Does God have mercy on the impaired?


This is something I’ve been wondering about, and I’m not sure this is the right forum, but…

Oh, and I don’t have a dog in the fight, apart from my own failing memory, and a feeling of panic that always sets in that I might have forgotten certain prayers etc.

What happens to, say, a good lifelong Catholic, even a priest or nun or brother, who is overcome with senility or demetia at the end of life?

What happens to people who are born that way, in whatever state of mental retardation or impairment, who may not even understand the concept of God?

And lastly, what about pagan savages who may never have heard of the true God?

It’s been a subject of discussion at home lately.


I believe God imparts mercy on the impaired. Redemptive suffering effects us in a way that increases our capacity for God.

Pagan savages – there is invincible ignorance and vincible ignorance. Catholic teaching is that if they had known about God they would have accepted Him God will embrace them too.

One thing - Heaven is looked at as a discrete either or state.

Mother Teresa by her exemplary life as well as other saints have an increased capacity for the beatific vision. We should strive here on earth to increase our capacity to experience God.


Pagan savages – there is invincible ignorance and vincible ignorance. Catholic teaching is that if they had known about God they would have accepted Him God will embrace them too.

The Bible says that every knee SHALL bow and every tongue SHALL confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

For this hypothetical pagan, if there is the LEAST inkling of a desire to love God, then as he bows the knee, I believe he will say, “So it was YOU all the time!” And Jesus will say, “You’ve got it! Come over and give me a kiss.”

God’s got all eternity to work on this pagan, if he will let Him.

I believe this as a theologoumenon, not as an article of my faith.


I know you are quoting correctly but I really wonder if the translation is accurate. How can a knee bow? Knees don’t bow. Knees bend.


Bow bend the knee or body or incline the head, as in reverence, submission, salutation, recognition, or acknowledgment. yield; submit: to bow to the inevitable. bend or curve downward; stoop: the pines bowed low. –verb (used with object) bend or incline (the knee, body, or head) in worship, submission, respect, civility, agreement, etc.: He bowed his head to the crowd. cause to submit; subdue; crush. cause to stoop or incline: Age had bowed his head. express by a bow: to bow one’s thanks. usher (someone) with a bow (usually fol. by in, out, etc.): They were bowed in by the footman. cause to bend; make curved or crooked.


I’m not disputing a dictionary meaning of bow when it comes to knees or heads. I’m saying that it is so out of date I bet you won’t hear any English speaker on the planet using the word bow in connection with knees. I’m suggesting English translations of the bible should use bend instead of bow when it comes to knees.



I have run ministries in two dioceses to persons with disabilities of all kinds, from ADHD to Alzheimer’s. This includes Down Syndrome and other neurospychological disabilities that impair a person’s ability to make choices.

Here is the key. a peson whose ability to make moral choices certainly enjoys the mercy of God. Often people with certain neuropsychological disabilities have a variety of impairments. Here is a brief list, but not exhaustive.

  1. Abstract ideas are difficult to understand. Much of morality is very abstract, as is much of dogma and of course the Sacraments

  2. Impulse control is impaired

  3. Perception is impaired. Situations look different to persons with neuropsychological disabilities. All of us make choices according to our perceptions.

  4. Language processing is often impaired. Persons with disabilities often hear very well (except the deaf). But they often fail to comprehend the nuances of the words they hear. They tend to be concrete. Abstract language, lengthy language and language that is too concise is difficult to process. This impairs comprehension. Pop-up Bibles are awesome for these youngsters.

  5. There are often co-morbid conditions such as: depression, oppositional defiant disorder, OCD, anxiety disorders and seizures that affect brain function. All of these condition aggravate the disability.

If you want to know more, you may want to read the work of Fr. Henri Nouen and the L’Arche Community. Also go to the link of the Kennedy Institute a Catholic Agency of the Archdiocese of Washington, which is one of the largest Catholic Agencies in the USA for persons with developmental disabilities.

Finally, it is almost impossible for a person with a neuropsychological disability to commit a mortal sin, never mind live a life of sin. I can guarrantee that after more than 30 years in ministry to this target population in different dioceses, parishes, schools and univesities.

Hope this helps.


JR :slight_smile:


I’m ADD/ anxiety/depressed myself and I still try to go to confession for any mortal sins I do. I am not sure if my condition and impulse are to blame or not. Every so often I self-medicate with internet porn/masturbating so I find myself confessing every few weeks but I’ve managed to get better at breaking it.

I just hope God gives me more help in overcoming internet habits/addictions especially given my condition and poor impulse control. I don’t think being ADD or over impulsive is a free pass but maybe it lessons the of your sins. I don’t know, any advice?


Poor impulse control can certainly diminish the culpability of a sin. However, we must also remember that ADD/ADHD does not impair judgment and choice to the same degree that other developmental disabilities do. The degree of impairment is going to play a signficant role in the degree of culpability.

Someone with ADD is not as impaired as someone with Autism, Down, Asperger, Schizophroenia, Alcoholism, Drug Addiction and others.
These are more crippling disabilities when it comes to making informed choices. Some learning disabilities are very limiting in making choices, becaue the person just doesn’t understand the full extent of the gravity of an act. The person may over state the act, making something bigger than it is or under state it, not really understanding the gravity.

Do you see what I mean? It’s important for confessors and spiritual directors to be well versed on disabilities if they are going to minister to this population as an on-going ministry. Unfortunately, most priests and religious know nothing about developmental disabilities. They have little training in neuropsychology.

We’re very fortunate in the parish I work. Our Director of Religious Ed is a former Special Ed teacher, one of our priests is a former special ed teacher, and I wrote my thesis on spirituality and disabilities. We came together accidently. But we have a thriving spiritual ministry to people with disabilities and their families. There are few parishes as lucky as ours.

There are religious communities that specialize in ministry to the disabled and Catholic organizations as well. Anyone interested should check with the chancery in their diocese.


JR :slight_smile:


JR :slight_smile:


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