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June 15, 2006

Catholic Disability Group Sets Up Council on Mental Illness

WASHINGTON – The National Catholic Partnership on Disability has established a council on mental illness to help the Catholic community reach out to those with mental illness and their families.

Jerry Freewalt of Columbus, Ohio, who chairs the governance board of the National Catholic Partnership on Disability, said the group "is committed to providing resources and training to pastors, deacons and diocesan and parish personnel in their efforts to reach out to Catholics experiencing a mental illness and their families."

"We want them to know that they are important members of the Catholic community," he added in a statement released by the Washington-based organization.

Meeting in May, the council approved a mission statement that read: "Following Jesus who embraced all, we assist the Catholic community in reaching out to and accompanying our brothers and sisters with mental illness and their families, assuring their rightful place in the church and society."

The council's initial work will include developing criteria to assess existing programs, with the goal of establishing a database of Catholic ministries serving people with mental illness; raising awareness to help develop supportive relationships with people with mental illness; exploring collaboration with other national Catholic organizations; and sharing information on depression and suicide prevention with parish youth ministers and campus ministers.

"People with mental illness and their families look to the church for compassion for their pain and support in seeking justice in a society that often ignores their needs," said council member Deacon Tom Lambert. He is a member of the Archdiocese of Chicago Commission on Mental Illness and the father of a daughter with serious mental illness.

"Hopefully, through this council we can assist our dioceses and parishes in this important ministry of compassion and justice," he said.

Other members of the council include Connie Rakitan, who founded Faith and Fellowship Ministries in Chicago in 1979; Dorothy Coughlin, director of the Office for People With Disabilities in the Archdiocese of Portland, Ore.; Jackie Johnson, director of spiritual ministry with persons with disabilities in the Diocese of Erie, Pa.; Capuchin Franciscan Father Bob Malloy, who studied as a chaplain for people with mental illness at St. Elizabeth's Hospital in Washington and now assists homeless people at the Capuchin Soup Kitchen in Detroit; Ann Sherzer, director of ministry with persons with disabilities in the Diocese of Kalamazoo, Mich.; and Janice Benton, executive director of the National Catholic Partnership on Disability, whose husband lives with multiple disabilities, including bipolar disorder.

"Persons with mental illness have said that when they enter a church they feel ignored, excluded and discarded," said Father Malloy, whose niece has severe mental illness. "In this work we desire to welcome and accompany our friends and together with them fix the structures that exclude them."

Source: Catholic News Service


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