Saturday, April 9, 2016

Pope Francis and Disability (in the context of love, marriage, family)

The pope (or rather the social media managers) tweeted a line from "Amoris Laetitia" - the papal exhortation on love, marriage, and family, this morning. I didn't like it

I hadn't, however, read the actual document, and wanted to correct that. Here's a collection of relevant excerpts from the English translation with some initial thoughts at the end.

47. The Fathers also called particular attention to “families of persons with special needs, where the unexpected challenge of dealing with a disability can upset a family’s equilibrium, desires and expectations… Families who lovingly accept the difficult trial of a child with special needs are greatly to be admired. They render the Church and society an invaluable witness of faithfulness to the gift of life. In these situations, the family can discover, together with the Christian community, new approaches, new ways of acting, a different way of understanding and identifying with others, by welcoming and caring for the mystery of the frailty of human life. People with disabilities are a gift for the family and an opportunity to grow in love, mutual aid and unity… If the family, in the light of the faith, accepts the presence of persons with special needs, they will be able to recognize and ensure the quality and value of every human life, with its proper needs, rights and opportunities. This approach will promote care and services on behalf of these disadvantaged persons and will encourage people to draw near to them and provide affection at every stage of their life”. Here I would stress that dedication and concern shown to migrants and to persons with special needs alike is a sign of the Spirit. Both situations are paradigmatic: they serve as a test of our commitment to show mercy in welcoming others and to help the vulnerable to be fully a part of our communities.

82. The Synod Fathers stated that “the growth of a mentality that would reduce the generation of human life to one variable of an individual’s or a couple’s plans is clearly evident”. The Church’s teaching is meant to “help couples to experience in a complete, harmonious and conscious way their communion as husband and wife, together with their responsibility for procreating life. We need to return to the message of the Encyclical Humanae Vitae of Blessed Pope Paul VI, which highlights the need to respect the dignity of the person in morally assessing methods of regulating birth… The choice of adoption or foster parenting can also express that fruitfulness which is a characteristic of married life”. With special gratitude the Church “supports families who accept, raise and surround with affection children with various disabilities”

195. Growing up with brothers and sisters makes for a beautiful experience of caring for and helping one another. For “fraternity in families is especially radiant when we see the care, the patience, the affection that surround the little brother or sister who is frail, sick or disabled”. It must be acknowledged that “having a brother or a sister who loves you is a profound, precious and unique experience”.  Children do need to be patiently taught to treat one another as brothers and sisters. This training, at times quite demanding, is a true school of socialization. In some countries, where it has become quite common to have only one child, the experience of being a brother or sister is less and less common. When it has been possible to have only one child, ways have to be found to ensure that he or she does not grow up alone or isolated. 

197. This larger family should provide love and support to teenage mothers, children without parents, single mothers left to raise children, persons with disabilities needing particular affection and closeness, young people struggling with addiction, the unmarried, separated or widowed who are alone, and the elderly and infirm who lack the support of their children. It should also embrace “even those who have made shipwreck of their lives”. This wider family can help make up for the shortcomings of parents, detect and report possible situations in which children suffer violence and even abuse, and provide wholesome love and family stability in cases when parents prove incapable of this. 

What's striking here is that in all of the cases the disabled person is the object. The family is inherently abled in this vision, being exhorted to provide care to the afflicted, and being blessed for providing care. Nowhere is the parent who is disabled, providing care for the abled child, for example. Nowhere is the disabled person's independence and decision-making affirmed. 

This is a kind, charitable, paternalistic vision in which the function of the disabled is to demonstrate the goodness of those who care for them. Such, anyway, is my first reading. 

 


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