Steeple of Cathedral-Basilica of St. AugsutineLast week ABC News had a report about Adam Race, an autistic boy, who was banned from attending Church of St. Joseph in Bertha, Minnesota. Apparently Adam had become so disruptive that the church considered his attendance a threat to others. Rev. Daniel Walz claims that accommodations were made or at least offered to the family. Now, a restraining order has been issued preventing Adam from attending services. The Races insists that no accommodations were offered and that the boy was not dangerous. While I am not personally involved, this incident has really bothered me. I have been processing the situation and formulating my response all week.

There is something about banning a person from church that just does not seem right. A church is supposed to be a place of refuge and worship for all. I have worked with teenagers long enough to know that sometimes it may be necessary, however a court order does seem excessive. I am just not comfortable with the thought of banning someone from church. Well, that is really not the point of this post anyway.

Growing up in a ministers home I have attended church my entire life and there as always been at least one disabled person who attended my church. As I reflected on the Races situation I begin thinking about observations I have made from my own interactions with disabled congregants.

Several years ago we had some friends at the church we were attending whose son was developmentally disabled son. Matthew* enjoyed attending church. It was not uncommon to here Matthew loudly proclaim, “Yeah! God!” or to cheer when our pastor came to the pulpit. When was the last time you saw someone be truly excited when the pastor started preaching? He had a desire to worship God. How many times do you are you really anticipate receiving a word from God?

Theo* is a pre-teen at our church who has Autism. Like Matthew, Theo loves attending church. He approaches worship service with much gusto. Theo loves to sing and makes a joyful noise. While some may consider Theo and Matthew disruptive I do not. Actually, I believe that both boys take a scriptural approach to worship. To them church is about God and not doing the right thing, pleasing others or appearing good. I have thought a lot about my own reasons for attending and what I do during Services. Am I really there to have a meaningful encounter with God or have other things gotten in my way?

A church is or at least should be a community of faith. In all communities diversity can or should enhance and enrich the community. It is only through interacting with those who are different from ourselves that we learn acceptance and hopefully learn to see past the differences to person. It is very easy to see only a person’s disability and not the person inside. For more on my thoughts on labels and disabilities read this.

*Names changed

37 thoughts on “Banned from Church

  1. An action such as this certainly does not show the love of God. In my experience, those are treated thusly are seldom active in church again. My dad and Grandmother were asked to stop coming to a church when Dad was a child because my alcoholic grandfather went dancing. The only time Dad went to church after that was for a funeral or wedding. He considered all church people to be hypocrites. I had to go behind his back to be baptised and was forbidden to mention Christ in our home. He died and I had no idea what his relationship with Christ was at that time. He would not discuss it. Such action within in a church has eteranl implications. What kind of church “disciplines” a disabled dhild anyway?


  2. Hi there. I’ve appreciated your comments and input on the post I did about this, so shall do the same for you.

    Based on the examples you gave, I agree and were it the same type of situation, I’d be outraged at the Church like many of my (and your) readers were are are. I would love to see someone at Mass who is so inspired by God. At our Church, my neighbour has a son with Down’s Syndrome as well as Asperger’s and he is a joy to watch. He is an altar server and watching he and his family truly is a blessing for us. He is not, like Adam though, 6’3″ and over 200 lbs. and he is not violent in actions. That’s the difference. The reasons for the Church choosing to take the action they did are because according to their reports, Adam doesn’t “disrupt” by being vocal like the examples you gave from your situation, Adam has spit, hit people, urinated in church, is rough with other people and has run outside entering vehicles and such. Because of his size and the difficulty in getting him back under control when these things happen, that is why the Church took this step. According to them, the family refuses anything other than allowing things to go on just as they are.

    I don’t think it’s fair to compare autistic children unless they are showing the same behaviours. According to the church, Adam’s family has been welcome there up to the point where it has gotten out of the ability to maintain a safe atmosphere for everyone.

