Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Books and reluctant prophets

I'm reading Prophetic and Public: The Social Witness of US Catholicism by Kristin Heyer. It's an interesting - and timely book - considering the many social issues we all face in our country, ranging from poverty, homelessness, marginalization of people, and many others. Heyer discusses the writings of Charles Curran, Michael and Kenneth Himes and David Hollenbach, who are proponents of a public church and Michael Baxter's analysis of that view. There is also an interesting discussion of Murray's "incarnational humanism". Heyer points readers toward advocacy groups such as NETWORK, Pax Christi USA and the USCCB.

Her analysis of contemporary Catholic thought left me pondering many questions and issues. For example, I've written about the USCCB quite a few times and their guidance to the Church on issues concerning inclusion of people with disabilities - not only in the Church herself but in society in general.  Many of their statements on economics and poverty deal with a myriad of social issues also affecting the disability population.  Marginalization can occur due to a number of reasons. 

And although the position of the USCCB on these issues is public knowledge and has been for over twenty years, the actual change in the Church has been slow.  We see disability ministries cropping up.  (See a list here of disability ministries by diocese.)  Yet I have found that many Catholics remain unaware of the USCCB's writings in this area, which is both unfortunate and a bit sad, when you stop to consider the number of people whose lives disability touch. 

I've sat in churches where people in wheelchairs are treated as if they are in the way ;  where there not only aren't any Masses for the deaf, but no listings available for local ones; where blind people receive no hymnals or books in Braille; where volunteering and joining groups means exclusion from activities due to lack of access or negative attitudes - and I could go on and on. 

I've also sat in churches where there are disability ministries and it is an entirely different world. Those congregations have a voice that speaks up and advocates for the needs of its members with disabilities.  Not every disability ministry works as effectively or even in the same way, but there is much to be said for the fact that the very existence of such a ministry.

I realize that the social witness of US Catholicism touches ethical issues and is the subject of debate and intellectual discourse. There may always be some disagreement on how the Church should address issues concerning our society.  It all makes for a very interesting subject.

But the  book I'd like to see written would be about the growing emergence of disability ministries, their ripple effect and, on the other hand, the resistance to or apathy regarding such ministries where that occurs.  There may be quite a few reluctant prophets out there who could help lead- and it would be helpful if the USCCB statements on disability were heard more often in the Catholic arena. Ultimately I believe change in this area will come through the voices of members with disabilities in the Church.