The Catholic Deaf Association was established in 1970. Before 1970 there were already services for Deaf people in a few of the Dioceses in England and in Ireland; however, these services relied on the goodness and charity of certain people who offered their time freely. It was Canon William Hayward, who began the seminal development of diocesan Service to Deaf people, and later Canon Charles Hollywood who helped to established the CDA.
Baptism is birth into the new life in Christ. In accordance with the Lord’s will, it is necessary for salvation, as is the Church herself, which we enter by Baptism. (Catechism of the Catholic Church 1277). Through baptism, God calls us to a life of holiness and to be active Christians.
In 1998 a document ‘Valuing Difference’ was published by the Bishop’s Conference of England and Wales. The foreword by the late Cardinal Hume said, ‘The dignity of the human person is at the heart of Catholic teaching. Each and every person is to be valued as God’s creation. The Church’s vision is firmly rooted in the example of Jesus who turned no-one away, but made himself available to all.’
‘Valuing Difference’ explains very clearly that when developing services necessary for people with disabilities we should be ‘working with’ rather than ‘doing things for’ people with disabilities. In order to offer good practical and caring services, dialogue is necessary because only through communicating with people with disabilities will we know what kinds of services they require for equal access and participation.
Of all the disabilities, deafness is the least understood. Deaf people need co-operation and dialogue. The majority of Deaf people in the United Kingdom use British Sign Language (Deaf people in the Republic of Ireland use Irish Sign Language). For Deaf people to gain access to the Church, they must receive and understand everything that is being said/celebrated. The Church will only become the whole Body of Christ when there is full inclusion and equal access for all.
For true and meaningful dialogue to occur we need to be prepared to enter into understanding deafness, its implications and awareness of the Deaf culture and respect for the language. The Catholic Deaf Association is set up not only to provide service to Deaf people but also to provide opportunity for Deaf and hearing people to share their faith and worship together. The Directory gives information about Masses in sign languages: where and when they are celebrated, as well as the various services offered. Not all dioceses have official diocesan service to Deaf people but it is our hope that one day all Deaf people will have full access to the sacramental life of the Church.