    I’ve made no secret at my own blog, that I feel that the family holds more responsibility to be less determined to have their way and more determined to do what’s best for everone. Being a Christian means we don’t just think of our own needs and having a disabled child doesn’t excuse us from that responsibility. It doesn’t mean that we get a free pass to place our needs above those of everyone else. I also place responsibility on the Church, to bring Jesus to the family. Again, the example cited by the previous commenter is also not comparable because in Adam’s case, he presents real danger to others and in the commenter’s grandfather’s case, his presence didn’t present danger.

    As I said in my own post.. all those who insist the church is wrong to suggest that coming to the public worship isn’t working anymore, should ask themselves if they would feel the same way if someone with SARS wanted to attend their church and sit next to them. I think people should think about this black and white idea they have of attending worship. If I had SARS.. I’d NOT go to Mass and endanger anyone else… but I’d expect my church to arrange to bring Jesus to me.


  3. Lynn,

    You are correct. I don’t disciplining the child is what should be done. It does sound like the family and church needs helping dealing the the boys behavior.


    You are correct the examples I have given are different than Adam. My focus was more on observations I have made.

    Accommodation that a church makes for disabilities must be based upon the needs of the person. My dad was a polio survivor and was physically disabled. The only accommodation he required was that the church be accessible. At one time there was a boy with serious behavior issues that attended our church. For VBS, Sunday School, etc, he required his own teacher with training in handling behavior. Accommodations, made for those with visual or hearing impairments are quite different as well. The accommodation made by a church need to be appropriate for the situation and person.

    I am in no way condemning the church. It does sound like that more of the blame lies with the family. It sounds like the church is doing the best they know how to do. Also, both the church and family need education in handling the boy’s disability.


  4. both the church and family need education in handling the boy’s disability.


    I’m not sure if the comment at my blog signed by Carol Race is really her, but she makes some other claims about how their family’s been treated. I’m not sure unless more information is released, that I want to decide for sure what I think other than agreeing on the comment of yours I quoted. I think they all need help dealing with this. Help of different kinds for the different parties involved, but they are all in need of a better way to handle this.

    Perhaps as someone who understands the situation and works in the area, you should write an open letter to the family with some suggestions? 😉


  5. Her comments seem consistent of someone who is living with a severely disabled child. That doesn’t mean it is really her but that it is believable. If you read more of my writings here or from the writing page you will discover that I have a concern for the rights of the disabled. Personally, I just want to be treated as an equal. Of course, there is a big difference between my disability (dysgraphia & dyslexia) and Adam’s. I need very little accommodation to be successful in life and none to attend church. Even I have had to realize that due to the severity of my learning disability some dreams are probably not realistic.


  6. They banned him for being overly enthusiastic?!

    If I heard that in the news, I would have assumed the child might have been destructive of the church itself or have had the potential to harm others. Maybe the people in the Church of St Joseph need to stop being so pompous!


  7. Paperdreamer,

    Adam was banned for behavior that was dangerous to himself & others. My examples were children who weren’t as extreme. I was sharing observations I have made from my own experiences. The boys I mentioned Matthew & Theo are overly enthusiastic.


  8. Fascinating story, Dee – thanks for writing about it! 🙂

    Honestly, given that the boy appears to be quite dangerous to others, including young children and the elderly, I don’t know quite what to think about this. It’s an extreme situation, no doubt about that. Can’t they leave the boy with a sitter while they go to church, or else alternate going themselves so someone can be at home with him while the rest of the family attends church? I really don’t think God would hold it against them or their son, even if their religion believes that not going to church is a sin.

    I’m not sure what accommodations should be made, but the priest is saying he did try to make accommodations, and I read also that the priest had even offered to perform Mass at their home. However, it appears that the family declined those (in my opinion, reasonable) accommodations. From what I understand, Mass at home is not unusual for Catholics who, due to illness or disability, cannot attend scheduled Mass.


