A Girl Asked Archbishop Kurtz Why God Allows Disabilities. Here’s His Response.

The archbishop highlighted that those who spend time with people with disabilities receive more than they give.

A young girl with Down syndrome
A young girl with Down syndrome (photo: Denis Kuvaev / Shutterstock)

WASHINGTON — A Kentucky archbishop still remembers when a little, 6-year-old girl asked him, “Why was my brother born with autism?”

Archbishop Joseph Kurtz, who leads the archdiocese of Louisville, recently shared his answer with EWTN News In Depth.

“I said, ‘Well, you know when you and I get to heaven, and I hope we both do,’ I said, ‘we have a lot of questions to ask,’” he recalled on Sept. 24. 

The archbishop said he asked the girl if she loved her brother; she said yes. That’s when he added, “One thing we know we don't have to ask is that you and I will be changed because of the love we have for our brother.”

“That's a gift you can already begin to say ‘thank you’ to God for,” he stressed.

The archbishop spoke from personal experience. His older brother, George, lived with Down syndrome. He’s also the primary reason why the archbishop serves as episcopal moderator for the National Catholic Partnership on Disability today.

“I can‘t imagine two brothers that got along better than the two of us did,” Archbishop Kurtz said. “One of the things I learned is, as I’ve said before, is that ‘life is not a problem to be solved but a mystery to be lived,’” he added, citing 19th century Danish philosopher Søren Kierkegaard.

The archbishop highlighted that those who spend time with people with disabilities receive more than they give.

“The reality is that when we linger with someone, and especially with someone who labors under a disability, that person has a lot to teach us,” he concluded. 

The Church herself appreciates the beauty of every human person, he said.

“The foundation of our Church teaching is very simple and that is the great dignity of every person,” he began. “We don‘t measure people by how much money they have or what exactly their job is, and so whether a person is alive with a disability or not, that person is great in God’s eyes and so we treat each person as precious.”

People with disabilities belong in the Catholic Church just like everyone else. The archbishop pointed to a 1978 Pastoral Statement of U.S. Catholic Bishops on Persons with Disabilities. In 2018, the bishops reaffirmed the statement that calls for the Church to welcome and include persons with disabilities.

The biggest change that came in 2018, he said, is that “we began talking about not the disability as a problem but the person as a gift.”

“The fact that the sacraments being received by that person not only is good for that person‘s spiritual life and well-being and immortal soul, but also it’s good for the body of the Church, the body of Christ,” he explained.

“And so the emphasis very much in the new document is about belonging – not just including people who are excluded – but actually having every one of us see that we all have a deep desire to belong to Christ and to belong to one another, to a family of faith.”

People with disabilities, he added, “have us maybe see that in more bold relief.”