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Avoiding prejudice against the disabled

The same Jesus who heard the cry for recognition from the people with disabilities of Judea and Samaria 2,000 years ago calls us, His followers, to embrace our responsibility to our own disabled brothers and sisters in the United States. The Catholic Church pursues its mission by furthering the spiritual, intellectual, moral and physical development of the people it serves. As pastors of the Church in America, we are committed to working for a deeper understanding of both the pain and the potential of our neighbors who are blind, deaf, mentally disabled, emotionally impaired, who have special learning problems, or who suffer from single or multiple physical disabilities—all those whom disability may set apart. We call upon people of good will to reexamine their attitudes toward their brothers and sisters with disabilities and promote their well-being, acting with the sense of justice and the compassion that the Lord so clearly desires. Further, realizing the unique gifts individuals with disabilities have to offer the Church, we wish to address the need for their integration into the Christian community and their fuller participation in its life.

Prejudice starts with the simple perception of difference, whether that difference is physical or psychological. Down through the ages, people have tended to interpret these differences in crude moral terms. Our group is not just different from theirs; it is better in some vague but compelling way. Few of us would admit to being prejudiced against people with disabilities. We bear them no ill will and do not knowingly seek to abrogate their rights. Yet people with disabilities are visibly, sometimes bluntly different from the norm, and we react to this difference. Even if we do not look down upon them, we tend all too often to think of them as somehow apart — not completely one of us. — from the Pastoral Statement of U.S. Catholic Bishops on People with Disabilities (1978)