McGrath Institute to host online seminars to help inform new USCCB pastoral statement on disability and inclusion in the Church

Author: Margaret Scroope

Ornamental cross on the Basilica of the Sacred heart. Photo by Matt Cashore/University of Notre Dame.
Photo by Matt Cashore/University of Notre Dame

The McGrath Institute for Church Life at the University of Notre Dame has partnered with the National Catholic Partnership on Disability to offer six online educational seminars for Church leadership on disability and inclusion in the Church.

The series, “In Communion: Advancing the Full Participation of Persons with Disabilities in the Church,” has been created to help inform a new pastoral statement on people with disabilities being developed by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committee on Laity, Marriage, Family Life and Youth.

Pastoral statements are teaching tools used by bishops to communicate official Church teachings on important issues.

The webinars, which are free and open to the public, will begin Thursday (March 7) from 3 to 4:30 p.m. EST. Future sessions will take place on March 14 and 21 and April 11, 18 and 25.

Clare Kilbane, director of research and development for the McGrath Institute for Church Life's Digital Education Program
Clare Kilbane (Photo by Matt Cashore/University of Notre Dame)

Convening a cross-disciplinary group of experts, including people with disabilities, theologians, clergy, lay people and professionals in the field, each session will explore foundational and aspirational concepts important to the pastoral statement and how to enhance the involvement of people with disabilities in the Church.

The seminars will also address the role of the Church in advocating for people with disabilities in society.

“One important goal is to help leaders understand what is required to welcome Church members who experience disability more fully into the life of the Church,” said Clare Kilbane, director of research and development for McGrath’s Digital Education Program. “We also plan to explore how methods of inclusion and intentional efforts to promote belonging can transform opportunities for relationship and faith development for all.”

Another emphasis of the seminars will be to equip the authoring committee with a robust understanding of the experiences of people with disabilities, Kilbane said, as well as a recognition of the many and varied barriers they face and an appreciation for the gifts they have to offer the Church.

“We will look at how, through the development of this new pastoral statement, the Church can welcome all members into greater communion and sharing of Divine love, and each individual into a deeper relationship with God,” she said.

The series will begin with an exploration of the impact pastoral statements have on the Church and larger society and an analysis of the existing pastoral statement written in 1978. Participants will also consider how the new statement might advance and deepen the past statement’s teachings.

Subsequent sessions will analyze the concept of disability in general and how it is uniquely experienced by individuals, outline a vision of “full participation” in Church life and explore what it takes to create a Church where all are not only welcome, but also supported in ways that enable full participation.

“Through these seminars, we hope to help Church leadership understand that when persons with disabilities are welcomed — and invited to participate in all aspects of Church life — the Body of Christ is more complete,” said Charleen Katra, executive director of the National Catholic Partnership on Disability.

Additional information and online registration are available here.

Contact: Carrie Gates, associate director of media relations, 574-631-4313,