NRL News

Children with disabilities: “A doorway to the real meaning of our humanity”

by | Feb 16, 2012

By Dave Andrusko

Archbishop Charles Chaput

Our many, many readers—both of National Right to Life News Today and our newspaper, National Right to Life News—are very familiar with Charles Chaput, Archbishop of Philadelphia. Today when I read Archbishop Chaput’s sterling op-ed in the Philadelphia Inquirer (excerpted at “The HHS mandate, including its latest variant, is belligerent, unnecessary, and deeply offensive to the content of Catholic belief”) turned out to be the same day an old friend sent me the Archbishop’s Keynote Address to the 13th annual Cardinal O’Connor Conference on Life, which was held on January 22 at Georgetown University in Washington, DC.

I write for a living, and I am in awe when I read virtually anything Archbishop Chaput commits to paper. “A Thread for Weaving Joy” was the title of his talk. I cannot possibly do the speech justice, which is why I strongly encourage you to read it end to end. (Thankfully, the text was reproduced by the Knights of Columbus at

But I know how busy people are, so let me share some of the blessings of his remarks which were heard by up to 600 attendees –which was 200 more people than who’d come in previous years and included a group from the University of Notre Dame in Australia, and Hatze Oir, a pro-life organization from Spain. This all took place on the eve of the annual March for Life.

The focus of his amazing speech was children with disabilities, or, to be more accurate, what our attitude towards children with disabilities says about us as a culture, as a people.

The possible “dwindling” of the Down syndrome population—the product of our panicky response to prenatal screening—was much on his mind. “And the reason why it may decline illustrates, in a vivid way, a struggle within the American soul,” the Archbishop told his audience. “That struggle will shape the character of our society in the decades to come.”

As he explained, the Archbishop was not counseling that physicians withhold information. But “In practice, medical professionals can now steer an expectant mother toward abortion simply by hinting at a list of the child’s possible ‘defects.’ And the most debased thing about that kind of pressure is that doctors know better than anyone else how vulnerable a woman can be in hearing potentially tragic news about her unborn baby.”

Archbishop Chaput does not minimize the many challenges to raising children with disabilities, but he also insists that expectant parents “deserve to know that a child with Down syndrome can love, laugh, learn, work, feel hope and excitement, make friends, and create joy for others. These things are beautiful precisely because they transcend what we expect. They witness to the truth that every child with special needs has a value that matters eternally.”

I was struck by his deep insight that “The real choice in accepting or rejecting a child with special needs is never between some imaginary perfection or imperfection.”

“None of us is perfect. No child is perfect. The real choice in accepting or rejecting a child with special needs is between love and unlove; between courage and cowardice; between trust and fear. That’s the choice we face when it happens in our personal experience. And that’s the choice we face as a society in deciding which human lives we will treat as valuable, and which we will not.”

As he neared the completion of his speech Archbishop Chaput reminded his audience that when evil

“gains the upper hand, its vanity always requires the destruction of the good and the innocent, because the example of good and innocent lives is an ongoing witness against it. So it always has been. So it always will be. And America has no special immunity to becoming an enemy of its own founding beliefs about human freedom, human dignity, the limited power of the state, and the sovereignty of God.”

But I think it was clear that the Archbishop was and is counting on the kinds of people who had assembled in the nation’s Capital for the March for Life to be the counterforce, the ones who “Never give up the struggle that the March for Life embodies.”

May I offer one final albeit lengthy quote?

“A friend of mine has a son with Down syndrome, and she calls him a ‘sniffer of souls.’ I know him, and it’s true. He is. He may have an IQ of 47, and he’ll never read The Brothers Karamazov, but he has a piercingly quick sense of the people he meets. He knows when he’s loved – and he knows when he’s not. Ultimately, I think we’re all like her son. We hunger for people to confirm that we have meaning by showing us love. We need that love. And we suffer when that love is withheld.

“These children with disabilities are not a burden; they’re a priceless gift to all of us. They’re a doorway to the real meaning of our humanity. Whatever suffering we endure to welcome, protect and ennoble these special children is worth it because they’re a pathway to real hope and real joy. Abortion kills a child; it wounds a precious part of a woman’s own dignity and identity; and it steals hope. That’s why it’s wrong. That’s why it needs to end. That’s why we march.”

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