  9. ENM,

    It does sound like the family needs help with their son’s behavior. It is not a matter of what the family wants but what is best for the son. The family may be facing some very rough years unless something is done ASAP.


  10. Hey,

    I’ve been following this fairly closely. As a Seminarian for the AD of Santa Fe I had to stop and ask what is reasonable. From all the articles I’ve read, so pro St. Joseph, many more pro-Race’s, they all say the same thing. The church offered reasonable accommadations but were rejected by the Races.

    One of those accommadations was a video feed via closed circuit so that the family could watch the mass, in another part of the building and have the Eucharist brought down to them. The family rejected this say “it wasn’t the same.” This is where I made my decision. The family’s understanding of the Mass obligation is errant. When the priest, Father Walz in this case, offered the accommadation, it qualified as a Pastoral dispensation. The result the CC feed qualifies as being in full attendance.

    With that in mind I read the ABC article further whereby the family’s own admission that when the son, who is prone to anxiety attacks, becomes agitated, “several people are required to sit on him and restrain his limbs with strips of felt.” Decidedly not good.

    This leads me to the conclustion that probly, and not becacuse of my carreer and affilliation, that there is more credibility to the account read into the court than the Races are willing to admit.

    While it is unfortunate, and i’m never pro banning anyone from the grace of God, it became necessary as a result of the families 1) misunderstanding of the Catechism and 2) disreguard to their sons size and behavior as they pose a danger to teh Eucharistic community.




  11. Elaine,

    No Jesus wouldn’t ban the boy. Based on the Gospels he would heal the boy. With that said I do not think the church was wrong in not allowing the boy to come to church. I think the court order was wrong because the the church should not get the state involved in church matters. I do not agree with “banning” people from church but sometimes a person’s behavior or actions require drastic measures.


    several people are required to sit on him and restrain his limbs with strips of felt.”

    This statement indicates that the family really needs help. This really isn’t an acceptable way to handle his behavior. They need to get a handle on his behavior before he becomes seriously dangerous. Anxiety attacks and agitation are not uncommon with autism.

    Also, what degree is an AD? I am not familiar with that one.



  12. Kudos to the church! The “child” in question is 225 lbs and six feet tall. We are talking about a 13 year old who is taller than and weighs more than most fully grown men. He has no control over his actions. Other reports have stated that he runs about erratically, spits and urinates in the church. Should the church wait until he does harm someone? So when is the right time to take more drastic actions–after he has harmed someone? Other news reports also state that the problem has been a long running one and that the church has offered numerous solutions.

    The mother has contended that it is a sin for her not to attend, yet the church has offered her–what is it–dispensation (?) because her son is unable to attend. The mom seems to just want to make a point.

    I get that her son is disabled, but he is also dangerous. If he were 4′6″ and 100 lbs, few people would notice or care.


  13. Also one other note

    The Parish has offered them help through both Catholic Charities and Caritas Social SErvices and the family refused there as well. According the report i read, I believe it was the St Paul paper, they refused saying the church had no right to interfere with their parenting “style”



  14. Glad to hear the church has tried to help. The Race’s case appears to be an example of a family that makes unrealistic expectations for a disabled child. Professionally, I have encountered parents that needed help but were unable or unwilling to admit they needed help.


  15. My problem with this story is that this is yet another person who has taken their “entitlements” to extremes. It is unfortunate, but a reality, that in this world you you cannot do everything you want all the time, even if you feel entitled to do so. I have to believe that a church would only go to such drastic lengths out of necessity, and that even the most extreme catholics wouldn’t do that unless it was necessary. They key for me is that the church says it has offered accommodations and the family says that’s not true. Again, what’s the motivation for the church to lie? Why would they do that?

    If the “kid”, and I use that term liberally due to his size, is making such a ruckous that the church wants him out, then he should be out. Frankly, if this has caused such an argument between the family and the church that’s it’s drawn national attention, why would you even want to go back to that church? Sounds like someone is just wanting the media attention for their “plight” and the problem could have been resolved just by alternating family members to stay home with the boy instead of using God to further their cause.

