You may have noticed I’ve been a little inconsistent with my posts the last several weeks. I’ve been pushing hard to finish my master’s thesis on ecclesial integration of the autism community and have finally finished a 75-page draft for my reading team. To celebrate, I want to share with you a portion of my research. Without further ado, here is what the Church herself has said through our Popes, Bishops, and lay leaders who have worked with the U.S. Catholic Conference of Bishops about the critical significance for parishes engaging in the process of ecclesial integration of the autism community and other disability communities:
You already have a significant number of parishioners and individuals within your parish boundaries with at least one form of disability.
A parish community is not just a congregation of registered parishioners, but includes everyone within the geographical parish boundaries. The Pastor is responsible for the spiritual well being of everyone within the parish boundaries and the parish has a calling, a mission, to go out and spread the Good News to every person in all situations. This mission of the parish includes non-Catholics, especially the most vulnerable and marginalized members of society. – Committee on Cultural Diversity in the Church, Best Practices for Shared Parishes: So That They May All Be One (Washington, DC: United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, 2014), pages 9-11.
“One person in five has some form of disability; one family in every three has a member with a disability (United States Census Bureau, www.census.gov/newsroom/releases/archives/miscellaneous/cb12-134.html). Disability is not exceptional but a natural condition that we must anticipate and prepare for in our parishes.” – Janice Benton and Nancy Thompson, “Making Room for Persons with Disabilities”, published by the USCCB
Parishes and the Church have a duty.
“The Church that Jesus founded would surely have been derelict had it failed to respond to His example in its attention to people with disabilities.” – U.S. Catholic Bishops, Pastoral Statement on Persons with Disabilities (emphasis mine)
“For most Catholics the community of believers is embodied in the local parish. The parish is the door to participation for individuals with disabilities, and it is the responsibility of the pastor and lay leaders to make sure that this door is always open.” – U.S. Catholic Bishops, Pastoral Statement on Persons with Disabilities
““It is essential that all forms of the liturgy be completely accessible to people with disabilities, since these forms are the essence of the spiritual tie that binds the Christian community together. To exclude members of the parish from these celebrations of the life of the Church, even by passive omission, is to deny the reality of that community. Accessibility involves far more than physical alterations to parish buildings.” – U.S. Catholic Bishops, Pastoral Statement on Persons with Disabilities (emphasis mine)
“Just as the Church must do all in its power to help ensure people with disabilities a secure place in the human community, so it must reach out to welcome gratefully those who seek to participate in the ecclesial community. The central meaning of Jesus’ ministry is bound up with the fact that He sought the company of people who, for one reason or another, were forced to live on the fringe of society. (cf. Mk. 7:37) These He made the special object of His attention, declaring that the last would be first and that the humble would be exalted in His Father’s kingdom. (cf. Mt. 20: 16, 23:12) The Church finds its true identity when it fully integrates itself with these marginal people, including those who suffer from physical and psychological disabilities.” – Catholic Bishops, Pastoral Statement on Persons with Disabilities (emphasis mine)
“Everyone should be committed to promoting acceptance, encounter and solidarity through concrete support and by encouraging renewed hope, thereby contributing to overcome the isolation and, in many cases, the sigma to which people with autism spectrum disorder are also subjected, and often their families too.” – Pope Francis, “The Person With Autism Spectrum Disorders: Animating Hope”
“I invite each one of you to work ever harder at the integration of persons with disabilities into society, into the world of work and into the Christian community…” – Pope Benedict XVI, Angelus December 4, 2005
“…a society that made room only for its fully functional, completely autonomous and independent members, would be unworthy of the human being.” How much more true is this for the Church. – St. Pope John Paul II, “To the participants in the International Symposium on The Dignity and Rights of the Mentally Disabled Person”
“”Catholics with disabilities have a right to participate in the sacraments as full functioning members of the local ecclesial community (Cf. CIC, canon 213). Ministers are not to refuse the sacraments to those who ask for them at appropriate times, who are properly disposed, and who are not prohibited by law from receiving them (Cf. CIC, canon 843, sect. 1)” (Guidelines, no. 2).” – Janice Benton and Nancy Thompson, “Making Room for Persons with Disabilities”, published by the USCCB
Parishes and the Church can be a gift to disability communities.
