJ notes, it’s entirely possible for someone to purchase a collar and to create fake credentials (i.e. people not intended to enter a scene could easily work their way in).
Rather than confront these issues, it’s certainly an easier choice to simply prevent faith leaders from entering scenes like the one at the Boston Marathon.
The Rev. Tom Carzon, rector of Our Lady of Grace Seminary, a local house of worship in Boston, told WSJ that he was “disappointed,” but that he understood why authorities wouldn’t let him and others tend to the wounded.
“Once it was clear we couldn’t get inside, we came back here to St. Clement’s, set up a table with water and oranges and bananas to serve people, and helped people however we could,” he said, noting that he was able to minister to runners and others who were in disbelief.
All of this is conjecture, of course, because it’s still unclear why religious leaders weren’t allowed on the scene. So far, the police department hasn’t responded to WSJ’s inquiries over its policies. WSJ concludes:
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—a sacrament that, to Catholics, bears enormous significance.
As the Rev. Richard Cannon, a priest in Hopkinton, Mass., where the marathon begins, said in a homily on the Sunday after the bombings, “When the world can seem very dark and confusing, the presence of a priest is a presence of hope.”
TheBlaze will be exploring the issue of clergy at emergency scenes in greater detail in the coming days. For now, take the poll, below, and let us know — do you think clergy should have been allowed at the Boston bombing scene?