    Sometimes, we just can’t have our way and do whatever we want. In our litigious society we’ve lost the ability to just get mad and get over it, now we fight for rights and entitlements and to hell with everyone else! has this family considered that the other however-many parishioners are just as entitled to a quiet, pleasant service? This is not about autism.


  16. I beleive most of the responses are from people you know nothing or very little about autism. I also think that most are to heavenly for their own earthly good. The comment about the Races wanting to return to the church that ask them to leave, not only would I not return, I would change to another denomination. If all the info there is has been released and read, I’m ashamed for the church and it’s leaders.


  17. Tracy,
    It could be a case of the mother wanting attention. It could also be that the mother is struggling to handle the situation herself. Living with a severely disable child can be very stressful.


    As for responses by people knowing about Autism at least 2 have mentioned having experience with some form of disabilities. It does appear that Adam’s behavior is reaching the point where he is a danger to himself and others. From what I have read it sounds like the parents do not really have a grasp on how to handle his behavior and are only treating the symptoms rather than finding strategies that would help reduce or ease the problems. The church did take drastic measure however it also appears they attempted to provide a solution. Mrs. Race wants for her son to attend church like other 13 yr-olds. Due to his disabilities this is difficult if not impossible. Has she or others stopped to consider what is best for Adam? How does attending service benifit him? What modifications or accommodation could be made that would me better meet his needs?


  18. Aaaah, I was wondering how long before the Good Dr. Jeff Price showed up. I’ve seen him on several boards faulting the church for its lack of compassion and sensitivity.

    As a seminarian, I am constantly thinking about this issue. I’m even intending to do more and submit as part of my requirements for the degree portion of ordination, a research paper on reasonable accomadations. I have talked with my Archbishop here in the Diocese where I serve, the Vicar General as well as my priest back home in the east. We all come to the same thing. This is extreme but the good Race family only want one thing, unlimited unrestricted access for the boy.

    This is not possible given the severity of his disability. The church rarely ever asks people to not attend, let alone bans them.

    So my question, Mr. Price, what would be a reasonable accomadation to account for the safety of the parishioner and meet the needs of the boy?


  19. Phineasjay,

    I have attended services with severely disabled people of different ages. One of the things I have been pondering is what impact does the style of worship have on the occurrence of out breaks. I think maybe part of the problem is the way worship service is done in a Catholic church. It is more of sit and listen quietly type service and often with larger crowds.

    Our denomination developed programs for the disabled many years ago. Our style of worship has more interaction and times when singing loudly is appropriate. It is not just a matter of accommodation by allowing him to attend but also what meets his needs. What benefits he is getting from the service. Is he able to learn anything? Maybe an extended session type program that is similar to Sunday school with a brief lesson and lots of hands on activities would be better suited to his needs. Neither the church or the mother has addressed the issue from meeting his needs. Not just meeting an obligation to attend services.

    Essentially a worship service is a time when we have an encounter with God.


  20. My earlier comment was more toungue in cheek toward Jeff Price. He has been very comdemnatory of Fr. Walz’s last ditch effort to ensure safety in the worship environment on the abcnews webpage. I have chosen not to post there b/c its very rabid and down to ad hominem level attacks and i’m not going to deign his remarks with comment.

    But, yeah, the mass is where we do encounter God, and for Catholics in a very real sense. We believe that the communion host, throught the grace of God and the power of the Holy Spirit, becomes the body and blood of Christ, called transsubstantiation. And yes, sometimes, I fall asleep in mass, well not the lifeteen mass, I have a trap set 10 feet to my left. So how do we meet the needs of Adam.

