Priest Bans Autistic Boy From Church

Mom told she'd be sent to jail if she brought autistic son to church.

ByABC News
January 8, 2009, 12:14 AM

BERTHA, Minn. <br> May 19, 2008 &#151; -- A Catholic priest has filed a restraining order against the parents of a severely autistic 13-year-old boy in an effort to keep him from attending the church in Bertha on Sundays.

The Rev. Daniel Walz alleges that Adam Race's unruly behavior endangers others who attend the Church of St. Joseph.

Race's parents have ignored the restraining order, calling it discriminatory, and Carol Race, Adam's mother, was cited by police and is due to appear in court on Monday for violating the order.

"He said that we did not discipline our son. He said that our son was physically out of control and a danger to everyone at church," Carol Race said. "I can't discipline him out of his autism, and I think that's what our priest is expecting."

Carol Race said it all started last June, when Walz and a church trustee visited the Races at their home address the behavior of Adam, who stands taller than six feet and weighs more than 225 pounds.

In an affidavit, Walz said the church "explored and offered many options for accommodations that would assist the family while protecting the safety of parishioners. The family refused those offers of accommodation."

Carol Race said the family of seven, which has attended St. Joseph since 1996, typically sat in the cry room or in the back pew to keep avoid disrupting the services and did not hear a complaint from the parishioners until Walz showed up at their home in June.

Even after the restraining order was served, the family continued going to the church and would leave during the closing hymn to avoid contact with others, Carol Race said.

The Diocese of St. Cloud issued a statement saying the petition was filed "as a last resort out of a growing concern for the safety of parishioners and other community members due to disruptive and violent behavior on the part of that child."

Walz said the boy's behavior worsened over time, telling authorities that Adam has been "extremely disruptive and dangerous" since last summer.

According to Walz, Adam struck a child during mass, nearly knocks elderly parishioners over when he hastily exits the church, spits and sometimes urinates in church and fights when he is being restrained.

He also one time assaulted a girl by pulling her onto his lap and, during Easter mass, ran to the parking lot and got into two vehicles, starting them and revving the engine, Walz alleged.

"There were people directly in front of the car who could have been injured or killed if he had put the car in gear," Walz wrote.

Adam's parents have to sit on him and sometimes tie his hands and feet to get control of him, Walz wrote.

Carol Race has an answer to each complaint.

She said her son makes spitting faces but doesn't spit and acknowledged he has occasional problems with incontinence. She says that she and her husband sit on Adam because their weight calms him down, which is why he pulled the girl onto him.

She also said they do use soft straps to bind Adam's hands and feet on occasion because it calms him, as does the revving sound of engines, which is why he started the cars.

Some disability advocates are getting behind the Races.

"It's unfathomable and concerns me that we've taken a situation with special needs and we're making it into the criminal matter," said Brad Trahan, the founder of the RT Autism Awareness Foundation in Rochester, who has asked the bishop of St. Cloud to rescind the restraining order.

Carol Race just hopes the ugly back-and-forth doesn't tarnish the image of the church.

"The church isn't bad," she said. "But it's what some individuals do within the church."

(Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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