“By every means possible, therefore, the Church must continue to expand its healing ministry to these persons, helping them when necessary, working with them and raising its voice with them and with all members of society who are their advocates. Jesus revealed by His actions that service to and with people in need is a privilege and an opportunity as well as a duty.” – U.S. Catholic Bishops, Pastoral Statement on Persons with Disabilities
“Through your attention to people afflicted with a disability, you remind our contemporaries that people cannot be reduced to their aptitude or financial status, but are God’s creatures whom he loves for their own sake and not for what they do.” – St. Pope John Paul II, “Address of John Paul II to the Members of the Christian Office for the Disabled”
“The starting point for every reflection on disability is rooted in the fundamental convictions of Christian anthropology: even when disabled persons are mentally impaired or when their sensory or intellectual capacity is damaged, they are fully human beings and possess the sacred and inalienable rights that belong to every human creature. Indeed, human beings, independently of the conditions in which they live or of what they are able to express, have a unique dignity and a special value from the very beginning of their life until the moment of natural death. – St. Pope John Paul II, “To the participants in the International Symposium”
“The quality of life in a community is measured largely by its commitment to assist the weaker and needier members with respect for their dignity as men and women. The world of rights cannot only be the prerogative of the healthy. People with disabilities must also be enabled to participate in social life as far as they can, and helped to fulfill all their physical, psychological and spiritual potential.” – St. Pope John Paul II, “To the participants in the International Symposium”
“To show disabled persons that we love them means showing them that we value them. Attentive listening, understanding their needs, sharing their suffering, patience in guidance, are some of the ways to introduce the disabled into a human relationship of communion, to enable them to perceive their own value and make them aware of their capacity for receiving and giving love.” – St. Pope John Paul II, “To the participants in the International Symposium”
Individuals with disabilities deserve integration and have a right to it.
“Recognizing that individuals with disabilities have a claim to our respect because they are persons, because they share in the one redemption of Christ, and because they contribute to our society by their activity within it, the Church must become an advocate for and with them.” – Catholic Bishops, Pastoral Statement on Persons with Disabilities
“At the very least, we must undertake forms of evangelization that speak to the particular needs of individuals with disabilities, make those liturgical adaptations which promote their active participation and provide helps and services that reflect our loving concern.” – Catholic Bishops, Pastoral Statement on Persons with Disabilities (emphasis mine)
“People with disabilities are not looking for pity. They seek to serve the community and to enjoy their full baptismal rights as members of the Church. Our interaction with them can and should be an affirmation of our faith. There can be no separate Church for people with disabilities. We are one flock that serves a single shepherd.” – Catholic Bishops, Pastoral Statement on Persons with Disabilities (emphasis mine)
Our parishes and Church are incomplete and lacking within integrating our members with disabilities. Individuals with disabilities are a gift to the Church.
