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Dr Zachariah Duke (Supplied)

Parishes should be well-placed to welcome all young families, but they can always do more to reduce the barriers some face when they have a child who experiences physical or cognitive challenges, says disability theologian Zachariah Duke. Source: The Catholic Weekly.

In 2017, Dr Duke travelled to Rome as the Australian coordinator of an international convention for several hundred participants, honouring persons with disabilities and highlighting their unique contributions to the Catholic community. 

In a private audience during that event, Pope Francis told the group that the Church was “a Church for everybody or it’s not a Church at all”, the theologian said.

In his 2015 PhD thesis, Dr Duke argued that while the Church in Australia accepts, welcomes and advocates for all people regardless of their intellectual or physical abilities, people living with a disability remained a largely marginalised group within the Church at the day-to-day level.

Asked what would help most, Dr Duke said that while things like wheelchair accessibility, large font sizes and hearing loops are necessary, it’s also important to address more intangible barriers to disability access to the sacraments.

That means fostering a culture of authentic belonging, building individual friendships so that people are understood and feel missed when they’re not present.

He also recommended leaders survey parishioners to find out what their needs are.

“The gem in the stone here is if we can shift our mindsets to creating our local parish communities into pockets of belonging, then we can achieve inroads not only in terms of disability inclusion but in addressing all kinds of marginalisation that may be within a particular community.”


A Church for everyone in the family (By Marilyn Rodrigues, The Catholic Weekly)