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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