    Simply put. I don’t know. First of all, because of his disablility, for him to recieve communion is Canonically inappropriate, he doesn’t understand its divine natures, so how can he receive it? Second, there are sunday school programs. Religious Education, formerly CCD happens in every parish. But where would you put Adam. B/c of his size, i would be reticent to put him with a group of kids his age let alone with a group at his level of functioning. Second, CCD teachers are not trained to handle the type behavioral issues that he presents. Third, as I read more thats coming out of St Paul, working in the Archbishop’s office ive seen a lot coming from St. Paul to the UCCB, the situation is graver than the news is reporting. The church that the family is attending now, has already started receiving safety complaints from parishioner and the Bishop is being called on to intercede, I don’t think the family wants it any other way but unbridled access. I referred my posting on canon law from earlier to the Archbishop of my diocese and he refered it to St Paul.

    But the biggest thing remains Carol Races attitude. According to St. Paul, she’s “recalcitrant and insufferable.” Most of her former priests have described her as “backward” “stubborn” and that “she bears an attitude of being more Catholic than the Holy Father.” So I’m getting more and more frustrated by the issue.

    I would love to see this kid in mass, but the family seems to be his biggest hurdle. They refuse help offered by the diocese, allow the boys behavior to become an explosive issue, and then cry foul when someone say enough.

    just my 17.5 cents


  21. As for classes, for the boy it would mostly need to be something tailored to for his needs. Also, workers would be need to be trained. It is very likely there are church members who have training and would be willing to help.


  22. As we follow this story we are hearing more of what happened or did not happen. What occured years ago versus something that occured recently. Let’s make sure all has been heard and all is fact before we start condemning Adam. Personally I feel most people are already uncomfortable with autustic children so most decisions are based on fear. When you are afraid of something you either run or have the fear removed.


  23. I have not condemened Adam. What I have said, based on Canon Law and the Catechism, is that b/c of his autism, Adam is expemted from the sacramental requirement of weekly receipt of the Eucharist. In fact, b/c he doesn’t understand the nature of the Eucharist he sins in its reception. The mother, supposedly a devout catholic and theologian, should already know this. So her argument that its a sin for him to recieve it his null, in fact by making him recieve it she is causing him to sin.

    I have no fear of autism. I also understand that the courts probably did not as has been asserted, just take the priest’s word. There is required, in order to recieve the order, a level of evidence that these things did happen.

    I worked in law enforcement before becoming going into the ordained ministry, so I have a pretty good understanding of how that works.

    Its tragic YES. But to exculpate the family totally and blame the church of fear and hate mongering is counter productive.


  24. Jeff,

    Yes, many people are uncomfortable with Autism. That is not the case for me and none of my comments are intended to condemn Adam. He is not responsible for his actions. I am concerned about the way his outburst are being handled. His family needs to serious help with Adam before he becomes a serious threat to himself and others.

    Cannon law and catechism are mans attempts to reach God. Sin is not based upon either. Rather sin is not living up to God’s standards. We are condemned by our own sins (See Romans). It is through the redemptive work of Christ on the cross that we can be reconciled to God. In Adam’s case his a essentially a child and has not reached the age of accountability.


