The USCCB document, Guidelines for the Celebration of the Sacraments with Persons with Disabilities, what’s it for? Do US Catholics really need another document like this? Pastors and their staffs are pretty much the sole people determining how the sacraments get celebrated. There is a very wide array of practices, and even within a diocese, neighboring parishes can have very different approaches. Unless something really wacky is promoted, or some lay person makes an almighty fuss, will the GCSPD make a difference?
In the preface to this document, the bishops recognize that “inconsistencies in pastoral practice often arise from distinct yet overlapping causes. Some result from a misunderstanding about the nature of disabilities. Others arise from an uncertainty about the appropriate application of church law toward persons with disabilities. Others are born out of fear, misunderstanding, or unfamiliarity. Still others seem to be the result of the real or perceived limitations of a parish’s or diocese’s available resources.”
What to do? This document heavily quotes canon law. Over the past few decades, that’s where the competence of many bishops lies. Still, there is a good amount of sound advice here. Someone might wave from the back of the room and ask, “But is it church teaching?” Let’s answer a question with a question: Does a pastor with good advice need to be backed up in print?
Some examples that might need attention:
- sign language interpreters and captioning for persons who are deaf
- accessibility of church facilities for persons with mobility needs
- availability of catechetical programs for persons with intellectual, developmental, and other disabilities
That is just a start. What is the bishops’ object? Greater consistency. Perfectly fair is likely beyond us in this life. The preface concludes with this thought:
While they do not address every conceivable situation that may arise in pastoral practice, the guidelines present a set of general principles to provide access to the sacraments for persons with disabilities. (A)ll those who minister to or with Catholics with disabilities are invited and encouraged to reflect upon and utilize these guidelines in their continuing effort to bring Christ’s healing message and call to justice to the world.