Towards Liberation: Pastoral Relationship with People with Intellectual Disabilities Living in Institutions

Author: Trevor Whitney

Whitney, Trevor, 2013 Towards Liberation: Pastoral Relationship with People with Intellectual Disabilities Living in Institutions, Flinders University, School of Humanities and Creative Arts

Terms of Use: This electronic version is (or will be) made publicly available by Flinders University in accordance with its open access policy for student theses. Copyright in this thesis remains with the author. You may use this material for uses permitted under the Copyright Act 1968. If you are the owner of any included third party copyright material and/or you believe that any material has been made available without permission of the copyright owner please contact with the details.


From a pastoral narrative perspective this extended reflection seeks to describe and understand the lives of people with intellectual disability who live in institutions for people with disability in Adelaide, South Australia. Through the spiral application of a hermeneutical methodology, based upon liberation theology principles, a pastoral model of relationship is sought that offers a measure of liberation to those who experience oppression as an outcome of living in this context. A model of pastoral relationship will be developed through careful analysis and understanding of a comprehensive range of typological narratives that authentically represent the lived experience common to many who live in this environment. A key claim undergirding this extended reflection is that those who live in these institutions have their lives principally shaped by a medical model of relationship. This model objectifiably regards those for whom it applies as needful, dependent, medical identities. These people live in a historically and contemporaneously-constructed context that has silenced and continues to silence their identity through this discourse. Pastorally, such a relationship is oppressive because it denies these people their right to be regarded as whole human beings created in the image of God. This oppression is metaphorically expressed by reference to the image of Michelangelo's six unfinished statues referred to as 'The Slaves.' Here, each statue depicts a human being who, because of his unfinished, 'marbled' state, appears to be utterly contained within their lived context. Pastorally, the careful articulation of the institutionally-shaped lives of these people affords a measure of vital identity. This is achieved through the thorough and careful narrative detailing of their daily lives, patterns of relationship with staff and others who live in this context, and their relationship with this pastoral carer who is their chaplain. An alternative model of care is proffered that seeks to give authentic expression to a pastoral, theological mode of liberating relationship. Thus, narrative, theological understanding has been applied to a critique and adaptation of philosopher Martin Buber's concept of 'I and Thou,' that is, the nature of human existence. The model thus conceived is referred to as 'Immanent Thou-ness.' This model honours the other person with an intellectual disability as the Thou, signifying the other as fully created in the image of God. Such regard is only possible through pastoral commitment to coming near to this person, both theologically and socio-politically. The pastoral carer is deliberately choosing to be set apart from staff who maintain a medically-transcribed distance from those for whom they care. However, the carer's commitment to coming near is only realized through an ongoing confessing attitude that casts aside professional hubris that prevents them seeing themselves and the other person as both flawed yet completely loved by God. This move from objectified to interpersonal, grace-filled regard defines the pastoral relationship in terms of mutuality, offering a measure of liberation to the other person. Understanding of those for whom the carer bears responsibility is never fully realized. Their lives can never be completely understood. Therefore, updated narrative-based, theological understanding and modelling are always required. Pastoral commitment to the person with intellectual disability living in the institutional context must be ongoing, as long as there are new stories to be told.

Keywords: liberation,pastoral theology,pastoral relationship,intellectual disability,narrative,institution

Subject: Theology thesis

Thesis type: Doctor of Philosophy
Completed: 2013
School: School of Humanities and Creative Arts
Supervisor: Dr Lorna Hallahan