Diocese of Saskatoon
OFFICE OF THE BISHOP
August 29, 2002
Dear Pastors/Pastoral Ministers and Parish/School Catechists:
In response to a request for guidelines for assisting parents, catechists, pastors and pastoral ministers when dealing with the question of children with certain disabilities (communication, intellectual and/or behavior) participating in the sacramental life of the Church, I would like to offer the following thoughts. In doing so I am pursuing the direction set out by Bishop James Mahoney (cf his letter of October 8, 1988) and Bishop James Weisgerber (cf his letter of October 8, 1999). I am also basing myself on the document “Guidelines for the Celebration of the Sacraments with Persons with Disabilities”, a pastoral letter issued by the U. S. Bishops, 1995 (cf Origins, Vol. 25, No 7). The latter sets out both general principles and specific guidelines for each of the sacraments.
By Baptism a person is adopted as a son/daughter of God, united to Christ as heir to the Kingdom and becomes a full member of the People of God. This is a reality of grace, a gift of God’s love that knows no boundaries. By reason of their baptism as Catholics all are equal in dignity in the sight of God and all have the same divine calling. All are filled with the Spirit, all are called to the one table, all are reconciled through God’s loving mercy.
Thus Catholics with disabilities have a right to participate in the sacraments as full functioning members of the local ecclesial community. We are not to refuse the sacraments to those children with disabilities who ask for them at appropriate times, (the age when this child’s peers will be receiving the sacraments) and who are properly disposed. They are to be assisted to have the dispositions required for each sacrament and that in a way adapted to their particular situation. Parish sacramental celebrations should be accessible to persons with disabilities and open to their full active and conscious participation according to their capacity.
The Church has always looked on catechesis as a sacred duty and an inalienable right. Thus every baptized person, precisely by their reason of being baptized, has the right to receive from the Church instruction and education enabling him or her to enter on a truly Christian life. Children and young people with physical or mental disabilities have a right, like others their age, to know the “mystery of faith”.
They can with assistance, become aware of the presence of God, celebrate faith events and appreciate special moments in their life. The learning strengths of students with learning disabilities are somewhat different than their typical peers. This does not mean that they will not learn cognitively, but their learning strengths will be more intuitive, affective and symbolic. Catechesis must be appropriate to their abilities and their way of learning. And it is good to remember that the greater difficulties these children encounter give greater merit to their efforts and those of their teachers. (cf Catechesi Tradendae Nos. 14, 40,41)
As well these children will respond to the call of their baptism according to their ability. Hence they should never be denied the opportunity to share their faith with others. Through their own particular witness of such faith realities as an open trusting relationship with their “friend “ Jesus, a simplicity of prayer, a ready willingness to welcome and serve others and of many other such signs of a true faith life they can greatly enrich the entire faith community. Their ways of the heart can break down barriers of fear and their lives of vulnerability and innocence can help create places of love and unconditional acceptance for all.
In closing, I would like to encourage pastors/pastoral ministers catechists and parents to fully take on their role of leading these children to Christ in the sacraments, and of embracing them as a treasure for the Church. Seek out the catechetical resources that will help you to give appropriate formation to these children and prepare them for the sacraments of Confirmation, Eucharist and Reconciliation in the richest way possible given their capacities and strengths. Above all seek to love them in the way of Christ who said: “Let the little children come to me”.
May God’s abundant blessings be upon you and upon these children so dear to the Lord.
Sincerely in Christ,
Most Rev. Albert LeGatt
Bishop of Saskatoon