New disability projects officer starts at Bishops Conference

The new disability projects officer of the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference will continue to carry forward efforts to promote the full participation of people with disability in the life of the Church.

Damien Gardiner, who has significant experience working in the disability sector, recently took on the role previously held for many years by Patricia Mowbray. Mrs Mowbray retired in 2021.

Subsequent to Mrs Mowbray’s retirement, the Disability Projects Office was reviewed. Mr Gardiner will be working to prioritise the recommendations of the review in his part-time role.

The recommendations include the establishment of a national reference group or advisory body; strengthening the Office’s links across the Bishops Conference; the development of a standardised policy on disability in the Church to improve access, participation and equity; and the development of a survey to canvass the views of people with a disability regarding full participation in the Church community.

“For me, enabling marginalised and often stigmatised people to feel wanted and needed is a shared journey of growth and transformation,” Mr Gardiner said.

“When I meet a person with a disability, I don’t turn away, but rather see this person as an individual who has a spirit and natural gifts that have yet to surface.”

Mr Gardiner said from his time working in the area, he understands the absolute importance for people with disabilities having good access to accommodation, vocational and health services, “but also sacramental participation, faith development and advocacy channels within the Church community”.

At the Fifth Plenary Council of Australia this month, the Members affirmed that the Church is “called to facilitate the inclusion and address the needs of people with disability”, along with other marginalised and vulnerable groups.

Bishop Tim Norton SVD, the Bishop Delegate for Disability Issues, welcomed Mr Gardiner, saying he looked forward to working with him on behalf of people with a disability.

“Through his professional experience and through his personal faith commitment and practice, Damien is a wonderful addition to the Bishops Conference,” he said.

Bishop Norton also paid tribute to Mrs Mowbray, who he said leaves “a remarkable legacy and a great foundation on which Damien and the Conference can build”, including through making the sacraments available to people with a disability.