The specifically defined subject of analyses contained in the present study is a notion of humanity of persons with profound intellectual disabilities. It comes down to answering the following question: Are persons with a form of profound intellectual disability in fact considered human persons? And if so, are they human persons to the exactly same extent as the remaining representatives of the Homo sapiens species? Are we able to offer a “definition” of humanity that would encompass all human beings? And whom, eventually, should we include amongst the said human beings?
This project, however, aims not to create an anthropology of intellectual disability that would adequately describe persons with profound intellectual disabilities but would not be suitable for all human persons. Therefore, the title refers to an inclusive anthropology, namely, one that would account for all individuals, regardless of their condition and stage of their life development. What is intended herein, then, is such a wording of the humanity “definition”, so that there is no need for “exceptions” and persons with profound intellectual disabilities are not left out in, or even outside, the margins of humanity. What is more, the inclusive anthropology means that people with intellectual disabilities – as fully-valid human beings – are capable of revealing to us the truth about humanity in a way that would be hardly feasible, or impossible, without them.
As indicated by the title, it is a theological work, which means it originates from within faith, particularly Catholic faith. So, for the questions asked, concerning humanity of persons with intellectual disabilities, the answers are also sought within faith. The treatise’s purpose is, moreover, to contribute to advancement of Catholic theology of disability, which on the one hand makes the teaching of the Catholic Church along with its anthropology a departure point, and on the other hand, the hitherto achievements in theology of disability serve herein as a reference point. The said purpose points to the sources referred to and cited in the work, which are, mostly, documents of the Church’s Magisterium, as well as works on theology of disability. The analyses are ceaselessly accompanied by the fundamental theoretical claim and practical aim stemming from theology of disability: persons with intellectual disabilities are absolutely equal to fully-abled individuals. Such a claim is, however, not a mere ideologically-assured assumption, yet finds its justification in the faith of the Church – originating form God’s Revelation – in unconditional equality of all human beings (Romans 2.11, Acts 10.34, Galatians 3.28).
The very fact of the research being conducted from a vantage point of theological anthropology or, to be more precise, from a standpoint of Catholic theological anthropology, translates, first of all, into full appreciation of doctrinal messages of the Magisterium of the Catholic Church relating to the human nature, and secondly, into an attempt to interpret this teaching in a way that would reveal the full humanity of persons with intellectual disabilities.
Statements by the Magisterium ecclesiae often stress that human nature involves rationality, more precisely “rational spirit” (cf. among others Council of Vienne 1311–1312, Fifth Council of the Lateran 1513), which may cause quite significant issues if we apply such statements to an individual lacking “the use of reason”. It is worth noticing, at the same time, that the Church Magisterium uses descriptions of this kind when speaking of very particular individuals, namely children who have not attained the use of reason. Here we reach quite a bit of paradox, since the Church, on the one hand, does not deny the humanity of small children, foetuses, or persons with intellectual disabilities, on the other hand, however, the Church claims that rationality determines human nature.
The present publication does not consider the teaching of the Catholic Church pertaining to rationality and freedom of human being as discriminatory against or oppressive towards persons with intellectual disabilities, and by the same token, does not reaffirm the thesis – supported by some theologians – that the mentioned teaching should be discarded and relativized, but rather takes a completely different path. As a result of the analyses undertaken, it is concluded that the outlooks displayed relating to the capabilities of persons with intellectual disabilities should be altered, and reversely – the fundamental truths regarding human beings should be perpetuated to keep their incessant presence in the tradition of the Church and its teachings. Resultantly, it is assumed that those persons, alike any other human beings, are fully equipped to know and love God (or to exercise their freedom of choice and reject God), to love other people and world, and even to – in their very particular way – rule over the world. Those claims do not require any empirical proof, because by their very nature they are empirically unverifiable, which also applies to individuals fitting the so-called intellectual norm. The discussed, absolutely fundamental, facets of being human, are not restricted to biochemical reactions in the human brain, even though they may cause them.
Therefore, while claiming that persons with profound intellectual disabilities are capable of knowing (and loving), it is concurrently acknowledged that the notion of “knowing” itself must be reworded or reformulated, in order to no longer be associated with the Enlightenment reason or IQ. Genuine human “knowing” is not restricted to what can be observed and measured, akin to humanity itself, which cannot be restricted to what is empirically verifiable.
