When my wonderful wife first told me about the mother fighting a church's legal ban on her autistic son attendance at Catholic Mass, I worried the news coverage would be rather shallow. On Sunday, Dave Kolpack of the Associated Press was able to publish a longish well developed update of this ongoing story that has important Catholic theology at its heart. A reader had the following to say:
It's a decent story, but I noticed that it has quotes only from the mother about Sunday Mass obligations -- the reporter apparently did not ask the diocesan spokesperson about this theological question that is one of the issues at the heart of this dispute.
As is often unfortunately the case, the church official requesting the restraining order, Father Daniel Walz, did not respond to requests for comment. A church spokesman is briefly quoted about how the church's board tried to work with the family to find an accommodation to this difficult issue, such as a live video feed of Mass that could be watched in the church basement, but the family was not too thrilled with the idea to say the least:
Carol Race dismissed the church's suggestion that Adam watch a video feed in the church basement, saying that "does not have the same status as attending Mass. Otherwise we could all just sit home and watch it on TV and not bother to come in."
"It's considered a sin in the Catholic church not to attend Mass on Sundays and every holy day of obligation," she said. "And that's what this is about. I'm just trying to fulfill my obligations."
Adam is one of five children. The family's home in nearby Eagle Bend has separate study rooms so the other children can read books and use crayons that Adam could otherwise destroy.
I am no expert in Catholic theology, but even a life-long Presbyterian like myself will understand that attendance at Catholic Mass is quite significant. According to fellow-blogger Mark Stricherz, the mother quoted in the story is largely correct according to the Catechism of the Catholic Church:
A Catholic must "take part in the Divine Liturgy on Sundays and feast days and, prepared by the sacrament of Reconciliation, to receive the Eucharist at least once a year, if possible during the Easter season." (1389)
I understand what reporters go through when key sources won't talk, such as the case in this story. But there are ways around those barriers, such as seeking out official documents that are readily available. There is also an endless range of experts that would be more than willing to expound on the mother's comment regarding Mass attendance.
As one who has worked with autistic children in a church setting, I know this is a touchy issue for everyone involved. As much as this is a touchy private issue, when a family is willing to speak about it reporters ought to do their best to cover all the bases thoroughly.