I get a lot of email from lapsed Catholics. Many are cradle Catholics. Some write me because they have left the church, read my blog and get drawn into discussing Catholicism again - perhaps something I've raised in a post. They have a relative, perhaps a child, with a disability. Others have acquired disabilities and write for resource information. Still others have aging issues or have parents with aging issues and often write to me about how they feel their parishes don't address these issues. Some were born with disabilities and left the church because of things that were said to them.
Most of them are looking for answers. From a blogger. Answers to help them with a crisis of faith, to find support from their church. Sometimes they need hands on help. I network with people, sometimes Catholics, to help these folks out with things like ramps, equipment or care.
I didn't start Wheelie Catholic to be a know it all, although I know some think that's the case. After all, I'm just another Catholic - and I can't even get into a pew. Heck, I can't even kneel.
I have no problem, however, with the fact that my blog has become a magnet for lapsed Catholics. After all, if I can direct people toward resources, that's a good and positive role to play.
On one level, I find it quite sad that people feel more comfortable asking questions of Wheelie Catholic than, for example, a parish priest. Why not pick up the phone to your local parish and ask? I might write only to be met with a response like Oh no I would be afraid to ask the priest that. Or a response like Oh, he won't know!
I'd like to tell everyone that every single parish out there has disability ministries to address issues that concern them. I can say that these ministries are being developed on a diocesan level. And that information is more than some clearly expect to hear. I get positive responses when I send them the address of the church in their diocese that has such a program (available over at USCCB website).
I also get positive responses when I point out that there are organizations, listed in my sidebar, for Catholics with disabilities. This makes some feel connected, although when some of them who are lapsed Catholics actually go back to a parish and try to 'fit in', I often get email that's not as positive. That part is more difficult still.
It would help if we had disability ministries in each parish. And I know - I've been told this is my "pet project" because I have a disability. (Oh selfish me!) But with the number of lapsed Catholics (all of whom are aging every day, deny it or not ) I don't see why my " pet project" should be considered such a wild and crazy idea. As for the fact that some people tell me their parishes have other work to do and don't have time for it, well let me tell you what I think.
I think that kind of attitude alienates people. There are real social issues affecting Catholics with disabilities, their children with disabilities, and their aging parents with disabilities that require the compassionate and hands on attention of others in local parishes. And without a disability ministry, these issues don't get addressed.
Others say that their parish doesn't need a disability ministry - that things "get worked out". My response to this is that it's the things your parish isn't aware of, the issues that aren't brought out into the open that cause people to leave and not come back. What about that group that met in a non-accessible location under your parish's name? How about the woman running it who told a disabled parishioner that she could go to Mass, so what was the problem?Why did she need to feel like she should be included in everything? Do pastors even know what gets said, under the auspices of their parish organizations, to people? Without a disability ministry to effectuate communication about the very real issues of ignorance that our society still has, where is a parishioner with a disability who is excluded to go? Well - out the door perhaps.
This is not to say that every Catholic with a disability has these difficulties in his/her parish. Not at all. I get some emails from people who are very active in their parishes and happy in their community. Some of them think that if others with disabilities just went about things the right way, they too would be included. They did not run into any of the issues discussed above and, as a result, think that anyone who complains is exaggerating or, worse yet, should be considered a troublemaker - in fact, they are the problem! I call this attitude the 'pull yourself up by the bootstraps' method. It's a bit like Darwinism. Show up and take your lumps - or not. And again, someone is out the door.
But what do we care? Do we care enough to actively address the issues that are excluding people?
Oh - if you could just read the emails I get from lapsed Catholics, you'd want to make the time for it too. Excluding people who want to be part of the church truly is a sad thing. And if that doesn't persuade you, perhaps this will:
If they qualified as a separate denomination, the Americans who have deserted the Catholic Church of their childhood would constitute the third-largest religious group in the country, with 10.1% of the population.