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Mother fights church’s order to keep son out of services

By Dave Kolpack

Associated Press

LONG PRAIRIE, Minn. — A woman who says her autistic child should be allowed to attend church services put her priest on the stand during a court hearing Tuesday.

The Church of St. Joseph in the central Minnesota town of Bertha recently obtained a restraining order against 13-year-old Adam Race, claiming the boy was disruptive and dangerous at Mass.

His mother, Carol Race, is fighting the restraining order. She represented herself at the hearing, and questioned the Rev. Daniel Walz for about 30 minutes.

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The Roman Catholic priest acknowledged that he did not witness all of the alleged disruptions, but said he believes they happened.

Judge Sally Ireland Robertson took the matter under advisement and said she would rule later, and that it’s unlikely her ruling will be completed before next week.

Afterward, Race said she was disappointed that she wasn’t allowed to question the priest about his credibility. She said she had been coached by a couple of lawyers, but she spent much of the hearing checking notes after dozens of objections were sustained. On several occasions Robertson reworded the questions or urged Race to stay on point.

Walz said in his affidavit for obtaining the restraining order that Adam — who already is more than 6 feet tall and weighs more than 225 pounds — had urinated and spit during Mass. The priest wrote that Adam bolts unexpectedly from church and has nearly knocked over people. On Easter Sunday, he said, Adam ran from the church after Mass, started up someone else’s car and revved the engine.

Under questioning from Race, Walz said many of the incidents were reported to him by parishioners.

"So again, you are making a sworn statement to something you did not witness?" Race asked.

"Correct," Walz said.

Walz showed little emotion throughout his testimony except when Robertson asked him about noises that Adam allegedly made during services.

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"Are you asking me to imitate him?" Walz said with a chuckle. When the judge said no, he said, "Good."

The hearing was scheduled for 90 minutes, but took nearly 2 1/2 hours. Race said she planned to call more than a dozen witnesses, but the judge narrowed it down to four.

One of the witnesses, church member Don Halbrehder, said he regularly sits in the pew next to the Races. He said he wasn’t bothered by Adam’s behavior and that Adam’s parents sometimes bound their son’s hands or feet during services, which Walz had complained was disruptive.

"I never even knew they did it," Halbrehder said of the restraints.

Asked about Adam’s noises, Halbrehder laughed and said: "Father Dan talks loud enough. He’s over the top of everyone else."

Jon Freer, a behavioral consultant from Baxter, said he observed Adam at a service before the restraining order was issued. Freer said Adam was not dangerous or disruptive.

"Overall, Adam did a fine job that day," Freer said.

Walz’ lawyer, Thomas Jenson, did not call any witnesses.

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Before adjourning court, Robertson said: "Have a good day. Go in peace."

Walz said before the hearing he would not comment, and Jenson was not available afterward.

But Race said afterward that she would return to church if the restraining order is lifted.

"I will go back and I will attempt to make peace with everyone," she said.

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