Exclusion of disabled and sick is wrong, archbishop says

By staff writers
November 26, 2010

A special church service has been held to mark the 40th Anniversary of the enactment of the Chronically Sick and Disabled Persons Act.

The event took place at Holy Apostles Church in Pimlico, with Archbishop Vincent Nichols, spiritual leader of the Catholic Church in England and Wales, as celebrant.

Guest of honour at the service was Lord Morris of Manchester, who as Alf Morris, the MP for Manchester, Wythenshawe, proposed and then had enacted the Act of Parliament - one which has had a major impact of the lives of millions of people with disabilities all across the world.

During the service, Tom Clarke MP spoke about the significance of the Act. He declared: "Today we gather together to express our gratitude to Alf and Irene and all who made such progress possible. Alf, we will never forget what you said in that wonderful speech on the 25th Anniversary of your Act."

Mr Morris proclaimed at the time: “Unfair discrimination leaves disabled people doubly disabled. That is morally wrong and what is morally wrong ought surely no longer to be legally permissible in Britain.”

"That remains our inspiration, our hope and our prayer," said Mr Clarke.

In hos own reflection, Archbishop Vincent Nichols drew attention to the clear and far-sighted vision of Alf Morris of a society in which disabilities or chronic sickness would no longer exclude people from so many of its activities and advantages.

He said: "This was an immense sign of hope. Over the last forty years we have seen the achievements of this Disabilities Discrimination Act spread throughout society, with its principle aim of placing ‘needs before means’ now so widely accepted. In so many areas of society, including schools, commercial premises and churches, we have been able to witness the increasing active participation and unique contribution of people who, in the past, would not even have been present. For all of this today we thank God."

Nichols went on to say that people who are apparently weakest are those who are often most close to God. This, he said, is often so because they live, each moment of each day, with a degree of dependence on others.

The Archbishop said: "The radical truth about our nature is that we are profoundly dependent on each other, and ultimately on the God who creates us out of love and draws us, for the sake of that same love, into a fullness of life which we do not easily understand.

"This is the mystery which so often is nearer to the grasp of those who live with disability. This is the secret heart of what they have to teach us, an able-bodied and self-willed majority which so often pushes away our radical dependence on others as no more than a sign of weakness. Yet it is out of such weakness that true and lasting human strength is ultimately built. This is the lesson of love, so often glimpsed in our own relationships. It is the lesson of love taught in its fullness in the death of Jesus who, in accepting every weakness, gives his life that we may see, learn and be transformed," the Archbishop declared.

Those attending the service included Councillor Judith Warner, Lord Mayor of Westminster, MPs, members of the House of Lords, including Baroness Masham of Ilton who made her maiden speech in the House of Lords on the Act, and other civic dignatories.

Music was performed by members of the St Thomas More Language College, Chelsea, and a special dance was performed by the Larondina Dance Group from the Alessendre Special Needs Dance School.


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