“Full participation in the Christian community has another important aspect that must not be overlooked. When we think of people with disabilities in relation to ministry, we tend automatically to think of doing something for them. We do not reflect that they can do something for us and with us. As noted above, people with disabilities can, by their example, teach the non-disabled person much about strength and Christian acceptance. Moreover, they have the same duty as all members of the community to do the Lord’s work in the world, according to their God-given talents and capacity. Because individuals may not be fully aware of the contribution they can make, Church leaders should consult with them, offering suggestions on practical ways of serving.” – Catholic Bishops, Pastoral Statement on Persons with Disabilities (emphasis mine)
“Our wholeness as individuals and as the people of God lies in openness, service and love. The bishops of the United States feel a concern for individuals with disabilities that goes beyond their spiritual welfare to encompass their total well-being. This concern should find expression at all levels. Parishes should maintain their own programs of ministry with people with disabilities, and dioceses should make every effort to establish offices that coordinate this ministry and support parish efforts. Finally, the National Conference of Catholic Bishops and the U.S. Catholic Conference will be more vigilant in promoting ministry with persons with disabilities throughout the structure of the Church.” – Catholic Bishops, Pastoral Statement on Persons with Disabilities (emphasis mine)
“Such meetings have made me even more aware of how effectively you participate in the life of the community, and of how you must not be relegated to some marginal place in society. In the Church, too, you have an important part to play. You are called to share fully in her life and mission in the world.” – St. Pope John Paul II, “Address of John Paul II to Handicapped and Disabled Persons”
Speaking to individuals with disabilities: “Each of you, through Baptism, enjoys the gift of new life in Christ and the dignity of an adopted son or daughter of our Father in heaven. In Baptism, you have also been given a share in the priestly, prophetic and kingly functions of our Lord Jesus Christ; and you are called to exercise your role in order to build up Christ’s Body, the Church, and to further the Kingdom of God in this world. Your personal call to holiness and to loving service of others is not separate from your daily life. Rather, your patient acceptance of your disabilities and your joyful hope in the face of difficulties are in their own way a proclamation of the Gospel, for they bear silent witness to the saving power of God at work in your lives.” – St. Pope John Paul II, “Address of John Paul II to Handicapped and Disabled Persons”
“The disabled person, with all the limitations and suffering that scar him or her, forces us to question ourselves, with respect and wisdom, on the mystery of man. In fact, the more we move about in the dark and unknown areas of human reality, the better we understand that it is in the more difficult and disturbing situations that the dignity and grandeur of the human being emerges. The wounded humanity of the disabled challenges us to recognize, accept and promote in each one of these brothers and sisters of ours the incomparable value of the human being created by God to be a son in the Son.” – St. Pope John Paul II, “To the participants in the International Symposium”
“Only by recognizing the rights of its weakest members can a society claim to be founded on law and justice: the disabled are not different from other people which is why, in recognizing and promoting their dignity and rights, we recognize and promote our own dignity and rights and those of each one of us.” – St. Pope John Paul II, “To the participants in the International Symposium”
“There is no doubt that in revealing the fundamental frailty of the human condition, the disabled person becomes an expression of the tragedy of pain. In this world of ours that approves hedonism and is charmed by ephemeral and deceptive beauty, the difficulties of the disabled are often perceived as a shame or a provocation and their problems as burdens to be removed or resolved as quickly as possible. Disabled people are, instead, living icons of the crucified Son. They reveal the mysterious beauty of the One who emptied himself for our sake and made himself obedient unto death. They show us, over and above all appearances, that the ultimate foundation of human existence is Jesus Christ. It is said, justifiably so, that disabled people are humanity’s privileged witnesses. They can teach everyone about the love that saves us; they can become heralds of a new world, no longer dominated by force, violence and aggression, but by love, solidarity and acceptance, a new world transfigured by the light of Christ, the Son of God who became incarnate, who was crucified and rose for us.” – St. Pope John Paul II, “To the participants in the International Symposium”
“The Catholic Church does not ‘allow in’ persons with disabilities, because we recognize that they already belong…If a person is missing or not recognized as a valuable member of the community, the Body of Christ is incomplete.” – Janice Benton and Nancy Thompson, “Making Room for Persons with Disabilities”, published by the USCCB
“…the National Directory for Catechesis (NDC)…states that “all persons with disabilities have the capacity to proclaim the Gospel and to be living witnesses to its truth within the community of faith and offer valuable gifts. Their involvement enriches every aspect of Church life. They are not just the recipients of catechesis—they are also its agents. Bishops have invited qualified persons with disabilities to ordination, to consecrated life, and to full-time professional service in the Church. All persons with disabilities or special needs should be welcomed in the Church. Every person, however limited, is capable of growth in holiness” (NDC [USCCB: Washington, DC, 2005] no. 49).” – Janice Benton and Nancy Thompson, “Making Room for Persons with Disabilities”, published by the USCCB