"9. Often families are not prepared for the birth of a child with a disability or the development of impairments. Our pastoral response is to become informed about disabilities and to offer ongoing support to the family and welcome to the child."
It is interesting the the Bishops in response to a family being unprepred for a child with disability, say that it is the pastor's own responsibility, the pastoral response to become informed about disability. Wow, what an incredible response. The point is that although the family may be unprepared, the Bishops and their representatives within the church are not. Priests have received training and developed experience to assist families. Pastors and leaders in any type of a pastoral position recognize that in order to have a pastoral response, they must become informed about disabilites in order to offer ongoing support. The goal is to 1) support the family and 2) welcome the child.
As I have interacted with the Bishops' statements, it has become increasingly clear that these statements are a vision the Bishops are describing, not the reality of the situation "on the ground." I am reminded of a presentation I did a while back at Wright State University's Religion and Disability Issues Symposium. I built the presentation around comments made by Scrooge in A Christmas Carol, and the response of those requesting charity. Dickens dialogue goes like this. . .
“Are there no prisons? . . .And the Union workhouses?” demanded Scrooge . . .”Are they still in operation? . . .The Treadmill and the Poor Law are in full vigor, then?”. . . “Oh! I was afraid, from what you said at first, that something had occurred to stop them in their useful course,” . . .”I wish to be left alone” . . . “since you asked me what I wish, gentlemen, that is my answer” . . . “I help support the establishments I have mentioned – they cost enough: and those who are badly off must go there.”
“Many can’t go there; and many would rather die.”
“If they would rather die,” said Scrooge, “they had better do it, and decrease the surplus population. Besides – excuse me – I don’t know that.”
“But you might know it,” observed the gentleman.
I sometimes feel like those requesting money in the Scrooge vignette. There is sometimes a bluster which comes from the pulpit which reminds me of Scrooges response. People in positions of leadership make decisions to exclude and in so many words are saying that they didn't know they were making the decision to exclude, implying that those around them are in error to confront them on such issues. The response by the "gentleman" is wonderful in simply saying that although you do not recognize the contribution you are making to exclusion, to in some ways worsening the problem, ". . . you might know it." The information shared on this weblog, for example, is not something that is hidden from people, or is the result of significant training on my part. One needs only dig a bit into the response of the church to persons with disability to quickly recognize that there is significant failure at nearly every turn. The Bishops recognize that the knowledge required to be pastoral towards persons with disability and their families is knowable. How people can be supported is not only knowable, it is as a rule pretty easy.
I cannot tell you how many times, how many situations I am in where I am confronted with the perceived enormity of the task of supporting persons with disability on the part of those, particularly those in Christian leadership, when alerted to the need. It is going to cost so much money, or it is going to take so much time, or it is going to require so much physical change to the facilities and on and on. Bottom line, is that these protestations are simply unfounded.
Finally the Bishops speak of welcome to the child. Pastors have told me of a church member having a child with down syndrome, and not knowing what to say, or commissurating in the horror of it all. This is not an informed response to disability. As I have said elsewhere, persons with down syndrome are some of the nicest people in the world, and the problems they face typically have less to do with them than they have to do with the society around them. If I were to grieve at the birth of a child with down syndrome, I would grieve more for the inappropriate manner in which society will often treat the child than I will grieve for the child himself or for his disability. This comes from knowledge and experience. ". . . becoming informed about disabilities" through interactions with persons with down syndrome and their families.
The fact that pastoral leaders are not informed is indicative of the lack of persons with disabilities and their families within their churches.