Facebook Outcry Over Child's Gravestone Forces Church to Change Its Rules

Here's a sad story: a 9-year-old boy from Germany named Jens Pascal recently succumbed to a fatal brain tumor, and his family's church refused to honor his dying wish. The boy loved soccer, and he wanted a gravestone that displayed his passion for his favorite team. Before he passed, he asked his mother for a gravestone engraved with the soccer club's logo -- but the church denied the request, arguing that rules forbade non-Christian inscriptions and images.

The good news is that the church has now agreed to a compromise that honors Jens Pascal's wishes ... but the strange news is that they only changed their mind after a Facebook campaign spawned more than 100,000 angry messages condemning the church for being inflexible.

It makes you wonder, is it always a good thing when social media creates change? Or is does it just pressure organizations into reluctant decisions that are all about avoiding public outcry?


To be clear, I'm glad for the family that the church changed its mind. According to Pascal's mother, one of his last requests to her was for the customized headstone, and he told her about it just days before his death:

Mummy, when I die, I would like a gravestone with the club logo.

When the Church of Maria Heimsuchung in Dortmund balked at the idea, thousands of people -- including other soccer fans -- shared their outrage on a Facebook page titled "The Last Wish of Jens Pascal," calling the decision "outrageous" and telling the church to "not to be led by regulations, show us your heart!"

This Monday, the church said they had agreed to a compromise on the gravestone's design: the sculpture of a ball will be on the ground rather than on its top, and it will also feature a Christian symbol, probably a dove. They said in a statement,

It was never the intention of the church to stand in the way of the little boy's last wish. It was about reconciling the interests of the Church community, the cemetery rules and the interests of the parents of the child who died.

The thing is, I can see where they're coming from. I'm not religious but I can respect that churches, especially older European Catholic churches, have certain rules. I'm not particularly surprised to hear that there was a regulation about what is and is not allowed to appear on a gravestone, and while of course everyone wants a dying little boy to get his wish, well ... I'm not entirely sure it was fair to put that much public pressure on the church to make an exception.

So that's what I'm wondering, really: is it truly a win if you get your way via social media? I doubt this Facebook campaign really made the church examine their priorities and focus on doing right by the child, I'm sure it was more about wanting to make the increasingly unpleasant situation go away. When social media gives the public an outlet for creating so much noise and attention, does it sometimes put the target in an impossible position?

I sure don't have the answers, but I'm curious to know what you think. Do you believe this church did the right thing by changing its rules in the face of a Facebook-created angry mob?

Image via Infomatique/Flickr

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