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

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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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Hal Hopkins

There is room for rules in the church cemetary and I can respect that to an extent.  Blatant, antichristian, messages should definitely be banned.  But this was a 9 year-old child who wanted something he liked that was otherwise non-offensive. 

Turbo... TurboMom81

Rules are rules. The parents knew that when they bought the plot. They should have had him buried somewhere else that would not have an issue with a Soccer Ball.  Instead they ganged up and bullied the church into having their way. I'm sad the church felt forced to change there rules, I too am glad they did not break to the will of the parents.   It's just a headstone, what's it says or doesn't say has no affect on Jens, he's in heaven now.  Graves are for the loved ones left behind.

Maevelyn Maevelyn

in a way sadder way, this is like that trend of asking out celbs on youtube. What do you say? What was a private matter or at least a matter for the congregation (You know those people who go to the chruch and who have family members barried there as well) is now a world wide matter?

Maevelyn Maevelyn

@joe, I believe in the older Churches there are two issues -idolatry, which is placing a soccer club's logo where a religious emblem should go, on a hallowed place where people come to pray, I don't want go visit my grandmother's grave and look at a coke logo and historical preservation. While many modern churches have more relaxed rules, allowing portraits, pictures of favorite things along with religious symbolism, the older Church's are concerned with preserving the overall look of the church as a historical site as well. But I guess if it's intolerant and a child's dying wish, we should just paint soccer balls on the pyramids those are grave markers too. 

Gina Scarff

Ok, I agree that it could be classified as "bullying", but as a mother I can see why the family would want to honor his last request. As the church/cemetery is concerned, how hard would it be to slightly changed some million year old regulation? Just a simple add-in stating that requests must not be of an offensive manner or something like that. Besides, go look up "old laws" that are still in effect just in the US. Just cuz they are there, doesn't mean they are smart. Seriously. 9 or 90, sometimes a dying wish just should be honored.

nonmember avatar Danielle

Does anyone realize that this didnt happen in America? Yes the boys wish should be honored but this is a catholic church. They are very strict on keeping their regulations. The parents have been thru enough by losing their son to a horrible disease. The social media should not be involved!

Kyla Wootton

I have mixed feelings about this. Personally I think cemetaries are a waste of land, and an old tradition that coulld phased out. I don't see the problem having what ever you ant on your own headstone.

Lisa Werle

As time goes on, life and society ultimately grow and change. To me, that means that some of the rules may need to change along with it.

Angelica Medina

Having lived in Germany, tradition is very strong. The church should have stood their ground. Why not make a memorial to their son in his favorite park with a soccer logo on it? We Americans seem to think we are entitled to this and that and free speech, but Germans know their limitations. As a parent, I would not even ask for this to be on their stone, or I can just have a burial in a secular cemetary, even though there might not be one nearby. Or, why not put some flowers and the boy's favorite poster of the team on the stone after the burial? Of course it's not permanent, but whatever.

Jennifer B Kinghorn

Well its YOUR grave stone, its something YOU or YOUR family paid for so the church should get no say other than non offensive like sexual or obscenity. Its not like they are giving these graves away for free, you pay a lot for them. Anyone who thinks the church trumps the wish of a dying child should not speak up until their own child dies and perhaps then they will understand more.

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