D048 Review of Disability Language in the Constitution and Canons

Original version

Resolved, the House of _______ concurring, That the 79th General Convention direct the Standing Commission on Structure, Governance, Constitution and Canons to review the governing documents of The Episcopal Church concerning the use and definition of the words ‘disabled’ and ‘disability’ and report their findings to the 80th General Convention; and be it further

Resolved, That the Standing Commission on Structure, Governance, Constitution and Canons propose amendments to the Constitution and Canons regarding the use of the words ‘disabled’ and ‘disability,’ implementing language, where appropriate, that accurately reflects the intended meaning in the documents.


Throughout the Constitution and Canons of The Episcopal Church, the current use of the words 'disabled’ and ‘disability' by and large suggests that being disabled or having a disability is synonymous with an incapacity to do ministry as an ordained person. There are presently 5 uses of “disabled” and 29 uses of “disability” in the Constitution & Canons (2015).

For many people, there are two common understandings of what ‘disabled’ means:
1) An impairment that reduces a person's capacity to engage in certain activities, whether mental, physical, or cognitive; but that does not prevent a person from fulfilling a job or career (ex. a person who relies on a wheelchair can perform priestly ministry. Being a priest doesn't inherently require that a person always use all parts of their body).
2) An impairment that prevents a person from being able to achieve a career or meaningful employment because their disability/ies are limiting to the point that they are indeed incapacitated.

In the Constitution and Canons it seems the use of disability language relies on the second definition, but without clarity. Considering that The Episcopal Church has ordained and continues to support people with disabilities entering the ordination process, with several nondiscrimination clauses present in the Canons, these governing documents should be reviewed and amended to reflect the actual intention of the words ‘disabled’ and ‘disability.’ At present, it seems the meaning is more in line with wording such as ‘incapable’ and ‘incapacitated.’ Our baptismal covenant calls us to respect the dignity of every human being; therefore, it is important to consider how language in the Church’s governing documents affects the perception and treatment of clergy and potential clergy living with disabilities.

In the Constitution, Article 1.3 states, “But if the Presiding Bishop of the Church shall resign the office as such, or if by reason of infirmity shall become disabled, or in case of death,..."
In the Canons, Title I, Canon 4.1(h) states, "Should any vacancy occur in the Council through death, resignation, disability, or other reason, with respect to a member elected by the General Convention,..."
Title III, Canon 3.3(a.3) "If the Ecclesiastical Authority is satisfied that the person so elected is a duly qualified Priest and that such Priest has accepted the office to which elected, the notice shall be sent to the Secretary of the Convention, who shall record it. Race, color, ethnic origin, sex, national origin, marital status, sexual orientation, disabilities or age, except as otherwise specified by these Canons, shall not be a factor in the determination of the Ecclesiastical Authority as to whether such person is a duly qualified Priest.”

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