A Tubby Tabby, Three Konekos, and a Life with Hello Kitty and Autism

No Sanctuary for Autism

From HerWord.com, published May 29, 2008:

“People were bringing little children to Jesus to have him touch them, but the disciples rebuked them. When Jesus saw this, he was indignant. He said to them, ‘Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. I tell you the truth, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.’ And he took the children in his arms, put his hands on them and blessed them” (Mark 10:13-16; Matthew 19:13-15; Luke 18:15-17)

It’s a half past two in the morning. I should be sleeping but my underpants are in a knot again (it feels like a wedgie, only bulkier). I was doing some late-night surfing when I chanced upon this news article about autism. “Minnesota Priest Bans Boy with Autism from Church,” the headlines scream, and I am downright furious.

Below is the entire news article from Blogger News Network.

“A Roman Catholic priest, Rev. Daniel Walz, has banned a 13-year-old boy with autism from his church in Minnesota, on the grounds of disruptive behaviour. According to news reports, the priest was worried that the boy’s behavior was “disruptive and dangerous,” according to court documents. The Catholic priest had filed a restraining order preventing the boy with autism from entering the Church of St.Joseph in Bertha, Minnesota.

“Carol Race, the mother of the autistic boy named Adam, found out about the restraining order when she tried to attend mass at the Church of St. Joseph, where she usually went on Sundays. Todd County Sheriff Pete Mikkelson appeared in her driveway to warn her she would be taken into police custody if she and her son entered St. Joseph.

“Race of Bertha, Minnesota in the United States, refuted the claims made by the priest and stated that Adam may be noisy at times, but they usually sit in the back of the church and try to stay quiet. She also said that the restraining order amounts to outright discrimination.

“Autism is a neuro-developmental disorder affecting over 60 million people around the World. According to the CDC, one in 150 children in the United States is on the autism spectrum.

“The United Nations General Assembly in New York recently launched the first-ever World Autism Awareness Day on 2nd April. UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon released a message on World Autism Awareness Day - he paid tribute to the courage of children with autism and their families, who strive every day “to confront the disability with a powerful combination of determination, creativity and hope.”

“In his message marking the World Autism Awareness Day, Mr. Ban Ki-moon stressed the need to build enabling environments for children with disabilities so they can prosper as future members of their communities, citizens of their countries and as fully-fledged members of the global community.

“Campaigners are calling on Pope Benedict XVI to make a statement on autism and to provide instructions to the church on how to reach out to children and adults with disabilities - including autism and Asperger’s syndrome.”

Reading this brought me back to one of Mr. Brown’s posts about his daughter Faith  written in January of this year. He asked then, “When will Faith find her place in this society? When will she find her place in God’s House? How do we plan to accept kids like her for who they are, in our families, in our communities, and in our places of worship?” Sadly, like him, I too am at a loss.

I have a son Adam’s age, and like Adam, my Alphonse is severely autistic. He is noisy and loud; he shouts and screeches, even in public. He is hyperactive. He likes to jump and pace and gallop. While he may be a lot shorter than Adam’s six feet, Alphonse certainly can pack a wallop.

The first time we brought him to church to worship, we were met with curious stares and loud mutterings of complaints. The choir was singing an upbeat praise song and Alphonse seemed to enjoy it, judging by his frantic jumping and the laughter and shouts that came from him. There was a continuous stream of hushing around us, and one old woman, a church lay worker, finally decided to do something about it. She went up to our faces to say “Shouting is not allowed in church.” Then she shifted her gaze to my son and said rather loudly, “Be quiet, young man.” Alphonse simply laughed aloud some more.

I explained to everyone who would care to listen that my son is autistic. I asked for understanding and tolerance, and, if my memory serves me right, perhaps even apologized for him being the way he is. Some asked to be enlightened some more; others simply sulked in quiet irritation. A few we had to stare down till they looked away. (My older son Alex has perfected what he calls “The Evil Eye, ” which has as its components the makings of a bushy unibrow coupled with a big, buggy, insane look.) The old woman disappeared in the midst of my explanation. In the end, while others still gawked and stared awkwardly, they all stopped complaining.

In truth, such experiences are hardly new to us. They are more the rule than the exception, as these days, we still struggle to secure a place in society for our son. You might almost say we have gotten a little immune against these experiences of bigotry and intolerance. But to experience it in places of worship deeply hurts us as parents. If our children cannot find acceptance and tolerance in church, where would they ever find these? If they are not welcome in their Father’s house, where else would they be?

Not wishing to cast aspersions on the motives of others, I looked at the reasons for Father Walz to deny a person his right to worship. Allegedly, Adam had not only been disruptive, but violent as well.

But you know what? My son can be that way, too. And given what we know of our son, given what we have learned from our years of living with and loving him, I still feel that he should NEVER ever be deprived of his chance to worship, never mind that they say he doesn’t even understand. He doesn’t need to; his Father does.

There are other ways to address this issue, ways that are more humane, even more Christlike. Father Walz, above all, should know. Christ’s Church has never turned anyone away, certainly not the “least” of its people, the socially marginalized, the sick, the disabled. That we have reached a point where even the most “accepting” of all sanctuaries would no longer provide refuge for our children gives me little hope for the future of my son and all children like him.

And this leads me to even more questions. When we allow the banning of autistic persons from church, you have to ask soon, where does it end? Do we start banning them from restaurants, too? From malls? From streets? From life?

O, Lord, help us.


I wrote this last week but got only published this week. In the interim, there have been many things written about this. Today, when the issue has become less volatile and I have had ample time to think and mull over this, my stand remains the same. The Church should always be a sanctuary for the weakest of our people and at no point should it have to choose which ones are let in and which ones are not. I would think that in a society whose strongest virtues are liberty and equality, there should be no room for fear, ignorance, and prejudice.

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