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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Sherzine M

My opinion is that the church inappropriately caved to what was essentially bullying. 


I'm completely sympathetic to the mother who wanted to honor her son's last/dying wish but there are rules in place for a certain reason. At the same time, I understand that rules can be bent under certain circumstances. I just feel that a precedent has been set and this opens the door for everyone to start requesting unreligious or un-Christian images on their gravestones and without fail, they will cite this situation as reason why they should be allowed to. Granted a soccer ball or logo is fairly innocuous but what if this was a child who was in love with something else...e.g. Twilight...can you imagine walking by a gravestone in a "Christian" cemetery with a depiction or epitaph about vampires? I don't think there was an easy solution to this problem, but I'm not sure the Church's response is appropriate.

nonmember avatar MO Mom

Yes I believe the church did the right thing. A 9 year old boy died. He barely had a chance to live. All he wanted was something he loved put on HIS grave. That's not too much to ask.

Melissa Mattner List

Facebook "campaigns" are just bullying compaigns.

Joe Colehour

Religions were born out of ignroance and intollerance so it is no wonder that most of their regulations and rules are ignorant and intollerant. Did FB people do the right thing? Who knows. All I know is that ignroance and intollerance usually does not cave unles somone makes it. I think people were well within their rights to stand up for this boy and his family. Religion should have no monopoly on the living or the dying or the dead. The family should have the right to make all the rules when it comes to what goes where on what stone and when. It's their loved one; not the church.

Vanessa Q Levesque

Well yes the boy had the right to make the wish... and if the parents were that intent on *honoring* that wish, they should have chosen a burial place that had a more lax code of what and what can not be placed on graves.

If we say that it was right because the poor boy was 9 and barely had a chance to live... what if he was 11? 16? 23? When is too old to impose pity on everyone?

Rules are rules. Again, the parents could have chosen another cemetery. By choosing this one, they were choosing the rules as well.

I extend my deepest condolences to the parents, as a mother of a seven-year-old, I can't (and don't want to) imagine something similar happening to me, but capitulation is nothing more than that, and that is exactly what this is.

I'm sad to see they bent. I'm glad to see they did not break.

Vanessa Q Levesque

@ Joe- Religion has nothing to do with it. People have a choice where they want their loved ones to be buried. Clearly these parents were religious, or they would not have chosen a church's cemetery to bury their child.

And by the way, the word is "intolerant"

Erik AndJennifer Kurth

what about all those that wanted personalized headstones before social media became popular?? this isn't fair to them. these are probably rules set in place decades, if not centuries ago and obviously have been fallowed closely ever since. i think that the chuch just caved into social media bullies... and they only did so because they wanted the issue to go away, not to appease one little boy, who is not even here to know the difference.

Erik AndJennifer Kurth

what about all those that wanted personalized headstones before social media became popular?? this isn't fair to them. these are probably rules set in place decades, if not centuries ago and obviously have been fallowed closely ever since. i think that the chuch just caved into social media bullies... and they only did so because they wanted the issue to go away, not to appease one little boy, who is not even here to know the difference.

Elena Duran

@ joe your logic scares me, if you bend to one others expect the same. Sadly in our world today, if you give an inch people take a mile. A soccer ball is not bad at all but what happens when someone maybe wants a pentagram, or a swastika, perhaps a obscene song lyric where do you draw the line? Everyone on this earth has opposing views on any number of things, what offends one may not even be noticed by another. The cemetery was bullied, plain and simple. Rules are rules and it's been my experience that if a rule is in place whatever is being outlined has likely been an issue before.

Kaya529 Kaya529

The Church most certainly had a choice. People used their freedom of speech to tell them what they thought and the church chose to make the decision they did.


I think the outcome was a good compromise for both parties to get what they wanted.

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