The above notwithstanding, this work assumes some “empirical” criterion of humanity (of what constitutes being human). In the proposed take on the topic, the only observable condition of being considered human, is the origin from human parents: an individual is a human being (and therefore, a rational and free entity, so capable of loving) by sole virtue of having human ancestors. This statement has its roots not only in the ancient philosophy, but also in biblical image of the human being.
Accepting a fundamental claim by the Catholic Church concerning the humanity of persons with intellectual disabilities along with teaching on rationality and freedom of human person, this treatise simultaneously rejects the substantiation for it provided in respective Church documents that consists in ascribing to some individuals (foetuses, persons with profound intellectual disabilities) specifically human capabilities as a mere potential. For this kind of discernment establishes a kind of “double anthropology,” and through it, a fundamental inequality amongst human beings, of which some actively explore a range of essentially human possibilities, while others possess them only as potential. What is more, through the above-mentioned claim, persons characterised by the said untapped potential are reduced to the remainder of visible creation, not in the least able to decide on the path to its own salvation.
Another notion discussed in the present work, which is both hard to implement in the case of persons with profound intellectual disabilities and representative of the major anthropological Christian tradition, namely imago Dei, is connected to the question of uniquely human possibilities. Based on the claim regarding rationality and freedom of persons with profound intellectual disabilities, a relational interpretation of God’s image in human being has been built. Also in this case, there has been perpetuated the traditional, and prominent in documents of the Magisterium, understanding of the image of God, and at the same time, the thinking about persons with intellectual disabilities has been changed. In the proposition of understanding imago Dei put forward herein three most widely disseminated theological opinions are taken into account that consider the essence of the image of God in human person (uniquely human capabilities, relationality, ruling over creation). To briefly summarize the final conclusions: each and every person, due to his or her innate capabilities (rationality and free will) enters into relation of love freely, thanks to which he or she becomes similar to God – the Trinity of Persons loving one another, which is not without any impact on the surrounding material world (the facet of ruling over the creation).
The reflection undertaken in the present monograph does not come down to “adjusting” the persons with profound intellectual disabilities to the established and dominant narrative of the Church (a human person as imago Dei, as a rational, free being that rules over creation), but rather – on the basis of Divine Revelation and experiences of people accompanying persons with profound intellectual disabilities on their life paths – it is proposed to view human being as fragile, dependant, unique, and called to praise and celebrate. Thus, the reflection undertaken herein does not consist solely in showing difficult traditions (present within Christian thought) which demand re-interpreting and specifying in the context of persons with profound intellectual disabilities, but also in showing Church traditions that may be perceived as liberating for those people. Seeing humanity through a prism of fragility and dependency of a human being, uniqueness of each and every human, and eventually being called to praise and celebrate becomes a reason to treat persons with profound intellectual disabilities not as incomplete human beings, but rather those who in especially compelling way exemplify the truth of what it means to be human, at least in some aspects of it. An anthropology built around the said facets of humanity not only does not exclude those people, but also renders persons with profound intellectual disabilities as representative individuals of the human species.
Acknowledging persons with profound intellectual disabilities as capable of personal choice to accept or reject God is a step outside the dominant Church vision of those individuals as “innocent saints” and it implies a much more serious approach to the question of their access to sacraments. For if persons with intellectual disabilities, as any other human being, struggle to attain sainthood and salvation, the Church cannot deny to them the access to sacraments – the basic “means” of salvation. So, it seems necessary to reform the sacramental practice of the Church build upon anthropology which “quietly” strips the persons with profound intellectual disabilities of their humanity or considers them some kind of “exceptions” – that is, marginal cases of humanity.
The thesis that persons with profound intellectual disabilities are in fact fully human leads to a conclusion that is only natural, namely, that those persons are simultaneously eligible to be full members of the Church. In the present work it is assumed that they should have the widest possible access to sacraments, even if it might cause a slight deviation from the standard administration of sacraments.
This work’s main thesis – namely, assuming the rationality and freedom of persons with profound intellectual disabilities – is controversial and, if treated with due seriousness – may bring about far-reaching changes in Church practice. Nevertheless – despite a kind of folly behind it – it seems to be the most reasonable. For we are on the safe side when we treat those human beings as rational and free, rather than to assume something that is quite the opposite.
When undertaking the questions of the persons with profound intellectual disabilities’ presence in the Church community, one must conclude that this issue affects not only the said people and treating them with due justice. Those questions pertain to all of the Church members who, by isolating “the persons who are unable to meet adequate standards,” are denied the opportunity to tap into the source of wealth persons with profound intellectual disabilities have to offer. Therefore, they are indispensable for the “fully-abled” Church.