“During times of universal deceit, telling the truth becomes a revolutionary act.” George Orwell

Tuesday, December 14, 2004

U.S. Catholic Bishops part 6

The following statement is from the "Doctrine and Pastoral Practices" website sponsored by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. This is available at http://www.ncbuscc.org/doctrine/disabilities.htm

"5. Since the parish is the door to participation in the Christian experience, it is the responsibility of both pastors and laity to assure that those doors are always open. Costs must never be the controlling consideration limiting the welcome offered to those among us with disabilities, since provision of access to religious functions is a pastoral duty."

The parish (aka the local church) is indeed the door to participation in Christian experience. It also is the responsibility of both the pastors and the laity to keep the doors open. I have been in situations where the pastors kept the doors open to persons with disability in spite of the laity and the laity kept the doors open in spite of the pastors. The latter seems more difficult to me. But a larger question is what is meant by keeping the doors open.

In one of the Cal Baptist courses I teach, students are required to interview their pastors about ministry to persons with disability. Perhaps the most common answer they receive is that the church is 1) wheelchair accessible and 2) has handicapped parking spots. Somehow, these legal requirements for public buildings have been confused with the Bishops' notion of the churches' doors being "open." Obviously, openness must mean something more than simply physical access. The fact that I can go somewhere doesn't mean that I am welcomed there. There is a qualitative difference that distinguishes open in terms of access from open in terms of wanting or desiring someone's presence. The latter form of openness implies that those who are open have done something to be more than just physically accessible.

The Bishops imply openness is participation in the Christian experience. For some that implies a facilitation of participation as participation will not occur on its own. Its like the catalyst in a chemical experiment.
catalyst - A substance usually present in small amounts relative to the
reactants, that modifies, especially increases, the rate of a chemical reaction
without being consumed in the process. (American Heritage Dictionary)

Interesting definition.
Small amounts, yes.
Especially increases the rate of reaction, yes.
Without being consumed in the process, yes.

Costs are at times given as the reason for a lack of programs for persons with disability. The point I find interesting about this excuse, is that we accept it. Perhaps it has just been used for so long, that we assume it is a justifiable response. But I would say, that the next time someone tells you they cannot afford something relative to serving persons with disability, ask them to share with you what the specific costs are, and how they came to determine those costs. I am quite confident they do not know of what they speak.

". . . since provision of access to religious functions is a pastoral duty."
I do not claim to be a Bible expert, however, I cannot remember a time in the New Testament when people were excused from ministry on the basis of finances. It is almost as if finances are somewhat irrelevant. Please do not get me wrong, I understand that things cost money, however, there is much that can be done without money. A major focus of the Bible is both ministry to the poor, and the responsibility of the poor in ministry. God would not call us to only expensive forms of ministry as not all would be able to participate then. It is just as God would not make walking, or vision, or hearing, or cognition a prerequisite to ministry. We are all called to serve independent of our abilities. To whom much is given, much is expected, however, there are very few to whom nothing is given and nothing is expected. We cannot use the excuse of no money for nonparticipation in ministry. That is the cool thing about God's call. Pretty much all of us have what is required for some level of service, we have the ability to be servants independent of our salaries.

The Catholic Bishops are all about access, facilitating access, and removing barriers. This statement (statement 6 above) would not be relevant if the Bishops had not seen a lack of access or the placement of barriers somewhere.


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