Reviewed by Justin Harkin, Dicrector of Pastoral Development, Diocese of Elphin, Strokestown, Co. Roscommon


Intellectual Disability: The Response of the Church is a rich compendium of insight and information likely to prove valuable to all with an interest in and / or responsibility for the holistic well-being of people with intellectual disabilities, their families and others in relationship with people with disabilities. Throughout its 192 pages readers are perceptively brought into contact with current catechetical, theological and pastoral thinking vis-à-vis people with intellectual disability, thinking that has helped shape some tremendously wholesome innovations over the past twenty years. These too are outlined with adequate detail, giving rise to a pleasing combination of theoretical insight, practical innovation and signpost provision for those who feel called / bear responsibility for responding to today’s spiritual hungers and pressing human needs.

In Chapter One, Kelly and McGinley provide a concise introduction and overview of the remaining nine chapters. Particularly poignant is their acknowledgement that the relationship between people with disabilities and the Church has always been precarious. Readers already familiar with the misguided rationales and mistakes of yesteryear are spared a repeat of well-trodden paths; rather the thrust of the book from the very outset is progressive, futuristic and celebratory of grass-roots initiative. The editors also capture, albeit indirectly, the prevailing difficulty many Christians experience, including people with disabilities, in recognising themselves as Church—a difficulty that continues to counteract innovation and responsiveness.

Subsequent chapters are broad and brave in orientation and content. Themes taken up include the changing thrust of the work of the Church in more progressive dioceses, getting ourselves beyond the charitable-helper mentality, the fundamental entitlement of people with disabilities to full sacramental participation (excluding marriage), shared faith-related learning and worship opportunities at parish and service level, appropriate catechesis, and responsiveness to core pastoral concerns such as isolation and loneliness. In every instance contributors succeed in mastering the challenge they set themselves, frequently with an ingenuity that simplifies and uplifts the human dimension of related challenges.

Papers also consistently give due recognition to the dignity and societal value of people with disabilities without diminishing the real challenges they face and present. However, the sheer depth of some papers means that we must struggle if we want to experience their full richness. Unfortunately no attempt had been made to include a concluding chapter that pulls the various strands together in a manner that might encourage further development or provide a basis for a more focused dialogue among interested parties. This, and the absence of an index, takes from what is otherwise a most timely, perceptive and in-depth contribution to an area of parish and service life that is laden with potential and opportunity.

In this context Claude Madec’s paper on the pastoral care programme of the Brothers of Charity services in Galway and Roscommon merits special mention, providing excellent insight into a host of initiatives responsive to the pastoral and spiritual needs of people with disabilities, their family members and service staff. Other individual chapters also provide background on specific programmes, e.g. the SPRED catechetical programme, and movements (such as the Faith and Light movement) which have found an international appeal. Indeed readers whose enquiry preferences tend towards descriptive and analytic accounts of up-and-running initiatives are likely to be very pleased with the direction taken.

Finally, credit and appreciation must be extended to Brian Kelly, Patrick McGinley and Lisieux Hall Publications for publishing this compilation of papers. Collectively their work provides an additional source of encouragement and hope and a series of excellent signposts for those who feel called to put supports in place to further spiritual and holistic development. This book has something for everyone: church personnel, service personnel, family members, friends, parish pastoral council / PDR group members, catechists and all people of goodwill.

INTELLECTUAL DISABILITY: THE RESPONSE OF THE CHURCH edited by Brian Kelly and Patrick McGinley (2000), Lisieux Hall Publications, Whittle-le-Woods, Chorley, Lancashire PR6 7DX. Stg£12.00 (+ £1.50 p+p). ISBN 1-8700335 27 9.