  25. Wow, I can’t believe how much misinformation there is. In our new parish, which we have been attending since May, there have not been any incidents whatsoever that could even be construed as “dangerous” to anyone! I ask the pastor on a weekly basis how things are going with regard to any complaints or concerns people of the parish have. Complaints have been very few in number. As to any complaints to the diocese, in fact, there was one person who made a false complaint. This same person was seen by my daughters intentionally trying to provoke Adam to have behavioral problems during mass by making odd noises. My daughters saw him actually watch Adam’s reaction as he would periodically make the noise, then stop, then make it again. He has been dealt with by the pastor. You need to understand that we are dealing with small towns in a very rural part of the country. The whole case against Adam has more to do with people who want to fully control both Bertha school, St. Joseph’s Church, and the community. I am a threat to that because I will accept that only their families have any dignity in our community. they think their kids can urinate on other people’s kids in the shower rooms at school. My oldest boy stood up against that and I fully backed him up. this was a tradition that went for at least a decade or two. and this is just a for example. It isn’t hard to point out someone’s size and the fact that he has a mental disability to get other people to be afraid of him. this crowd manipulation went on for a good year or two before the restraining order. I have/had many supporters within the parish who felt inspired by our family in their faith. In fact, there was an elderly woman who sat next to us every Sunday as she was terminally ill with cancer until she was no longer strong enough to come to mass. I had asked her why she insisted on sitting so close to Adam and she replied it was spiritually very meaningful to her to do so.
    Phineeas, sorry if I got the name wrong, but if you are so concerned and interested in the story, don’t you think it important to learn all the facts to be sure they are true? First of all, it is the diocese of St. Cloud, it has nothing to do with St. Paul, the capital of MN. Secondly, I have proof in writing that Fr. Dan could not have offered accomodations as he claims because he says in writing he would not meet with me without a third person present. Nor would he speak with me on the phone. I openly challenge him to prove that accomodations were offered. he was forced by the congregation after many months of the congregation being manipulated by a few people in town who felt their “rule” being threatened. they never expected national attention, nor did they expect it to become legal. They just thought they could pressure us to leave town, and the whole thing got out of hand for them. In fact, the 8 Sundays before the RO, Adam was perfectly behaved in Mass, sitting, standing, kneeling, no noises, no distractions. This was a very inconvenient fact for them, but they had decided what they wanted to do and went ahead and did it despite Adam’s continued dramatic improvement. The pastor of our current parish is very supportive of our family and is working to help the parish “get over” the fears brought about by the massive gossip. I challenge you to get the facts. You can look me up in the phone book. I’d be happy to talk. It’s important, especially for clergy, if you wish to be one of them, not to discuss real life situations based on stories without getting the facts. If what you claim is going on with your A-Bp and others, it is truly a sad day in the Church. Gossip is always wrong, no matter who does it. I am willing to discuss my situation with any member of the hierarchy whatever.


  26. Carol,

    I am more concerned about what benefit is Adam getting from the services? I have wondered if maybe another worship style that allows for more interaction would be better?

    Also, some of the things I have heard from interviews about the way Adam’s behavior is dealt with concerns me. Do you have a good support system and the help that Adam needs?

    For more about on views about disabilities please read this.


  27. Adam has on a number of occasions insisted on coming to Mass when I had wanted him to stay home. For example, I was going to take the other children to midnight Christmas Mass, then go again in the morning with Adam, so he would be at a shorter Mass and at the usual time to attend rather than late at night. He insisted on getting dressed and coming with us. He behaved much better than his usual that day because he seemed aware that this is the reason I almost didn’t take him. On Aug 15th this year, I made a mistake in reciting the gloria. I got one line ahead of everyone and Adam looked at me and laughed at me for my error. His understanding is far above his ability to express himself.
    Furthermore, his behaviors can come from a variety of reasons including having an undiagnosed sinus infection or ear infection. Sometimes he sticks things in his ears which becomes uncomfortable and he can’t get them out. His ability to tell us what is bothering him is almost non existent. However, he will end up with behaviors or anxiety noises and it is up to us to find out within a myriad of things as to what is wrong. sometimes we can figure it out within an hour or so, sometimes weeks or even months. Overstimulation is a cause for behavior problems in autism, but is certainly not the only cause. It’s not that simple.
    and yes, we do have all the help we need. People do not understand the complexity of the issues he or we are dealing with. I have another son with autism who is mostly recovered. His special ed teachers can track his progress from preschool to grade 10 and are always very impressed. Some of them have even asked my advice on other students (without of course divulging their names).


  28. Carol,
    People do not understand the complexity of the issues he or we are dealing with.
    While I do not know your situation, I have a good idea of many of the issues you are dealing with. If you read much of my blog you will know that I am an advocate for those with disabilities. I


  29. Yes, it should be but unfortunately there are many who are not welcome in our church either they have disabilities, poor, don’t dress right or just don’t fit our target audience.


What's on your mind?

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s