Following the Boston Marathon bombing on April 15, reports have come out revealing that clerics who rushed on site to minister to the injured and dying were held back by authorities due to security risks.
The Rev. Tom Carzon, rector of Our Lady of Grace Seminary, who was one of the clergy who rushed to the scene of the bombing, revealed last week: "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," as reported by The Wall Street Journal.
Some commentators questioned why clergy are no longer considered first respondents, when in the past spiritual assistance in times of tragedy was vital.
"Have we now decided that clergy are not first responders, that only physical life is worth saving, that spiritual life is a private affair that has no relevance in the midst of a terrorist attack? One might say that priests can pray on their own outside the police cordon, with no actual tangible contact, but for a Catholic, whose tradition is sacramental, i.e., symbolic and physical, such disembodied ministry is alien," John M. Grondelski, a former associate dean of the School of Theology at Seton Hall University in South Orange, N.J., wrote for First Things.
Even though they were not allowed the type of access they would have liked, Boston priests still helped out with what they could. The Rev. Carzon noted that some runners and bystanders who had witnessed the blasts and helped the injured sought out the support of clergy.
"He came over, and said, 'You're a priest, I need to talk to someone, I need to talk,' and he was able to pour out some of the story of what had happened," Carzon said of one of the runners, who appeared to be in shock after the bombings that killed three and injured over 200.
"Then there was an off-duty firefighter who was there as a spectator, and he, too, got pushed out of the perimeter, and he ended up here to pray. There was a feeling of helplessness we had when we couldn't get close. But doing the little that we could – putting out a table with water and fruit, being there – I realize how much that 'little' was able to do."
Authorities are still putting together the pieces of the puzzle behind the attack, and they have managed to identify two suspects in the case – 19-year-old Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, who was arrested and is in custody, and his 26-year-old brother Tamerlan Tsarnaev, who was shot down dead after a gunfight with police.
Officials have also questioned the brothers' mother, Zubeidat Tsarnaev, who admitted Tamerlan was likely influenced by a radical version of Islam.